The Australian Senate's Committee on Environment and Communications has released its report on the participation of Australians in online poker. This report is the result of an inquiry held at the behest of Liberal-Democrat Senator David Leyonhjelm. He was a staunch opponent of the online poker prohibition legislation passed earlier this year.
The committee has issued two recommendations based upon the submissions it received not only from online gaming industry sources but also from regular Australian citizens who shared their experiences with the game of poker played on their computers. The first recommendation is as follows:
4.19 The committee commends the Australian Government's efforts to implement strong consumer protection measures, and harm minimization strategies. The committee recommends that any future consideration of the legalisation of online poker should only occur following the complete implementation of the National Consumer Protection Framework.
Though this might seem a bit negative for online poker, it does raise the possibility of eventual legalization and regulation. The National Consumer Protection Framework that the committee views as a precursor to any movement in this direction is a system designed to safeguard consumers from the harms associated with online wagering. A regulation impact statement describes several measures that will comprise the Framework, including a national self-exclusion registry, tight controls on extending credit to betting customers, and special training on consumer protection for the staff of internet wagering establishments. The government has indicated its commitment to completing the NCPF by the end of this year, but there's no telling what legislative or political roadblocks might extend this timeline beyond what's anticipated.
The second recommendation of the online poker report is:
4.20 The committee recommends that the Department of Social Services support research into the impact of regulatory approaches on online poker, including the relative benefits and harms associated with prohibition and legalisation.
Again, this isn't exactly an enthusiastic endorsement of online poker liberalization, but it's not at all a blanket condemnation of such a policy either. Overall, the committee seems to be open to the possibility of permitting poker over the internet some time down the road as long as the proper research is undertaken and the right consumer protections are deployed.
The report was commissioned by the Senate of Australia on June 13. The Environment and Communications References Committee was directed to make its findings known by Sept. 14, but this deadline was later extended to Oct. 18. The topics that the committee was instructed to investigate were:
(a) the participation of Australians in online poker;
(b) the nature and extent of any personal or social harms and benefits arising from participating in online poker; and
(c) whether the current regulatory approach, in particular, the recently amended Interactive Gambling Act 2001, is a reasonable and proportionate response to those harms and benefits.
Members of the public as well as organizations with an interest in Australian online poker were invited to send in their submissions by July 21. A total of 266 submissions were received along with 29 “short statements.” Some of the prominent names to have filed submissions were the Australian Online Poker Alliance, U.K.-based gambling firm Betway, and the Australian Taxpayers' Alliance. There were also a couple of public hearings held in which 20 or so people gave testimony.
Details of the Report
Before arriving at their conclusions and recommendations, the committee members summarized a lot of material related to participants who engage in online poker in Australia, various regulatory options, the impact of online poker on problem gamblers, and many other similar subjects. Some of the highlights are:
- Of the estimated $1.5 billion spent by Australians on internet wagering in 2012, only $574 million was collected by licensed providers with the remaining $922 million going to unlicensed, offshore entities.
- 80% of online poker cash tables have a big blind of $0.50 or less while 75% of all tournaments have a buyin of $10 or less – much lower stakes than are usually available in live casinos.
- A 2017 study found that for people with moderate or severe gambling problems, “poker made a relatively small contribution to the harms arising from gambling in comparison to other gambling activities.”
- In the United States, a country with minimal regulated online poker, 86% of internet poker players are using gray-market sites whereas in the United Kingdom, which has a strong online gaming licensing framework, the corresponding figure is about 5%.
Attached to the parliamentary report on online poker are additional comments by the leader of the Liberal Democratic Party, David Leyonhjelm, and the leader of the Conservative Party, Cory Bernardi. The comments begin with: “We support the legalisation and regulation of online poker in Australia. It does not pose the risks of harm that other forms of gambling are argued to involve.” The senators consider the Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill of 2016 to be an example of legislative overreach. They contend that poker is a skill game that promotes proficiency with numbers, the ability to accurately evaluate situations, problem-solving, and a number of other important life aptitudes.
Offshore Sites Continue as Before
If the conclusions of the inquiry into the participation of Australians in online poker are accepted by the government, any regulated solution for online poker in Australia lies quite a fair distance in the future. Fortunately, offshore real money poker rooms are happy to serve Aussies in the interim. The laws penalizing the game only apply to operators. There are no statutes criminalizing ordinary players of internet-based card games. While some of the most prominent sites, like PokerStars and PartyPoker, have elected to stop serving Australians, there are others, including Ignition Poker and TigerGaming Poker, that gladly accept customers from The Land Down Under. For more information on your choices for reputable sites, please read our comprehensive guide to online poker in Australia.