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It’s down and out for online poker in Down Under. The Australian Senate on August 9 passed a legislation that will prohibit online poker sites from doing business in the country. The legislation is likely to go into effect in 30 days.
The new law restricts online poker companies to offer games to Australians unless licensed. But there’s no licensing or regulatory process for online poker like there is for sports betting over the internet. There are actually no Australian-licensed online poker platforms.
The bill named Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill, however, didn’t just target poker. The legislation also bans betting on a sports game or match that is in progress. Other reforms have also been put forward to curb gambling in the country.
According to a report from the Camden Haven Courier, there are an estimated 130,000 online poker players in Australia. Should a foreign company get caught offering online poker to Aussies they reportedly would be subject to a fine of $6.75 million a day.
It is estimated that Australians spend the most on gambling in this world ($1,000 per person). About 80% of Australians gamble in some form, which is also the highest rate in the world.
Naturally this trend has generated a huge gambling market in the country, which, according to the Economist, is worth about $18 billion a year. “Despite Australia’s profitability, the high level of existing gambling penetration and relatively small population of 23 million make it a relatively mature market without much room for expansion,” it said.
The new law coming into effect means those who play online Down Under face the undesirable choice between hanging up their mouse and keyboard or hopping into the murky waters that are home to black market operators.
Actually, things looked grim for online poker Down Under after the bill’s initial movement late in 2016. The 2016 Internet Gambling Amendment Bill was in part designed to close what the government saw as loopholes that let online poker proliferate despite a prohibition dating back to 2001. The so-called grey market.
However, the Australian Online Poker Alliance (AOPA) was formed in response to the bill and Australian Senator David Leyonhjelm took up the cause, initiating an inquiry to highlight what he and others saw as a foolish and hypocritical law.
A huge number of poker players responded and the group presented their case before at an August 1 hearing also.
Long-time Australian online poker player Oliver Gill who was a key voice for the AOPA also voiced his support for a regulated market saying, “Prohibition has been tried in other countries with disastrous results, including the creation of black markets, with millions of dollars being stolen from players by illegal online poker operators like Lock Poker with no recourse for players who have been cheated or stolen from. I do not believe it’s in any party’s best interest to subject Australian online poker players to the reality of black markets, if the online poker industry is banned in Australia.”
But opposite voices were also heard as representatives of the Salvation Army voiced concerns about expansion of gambling in Australia. They argued the ease of access to online poker via credit cards and PayPal as “the preferred method” of gambling made it a haven for problem gamblers.
A number of highly placed government workers also supported the stand. They admitted that online poker was a different beast from other forms of Internet gambling.
But ultimately the efforts of the pro-poker community could not slow the guillotine from dropping as it took merely a little over a week for the Australian Senate to come to a decision.
Joseph Del Duca of AOPA, however urged players and supporter to keep up the fight and said,“Whilst it was unfortunate that the government did not wait for the Senate Inquiry findings to come through, 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.”