It has been a few turbulent years for Australian online poker and the poker landscape altogether has changed dramatically. Things are still moving and shifting and we would like to update you on the history and current state of Australian poker.
The Australian Commonwealth Parliament passed the Interactive Gambling Act (IGA) in 2001. This law forbid online gambling operators to advertise for and offer real money online interactive gambling (such as poker and casino) to Australian citizens.
However, it wasn’t illegal for Australian citizens to access and use the services and Australian online poker was flourishing. Some online poker sites (888poker and PokerStars) even partnered with the Aussie Millions, offering online satellites into the iconic event.
Australian poker players made names for themselves in big online series and put the country on the poker map.
While it was a grey area for offshore companies offering online poker Down Under, part of the Australian gambling laws was that Australia-based companies were only allowed to serve gambling to non-Australians and not inside the country itself.
This caused a big scandal in 2016 around Luke Brabin and his “Poker Asia Pacific” site, that started out as a poker news site and eventually offered online satellites into live poker events and Cash Games in Australia. Despite this poker site being fairly small, the Australian authorities became aware and shut down operations.
Brabin promised the community to lobby for poker being excluded from the IGA and pointed a finger at the offshore operators that were freely offering their services in Australia. This might have contributed to what happened next.
The Australia online poker ban 2017
In 2017 the Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill was passed by the Australian Senate. It finally fenced off the country from offshore online poker operators by tidying up some wording from the original IGA.
This still did not mean that Australians could not access offshore-operating poker sites and play completely legally, but the operators were now under the threat of hefty fines. Individuals could receive fines up to $1.35 million a day, while organizations face fines up to $6.75 million a day.
Many respectable poker sites opted to leave the Australian market to avoid these fines and other negative impacts. Sites that left included PokerStars, 888poker and PartyPoker. Other sites, like Ignition Poker, decided to enter the market.
There was a strong opposition to the Interactive Gambling Amendment, lead by the Australian Online Poker Alliance (AOPA) and Liberal Democratic Senator David Leyonhjelm, which unfortunately was unsuccessful.
Joseph Del Duca of the AOPA said that the support they got from the poker community was all he could have hoped for, “The Australian poker community should be very proud of how they have held themselves through the campaign. We have rallied together as a strong community. The inquiry has received so many submissions from people who want to save our game that they haven’t been able to keep up with the workload.“
Despite the amazing response of the Australian poker community to make the game legal or at least prevent it from being illegal, the Australian government did not change their minds and put the Amendment Bill in place, meaning that the 130,000 or so who played online Down Under had to choose between sometimes dodgy black market operators or giving up poker altogether.
However, Del Duca wants players and supporters to keep fighting, “… we urge Australian poker players to not give up hope. Our game is not dead and we will continue to campaign for safe, legal online poker when the Senate Inquiry is handed down. Our call for a safe, regulated online poker market in Australia is still the only option that provides freedom for players, revenue for the government and protection for those in need.“
The fight against the reform continues
The aim is ultimately to provide legal and safe poker for Australia and so the fight continues. Later in 2017, it was announced that the “in-principle battle” was won and one of the main politicians to support the ban of online poker, Minister Alan Tudge, was now willing to support efforts for regulation.
A regulation would mean to provide a legal offering of online poker from inside the country and this will be a long fight as it means a crucial part of the IGA needs to be changed, offering gambling from Australian operators to Australian players.
For the government this will make the most sense as operators will be subject to Australian law, enabling taxation and regulation for maximum player safety.
Online market recomposes
Banning is rarely the best option as players will be forced to go underground. The big publicly traded poker companies have left the market, but smaller operators keep offering their services to Australian players.
Some poker sites even entered the market at the same time as others were leaving, like Ignition poker, which only entered Australia in July 2017 to fill a gaping hole where PokerStars, 888poker and partypoker have once been.
Bodog88, which shares the same network with Ignition, announced in summer 2019 that it will also offer online poker to the Australian market. Bodog88 is not a regulated site in Australia but does have a license from the Cagayan Economic Zone Authority (CEZA), which holds online gaming sites accountable for protecting their players.
In addition to the above real-money options, Australian players do have access to several play-money apps where they can create private games. The same kind of applications that have been very successful in Asian markets, like PPPoker or Upoker, are also enjoying a lot of attention Down Under.
Australian Poker Alliance keeps lobbying
The fight isn’t over and just as in many other countries lobbying for regulation, it’s baby steps and hope that keeps the ball rolling.
Joseph Del Duca has been talking to the poker community in a recent TwoPlusTwo post to try and update on recent movements around the legislation progress.
A legislation draft had been ready to go in the previous Australian government and it was just a question of the right time to proceed. After the recent by-elections however, things became complicated.
Del Duca writes, “The entire legislative agenda fell off the table at that point and the only life focus for anyone from then on was saving the furniture (political slang for keeping as many seats in parliament as possible).”
In his TwoPlusTwo post he goes into more detail about the political situation as a whole, but confirms that work continues with the new Communications Minister over the course of the next months, “If that all goes to plan, we are basically done. We have the support in the party room, we have support in the house and we have support in the Senate. It is just a question of timing at that point.”
Del Duca asks the poker community for patience and support going forward as despite politics are slow he says, “… we are honestly in the best position we have ever been.”