ONLINE POKER: Size of Australian market “grossly overestimated”

The size of the online poker market in Australia has been vastly overestimated in submissions to numerous Government inquiries in recent years, according to research completed by German group Academicon.

Based on the most recent figures from 2010, 129,714 Australians played online poker, with illegal offshore operators raking USD $69.8 million in profit.

Two years earlier, a submission to the Productivity Commission on behalf of a major international online poker operator described the size of the market as 363,120, representing a staggering increase of 176.52 per cent over the previous four-year period. Australian players were said to have spent USD $255.8 million on online poker sites in 2008 alone.

Ingo Fiedler, of the University of Hamburg (where a global online poker database has been established), said the figures were far lower, with stats showing a modest number of 36,000 players in NSW and 31,915 in Victoria, for example. Fiedler said the 2010 figures were the most recent available.

“Our advice is based on academic research and objective data. A key advantage is that we do not have a stake in the gambling industry. Most industry reports on internet gambling grossly overestimates its prevalence and market size due to lobbying reasons,” Dr Fiedler said.

He added the majority of online poker users played only occasionally, for small amounts, for just a short while and at only one table.

Monash University Public Health expert Charles Livingstone said the figures were unsurprising but suggested it was likely the figure was on the low side of current use. “In any event, the data held by the University of Hamburg’s database is undoubtedly useful,” Dr Livingstone said.

He said available research for online poker suggests that many online poker players played for relatively small takes and tend to win or lose only modestly.

“Liberalisation of online gambling is feasible and should start as the Productivity Commission suggested with liberalisation of online poker, but not before serious and nationally consistent harm minimisation measures are properly regulated by the Federal Government, not the states,” Dr Livingstone said.

In May the Federal Government released an interim review of interactive gaming laws that recommended legalising online poker games, as part of overall liberalising of industry.

Other casino games would remain banned and poker would be trialled over several years. Despite being illegal, foreign-based websites continue to offer online poker to Australian customers.

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