- »Aussies Reignite the Fight for Legal Online Poker
Aussies Reignite the Fight for Legal Online Poker
Several online poker supporters in Australia have recently revived the fight for online poker. The game has been illegal in the eyes of the Australian government since 2017, but several staunch allies have continued to meet with lawmakers. And according to those online poker supporters, there is a chance for the government to exempt online poker from current laws as a game of skill.
Remembering the Aussie Poker Boom
The law in place at the time was the Interactive Gambling Act of 2001. It was an ambiguous law in many respects, and online poker and casino games thrived through the 2000s and 2010s through loopholes in that law.
Online poker reached new heights of popularity after Aussie Joe Hachem won the 2005 World Series of Poker Main Event for $7.5 million. He posed for his winner photos draped in the Australian flag, and he became a member of Team PokerStars, a sponsored pro and ambassador for poker around the world.
Australian casinos saw more poker business than ever, especially with new tours like the PokerStars-sponsored Australia New Zealand Poker Tour (ANZPT). Poker allowed casinos to build and/or grow empty casino spaces into thriving poker rooms.
Even as other parts of the world began to change, online poker in Australia maintained its popularity. As the United States government seized the world’s top online poker sites – PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, Absolute Poker, UltimateBet – in 2011 and forced all major operators out of the US market, Australia barely blinked. And as European countries like France, Italy, Spain, and Portugal closed off access for their players to dot-com sites in favor of regulated markets, Aussies kept playing on PokerStars and its competitors.
Aussies loved online poker. And poker loved the Aussies.
As members of the Australian Parliament watched other countries limit and regulate online poker, several members wanted to take a different approach. They wanted to ban the games altogether, ignoring the many studies and internationally-recognized standard that poker was more a game of skill than chance.
In 2016, Human Services Minister Alan Tudge and Communications Minister Mitch Fifield took charge of an effort to ban online poker and casino games. The lone voice of David Leyonhjelm in Parliament in support of legal online poker was largely ignored.
Not only did the duo of Tudge and Fifield find serious support in Parliament, they were able to pass the Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill 2016 (IGA) in August 2017.
The new law included these provisions:
- Online poker/casino operators must hold licenses to operate (though no states or territories had licenses to offer)
- Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) given authority to impose civil penalties
- Operators forbidden to provide lines of credit for online gambling
- ACMA given authority to notify Department of Immigration and Border Protection of names of offshore gambling operator principals to place on Movement Alert List
Before the law even fully made its way through Parliament, major poker operators knew that any gray areas in the law were gone.
888poker announced on January 13, 2017 that it would no longer be open to Australian players as of January 16. PokerStars warned players as far back as November 2016 that a withdrawal from the market might be inevitable. Eventually, the largest poker site in the world did officially leave on September 11, 2017. That was just days after PartyPoker left Australia on August 31, 2017.
Even offshore companies like the Winning Poker Network, home of Americas Cardroom and several other online poker skins, were intimidated by the bill and left the market in the summer of 2018.
Enter Australian Online Poker Alliance
A grassroots organization had been in place to fight the changes, to at least work to exempt online poker. And sites like PokerStars supported those efforts. “The Australian Online Poker Alliance has done great work lobbying on behalf of Australian poker players this year,” PokerStars noted upon its exit from the market. And they requested that players join forces with the AOPA to help.
Public relations expert Joseph Del Luca headed up the group. The AOPA made loud and public calls to the ACMA and the Morrison government to work to amend the IGA. He and the thousands of players who joined forces with him online simply wanted a carve-out from the IGA for online poker.
Since then, however, the movement lost steam. The AOPA site is no longer active, nor or other sites that once advocated for legal online poker in Australia.
Faint Voices of Reason
There have been some recent updates to an ongoing thread on the Two Plus Two online poker forum.
A player named “risk2Dupside” created some stickers and distributed them to players at the January Aussie Millions this year. The sticker read: “Aussies love online poker. Amend the Interactive Gambling Act!”
Another poster named “SwoopAE” posted this month that he had been unable to reach Del Luca in recent months. He offered to reach out to organizers of the Australian Poker Tour, WPT League, and others to offer stickers. Others were on board with starting a social media campaign.
On February 13, Del Luca finally commented and apologized for being away. He noted that he is counting on Communications Minister Paul Fletcher to introduce legislation to Parliament to exempt online poker from current laws. His hope is that progress can be made with no major elections on the horizon.
Ten days later, Del Luca reported that he has a meeting with Fletcher on March 18, 2020.