The Australia online poker community was rocked to its core on Tuesday when Parliament voted to reject an amendment that would have allowed offshore operators to apply for a licence to conduct online poker. Australia is expected to pass the Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill 2016 (IGA) in the coming months, formally prohibiting online poker throughout the country.
The IGA has been in the works since early last year, designed to put an end to offshore online gambling sites accessing the Australian market without a licence. Since it is already illegal to conduct online casino and poker games in Australia – only online sports betting and horse racing is permitted – all offshore operators of that nature will be unable to obtain such a licence.
The Australian government has spent many years attempting to block offshore operators of casino and poker sites, dating all the way back to the Interactive Gambling Act of 2001. That piece of legislation was intended to do the same thing, but the ambiguity of its language, and failure to designate government bodies to enforce the law, made it wholly ineffective.
On Tuesday, Liberal Democrat Senator David Leyonhjelm told Huffington Post Australia the IGA, once formally enacted, will close all remaining loopholes in previous measures that sought to ban online casino and online poker. Australia has more than enough access to these games in local facilities, he said.
His words were rather harsh, and gave way to his lingering doubt that even the new bill will be ultimately effective.
“It’s stupid. If you want to play poker, there are lots of opportunities in Australia, at casinos and tournaments. It’s not as if there isn’t a great deal of poker playing already, but they’re just stopping it online. The whole world is online now.
“The original 2001 law was meant to stop online gambling of many kinds, but it didn’t, there was a loophole. There is quite an active online poker community in Australia. I don’t think it will succeed for those really determined. If you have a VPN or offshore account, you will still play. It’s a stupid situation to be in.”
Senator Leyonhjelm also seemed ambivalent towards the intended ban against live in-play betting over the internet. He anticipates that the prohibition will only result in gamblers intent on placing in-play bets doing so on the black market; thus spoiling the bill’s original intention of curbing problem gambling in Australia.
Operators React to Ban of Online Poker Australia
Despite the petition efforts of online poker enthusiasts, operators have been anticipating this result all along. 888Poker left the Australia online poker market back in January, and PokerStars is all-but guaranteed to follow suit the moment the IGA goes into effect.
Earlier this month, Eric Hollreiser, CEO of PokerStars parent company, Amaya Gaming, reaffirmed the company’s position that they will block Aussies if impending law requires.
“Amaya continuously monitors the regulatory environments of the countries in which it operates, and where a regulatory model exists always seek to comply with it… if proposed legislation passes into law players located in Australia would likely be blocked from playing on our sites.”
His use of the word “likely” only means Amaya’s legal team will look over the new legislation before the company makes a move. However, considering PokerStars performance in other strictly regulated markets like the UK and New Jersey, USA – and the fact that it could lose those licences for violating their black market regulations – there’s no doubt the brand will remove itself from online poker Australia.