ONLINE POKER: Hopes for Australian trial dashed by Federal Government

PMA breaking news

In a major setback for the Australian poker industry, it was announced today that the Federal Government will not be pursuing recommended changes to existing legislation in support of a trial of online tournament poker.

Instead, the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Senator Stephen Conroy (pictured), said that the Gillard Government would work with the states and territories to implement a national harm minimisation and consumer protection standard for all licensed online gambling activities.

The recommendations were carried in the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy’s final report of the Review of the Interactive Gambling Act 2001 (IGA), which included input from numerous industry stakeholders, including PMA.

The framework for a trial of online poker had been established and would have been rolled out within weeks pending the release of this report.

“As the way Australians use gambling services shifts online, we need to ensure that protections for consumers remain robust and relevant.

“I have written to state and territory gambling ministers to seek their commitment to the development and implementation of a national standard, and to seek their views on the other recommendations made in the Report.

“The Review also identified concerns in relation to casino-style gambling simulations being accessed through a variety of platforms including social media, and the potential risk that this may pose to children,” Sen. Conroy said.

To assist the Department undertake its review, KPMG was engaged by the Department to estimate the potential size of regulated online tournament poker and online in-play wagering markets in Australia.

The gross gambling yield of a regulated online tournament poker market in Australia was estimated to be between $290 million and $360 million in 2013-14, growing to between $452 million and $563 million in 2021-22, depending on player behaviour and the effective rate of taxation.

Additionally, the taxation revenue raised from a regulated online tournament poker market in Australia was estimated to be between $43 million and $134 million in 2013-14, growing to between $68 million and $209 million in 2021-22, again depending on the player behaviour and taxation regime.

Australians are estimated to punt more than $1 billion on 2200 illegal offshore websites every year, with growth expected to continue strongly. The gross gambling yield of the illegal online gambling market in 2011-12 is expected to be $1.3 billion, and is expected to grow at an average annual rate of 6.3 per cent to $2.4 billion in 2021-22.

Not surprisingly, neither the local gaming industry, nor critics of gambling have welcomed the news.

Speaking to the Fairfax Media, independent MP Senator Nick Xenophon labelled the report as a “cop-out” that could create a new wave of problem gamblers.

Meanwhile, the Wagering Council of Australia, which represents online bookmakers, have rejected plans for pre-commitment on gambling websites, saying the best way to promote responsible gambling online is to have a regulated Australian industry.

Former PMA editor-in-chief Sean Callander urged the poker community to keep the faith, especially with the Federal Election just six months away.

“The most disappointing aspect of this announcement is that the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy took time to learn about our industry, then make careful, well-considered and logical recommendations that have been ignored by Sen. Conroy,” Callander said.

“If the happenings of Black Friday in the US taught us anything that players in Australia can be denied access to their funds at a second’s notice, and at the whim of a foreign government. That’s simply not acceptable.

“All poker players deserve the protection of Australian authorities and laws every time they log-on. The argument that ‘my funds are safe on site x’ has proven to be folly, and yet Australian players are exposed to exactly the same risks today.”

“We can only hope that the Australian poker industry is again provided with the opportunity to present our case should the Coalition prove successful at the polls and win Government later this year.”

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