ACMA Deals Another Blow to Poker with App Ban

Australian poker players have had a tough year so far.

Midway through the third month of 2020, live poker games began to disappear. Per the Australian government and health authorities, casinos, pubs, clubs, and even bars that hosted live poker events had to shut their doors. The coronavirus pandemic also scared the general public enough that there seemed to be no private games to be found, either.

Did those players go online to compete? No. The Australian government forbid them to do so.

Further, every step that poker operators tried to take since the Covid-19-related shutdowns has been squashed by that same government.

Government Misunderstands Online Poker

The Australian Parliament passed the Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill in August 2017. The bill officially forced all online poker operators without an Australian license to leave the Aussie market.

Importantly, Australia did not offer any such licenses.

The 2017 law also gave the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) the ability to monitor the market and impose penalties as it sees fit.

By the end of 2017, PokerStars, PartyPoker, and 888poker, among many others, had exited the market and closed their virtual doors to Aussie poker players.

Since then, the Australian Online Poker Alliance has spearheaded a campaign to legalize online poker, but the road has been rough. As poker advocate Joseph Del Luca revealed recently, his conversations with lawmakers made clear that they do not see the difference between online poker and online pokies. The path to Australia-licensed poker sites is to show lawmakers the difference and prove the skill component of online poker that differentiates it from other online casino games.

Poker Leagues Try Alternatives

A number of popular poker leagues operated throughout Australia, with hundreds of participating clubs, pubs, and casinos offering satellites and tournaments. Those did rather well…until Covid-19.

At first, some of the poker leagues followed official orders and tried to wait it out, wait for the virus to pass and for venues to reopen. But as month after month passed, it became clear that the only full relief would be a vaccine.

Poker leagues, again ready to adapt, worked with venues to implement safety protocols – masks, hand sanitizer, social distancing, temperature checks – in order to host some kind of tournaments. They were willing to deal with the capacity limits and nearly any other restriction to get back into business.

However, many large casinos reopened without poker rooms, deciding that poker interactions would be too risky at this time. And in New South Wales, the government cracked down on all live poker events, classifying them as group bookings that may not exceed 10 customers per event.

League operators began to work together to find a solution and present it to NSW authorities, but that process just began within the past few weeks.

ACMA Hits APT Hard

PokerMedia Australia reported this week that ACMA cracked down – even further – on poker operators.

ACMA sent a notice to poker operators like the Australian Poker Tour (APT) on August 31 to inform them of a possible breach of Australian law.

Evidently, some operators had inquired with ACMA about using apps in the Australian market – ones requiring real money – to allow players to win seats into live events. It read, in part:

“Free online poker services are not prohibited by the IGA (Interactive Gambling Act) and may be provided to customers in Australia, although it is important to note that in order for a service to be free, it must genuinely not require any form of payment, whether monetary or otherwise.”

The APT only revealed its APT APP in the last few months as a way to help players satellite into live poker tournaments. Most venues that would ordinarily host these satellites are either closed or limited and, as mentioned, not permitted to offer poker.

At the time, APT CEO David Miles said he submitted the app to the ACMA to obtain approval for the benefit of its shareholders. He did obtain a legal opinion that asserted current law justified the satellites, as no cash prizes are awarded, only tournament seats.

However, the recent ACMA letter explained that the seats are things of value, thereby breaching the law.

Maybe Live Poker in Brisbane in October?

There is no quitting for APT. They cannot wait to again provide poker to the masses.

In June, the APT wanted to move forward with a series at Southport Sharks on the Gold Coast for September. But in July, the APT had to cancel, as the venue “could not facilitate our series due to a scheduling conflict, as well as in response to increased public health concerns…”

They picked up their hats and moved forward. They started advertising for what would become the first live tournament series since the coronavirus lockdowns in March. This will be in Queensland in October.

The APT Brisbane will take place in the entertainment center of Eatons Hill. Action kicks off on Wednesday, October 7, and it will run through Sunday, October 11. The 14-event series would have prize pools estimated in the $450K range, cumulatively speaking.

The Main Event will be a $200 buy-in No Limit Hold’em tournament with four starting flights, one on October 8, two on October 9, and the last on October 10. The event will then play for the win on the final day of the series.

With fingers crossed and players asking the poker gods for a one-time, the APT hopes to bring poker back to life in October.

Australian Poker Tour - APT Brisbane

 

Rose Varrelli

Rose Varrelli has always been passionate about online casinos, as she's been a player at a variety of places for years. Rose turned her personal knowledge and insight into a writing career. She aims to provide readers with the most up to date, informative news in the world of online casinos!

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