ONLINE POKER: Pressure on Apple Australia to block real-money poker apps

Apple Australia is under pressure from the Federal Government to block access to online poker apps that allow real money play as they breach the Interactive Gambling Act.

Scores of poker apps are available to Australian residents via the Australian iTunes with the vast majority offering free-to-play games. However, a small number – most notably PokerStars – offer the facility to make a deposit and play on cash tables.

Speaking with Asher Moses from Fairfax Media in recent days, Greens senator Richard di Natale, a member of the gambling reform committee, said: “We don’t allow online poker in Australia for Australian people under the Interactive Gambling Act … they [Apple] have an obligation to take down apps that are against Australian law and they should do it.”

The final report of the review of the gambling authority, released in March, found there may be as many as 2200 online gambling providers illegally offering services to Australians, who lose an estimated $1 billion a year on online gambling services not licensed in Australia.

The gambling authority review found that existing regulations were not adequate and recommended the legislation be amended to enable and encourage currently prohibited online gaming sites to become licensed. But the government has rejected the recommendation.

Many are hosted overseas and so operate without Australian consumer protections and regulations and do not pay any tax here. Some, like PokerStars, have an Australian office and bank accounts.

Senator di Natale said the Federal Government should “clamp down” on these operators where possible, and he was also worried about social gambling apps on services such as Facebook, which he believed might “normalise” gambling, particularly for children.

Some online gambling services exploit a further legal loophole by allowing Australians to pay real money for virtual currency that is then gambled but cannot be cashed out.

The gambling reform committee chairman, independent MP Andrew Wilkie, has said that rather than allowing online gambling sites in Australia, the government should “tighten” rules “and put in place strategies to deter Australians from accessing the dangerous offshore sites”.

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