The fight for legalized online poker in Australia has been a long winding battle for the last two decades with the government firm on its decision to ban citizens from taking part in the popular sport. Since the Interactive Gambling Act (IGA)’s implementation in 2001 which prohibits gambling providers to offer services including the likes of online casino gaming, sports betting and lotteries, over 100 online gambling operators have since pulled out operations in the growing market.
Despite the IGA already in effect, loopholes enabled big name offshore operators such as PokerStars and 888Poker to continue servicing Australians up until 2017 when stricter reforms were made. The IGA Amendment Bill imposed hefty fines on participating individuals and organizations, ultimately pushing major brands out of the scene whilst leaving a window for new entrants like Ignition Casino. With even stricter regulations enforced, local poker players are undeniably left with no choice but to resort to unregulated sites or mobile applications operating on play money currency.
Fast forward to today, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has most recently blocked access to over a dozen unregulated sites which have been found to be operating in breach of the IGA. By tightening control and taking down these illegal gambling websites, it seems that the fight for online poker may be a far dream ahead given the circumstances.
New unregulated sites blocked
Since the ACMA made its first blocking request back in November 2019, a total of 222 unregistered gambling sites have been blocked following the pursuit of limiting illegal gaming in the country. While other efforts such as hefty fines are enforced, the process of website blocking has been added to its latest reforms to protect citizens from illegal offshore operators.
Following an investigation, listed below are the 18 unregulated sites most recently found to be in breach of the IGA.
• Syndicate Casino
• 7 Bit Casino
• Casino Nic
• Fast Pay Casino
• King Billy Casino
• Woo Casino
• Loki Casino
• Golden Star Casino
• Joo Casino
• Bet Chain
• Get Slots
• Joka VIP Room
• King Johnnie
• Wild Card City
Australian users of the sites stated above have already been urged to withdraw their money as soon as possible. In the ACMA’s official website, it dictates its authority under the Telecommunications Act 1997 (section 313) for blocking access to such sites for reasons which include but are not limited to:
• providing prohibited interactive gambling services to customers in Australia (such as online casinos, online slot machines and services that allow in-play online sports betting)
• providing an unlicensed regulated interactive gambling service to customers in Australia (such as online betting services that don’t have a valid Australian licence)
publishing ads for prohibited interactive gambling services or unlicensed regulated interactive gambling services in Australia
Aside from these sites, over 100 unregulated service providers have voluntarily exited the Australian market within the last three years. Reports also indicate that money lost through these offshore accounts has since been reduced. However, with limited options left for the Australian poker market, it is not a far possibility that its poker community be left a step behind, ultimately unable to compete in major online international festivals.
An efficient policy?
While the efforts of the ACMA to regulate online gambling have efficiently shunned numerous operators, it appears its major issue of tackling illegal offshore providers remains persistent. As the access to these websites gets blocked accordingly, the so-called unregulated businesses continue to find ways to cater to the Australian market. A common practice evidently seen would be an easy change of domain name in order to return quickly back into business.
A great example would be one of Australia’s largest current poker sites, Ignition Casino which entered the scene in 2017 right when major brands such as PokerStars and 888Poker turned a different route. Ignition Casino operates mainly in the United States under the PaiWangLuo Poker Network and is currently the 8th largest poker network provider worldwide. Authorities have attempted to block the site multiple times but without success. Favorably, Ignition Casino has avoided government regulations by continuously setting up a new website and redirecting its users there. A seemingly nonstop game of cat and mouse, the offshore gaming provider remains an option for Australian poker players up to this day.
Apart from real money gaming websites, mobile poker applications such as PokerBros and Upoker have likewise bypassed the country’s strict regulations. Running on play money currency and a private club model, these modern games continue to thrive in the country being a significant alternative for some much wanted poker action.
Nonetheless, these minor loopholes present the idea that a total ban is not fully efficient to protect its eager users. Players and industry specialists are now lobbying for a regulation of the online gaming market that would allow the government to collect taxes while letting players participate in a controlled environment. A win-win for both parties, a glimpse of hope still exists for the Australian poker community, ideally speaking that a completely regulated online gaming market will come into fruition within the next few years or so.