Aussies Prepare for Uphill Legal Online Poker Battle

Since Australia strengthened its interactive gambling laws in 2017, most online poker operators have been unable to operate in the Aussie market. While lawmakers seemed to focus on pokies, their choices had the most effect on poker.

As illustrated in a new PokerMedia Australia podcast, the heart of the problem may be the wording. Poker is not the same as pokies. And if an online poker advocate – with the help of online poker players throughout Australia – could clarify that message to lawmakers, it could make a difference.

Long and Ongoing Battle

When the Australian Parliament passed the Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill 2016 – in August 2017 – it required all online poker and casino operators to hold a license. However, there were no licenses made available to companies based outside of Australia, and there were none for online casino games or online poker.

The law gave the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) the authority to impose penalties, as well as to inform the Department of Immigration and Border Protection of those violations so they could add the names of affiliated company executives the Movement Alert List.

Harsh.

It worked, though, as poker companies departed the popular and lucrative Australian market. The first was 888poker, followed by PartyPoker and PokerStars, all in 2017.

This spurred the Australian Online Poker Alliance into action. Longtime poker fan/player and public relations expert Joseph Del Luca took charge of the group to try to influence members of the Parliament to create an exemption to the law for online poker. They tried to push the studies and facts that show online poker as more a game of skill than chance.

One lawmaker – David Leyonhjelm – supported their efforts, but it was not enough.

Priorities in 2020

When 2020 began, wildfires raged across Australia. The summer season is known for its bushfires, but the ones that started in mid-2019 and grew out of control made the 2019-2020 season known as Black Summer. The fires peaked in December 2019 and January 2020.

By March 2020, the fires had destroyed approximately 18.6 million hectares, nearly 6,000 homes (including nearly 3,000 homes), killed at least 34 people, and killed about one billion animals. Further, they created hazardous air quality for many in Australia.

The scope of the problem was disastrous, and it required much time from lawmakers to deal with the economic and social fallout from the fires.

Just when the intensity of those fires began to calm, a pandemic swept the world.

The spread of the coronavirus, soon labeled COVID-19, seemed to start in December or January China and quickly spread to Europe and other parts of the world. Australia detected its first cases on January 25, 2020, and though it remained under control for weeks, the numbers began to climb swiftly in March.

By mid-March, large gatherings were prohibited, and health officials quickly deemed necessary a shutdown of all non-essential businesses in all of Australia. This happened in many other countries as well. And overall, Australia kept its numbers down relative to others around the world.

As of May 15, the numbers were:

  • Active cases: 746
  • Recovered cases: 6,214
  • Deaths: 98

The economic devastation of businesses closing, people losing jobs temporarily and permanently, and a slow future of reopening dominated the focus of lawmakers in March and April.

Why Online Poker Should Be Considered Separately

Online gambling increased by significant percentages during the Australian stay-at-home orders during this pandemic. Analysts showed that internet gambling spending increased by 67% during the first week of April alone.

Anti-gambling activists used other numbers to make their points. Stephen Mayne said that pokies players saved $38 million per day for each day live machines were unavailable. Tim Costello of the Alliance for Gambling Reform said that every $1 million previously spent on pokies could create three new jobs for the struggling economy.

There is a big point missing from these statistics and arguments.

Pokies refers to slot machines. The talk of pokies savings has nothing to do with poker. And the dramatic rise in online gambling is primarily related to online casino games, bingo, and sports betting, not poker.

Del Luca Waiting for Appropriate Timing

Australian poker players entered 2020 more frustrated than ever at the state of online poker. They began to push Del Luca to meet with lawmakers again.

Del Luca said he had a meeting scheduled with Communications Minister Paul Fletcher on March 18, with the goal to work on legislation to introduce to Parliament this year to exempt poker from current laws.

Obviously, the pandemic is rigged against online poker.

Arguments for Online Poker

PokerMedia Australia published the fifth episode of its PMA Podcast this week, and their featured guest was Del Luca himself.

He covered the primary reasons that online poker should be exempted from the current laws, that online poker should be licensed and legal for Australian players. Those reasons include protections for players, oversight by the government to ensure fair play, and the evidence that shows poker is predominantly a game of skill.

In a time when the economy is in such trouble, the case for additional revenue from online poker operators may also catch the ears of more lawmakers.

Interestingly, Del Luca also mentioned something very important that has possibly been overlooked or underplayed in the fight thus far.

“I can tell you, of probably 100 different members of Parliament that I’ve spoken to about this issue, easily over 80% of them thought when I was talking about online poker I was talking about online pokies or poker machines, slot machines. Obviously, being the only country in the world that calls them poker machines, there’s the correlation between the two in a lot of people’s heads.”

He said that a big part of talking to lawmakers about the issue was explaining the difference between pokies and poker, then explaining that poker players compete against each other and not the house, and then that skill is the dominant factor over chance in the long run.

A Plan Moving Forward

Del Luca plans to highlight the recent dramatic rise in online gambling during the pandemic as an example of how prohibition does not work. People using gambling sites in the absence of live gambling establishments are using ones that are licensed offshore and not regulated by Australia.

Along that same line, Aussies have shown that they will gambling online regardless of “prohibition.” Therefore, it would behoove government to regulate the space and create a safe market for customers.

Del Luca will also highlight the serious need for additional revenue streams for the Australian government. The severe economic crisis created by the shutdown of land-based businesses showed the need for alternatives. A regulated online poker – and perhaps broader online gambling – market would create a regulated environment in which operators abide by the laws and pay taxes.

One of the keys for Del Luca finding success is activating the poker community to interact with lawmakers and make their voices heard.

Del Luca is confident that the conversation has moved from “if” Aussies will see online poker to “when” it will happen.

With meetings already scheduled with some lawmakers, Del Luca said it is a good time to begin building momentum for online poker. He believes Australians could see legal online poker within the next year.

 

 

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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