Poker players have been missing legal online poker in Australia. They saw the majority of internet poker operators leave the market in mid-2017. That’s when the Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill went into effect. Unfortunately, there have been little reasoning with lawmakers since then.
The Australian Online Poker Alliance (AOPA) has been working to change that. The group has been working since the beginning of 2019 to urge poker players to reach out to local politicians ahead of the upcoming May 18 election.
The AOPA and its supporters will target the government in place after this election in the hope of drumming up support for legal and regulated online poker in Australia.
What is the AOPA?
The Australian Online Poker Alliance was formed as a grassroots organisation dedicated to saving online poker from the Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill several years ago. Joseph Del Duca founded the group and continues to lead it.
The original goal was to work with lawmakers to create a carveout for poker as a game of skill. The idea was to exempt it from the ban and allow online poker operators to become licenced and regulated for Aussies.
Numerous poker pros worked with the AOPA for the cause, with 2005 World Series of Poker Main Event champion Joe Hachem as one of the most outspoken poker supporters.
There was one ally in the government, namely Liberal Democratic Senator David Leyonhjelm. The politician went so far as to introduce an amendment to the Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill to exempt online poker. However, it failed to gain enough support.
Renewed Efforts for Online Poker in Australia
The AOPA hasn’t given up. It has been pushing its members and supporters to contact local politicians ahead of the May 18 election to express their hopes for legal online poker in Australia.
Del Duca commented; “By failing to regulate online poker, the government has left the tens of thousands of Australians who enjoy playing online poker regularly at risk, forcing them into the hands of unscrupulous black-market operators instead of providing a safe, regulated market for Australian online poker players. We call on all poker players to use their vote wisely at the next election. Ask those running for election in your seat whether they support safe, regulated online poker.”
The AOPA has not come out in support of any particular politicians or parties. Instead, the group is planning to work with the new government. As Del Duca commented:
“Regardless of who wins the election, the government must act in the interest of Australia by regulating online poker.”
He also added; “When the new government is decided, we will be severely ramping up the fight to bring poker back to our country.”
Leyonhjelm Out of Senate
The staunchest ally of the AOPA was Leyonhjelm, a primarily libertarian politician from the Liberal Democratic Party as a Senator for New South Wales. Elected in 2013, Leyonhjelm took office in 2014. He was then reelected in 2016.
Leyonhjelm garnered a great deal of negative publicity in 2018 for comments he made. This was in regards a bill allowing women to carry weapons like pepper spray and tasers for protection against men. His comments led to a censure of Leyonhjelm in the Senate in August 2018.
By 2019, Leyonhjelm was ready to leave the Senate and announced his intention to quit. He did so in March 2019, mostly to contest the 2019 New South Wales state election weeks later. He tried to win a spot on the NSW Legislative Council but failed.
It is unclear if the AOPA has found another ally in Parliament to push for legal online poker in Australia.
Australia’s Black Friday
The passage of the Interactive Gambling Amendment was the start of the downfall of online poker for Aussies. However, it didn’t sink in until the world’s largest poker operators began pulling out of the market.
PokerStars was the first to make that decision in November 2016. At the start of 2017, 888poker then told its players that it would leave the market on January 16, 2017. PartyPoker followed, and in August 2017 announced its exit.
PartyPoker Managing Director Tom Waters wrote to players; “We regret that this day has come as Australia is a strong poker market. We will continue to work with the Australian player alliance to lobby the government to provide a safe, regulated environment for residents to play online poker in the future.”
PokerStars followed in September 11, 2017 and also noted its intention to work with the AOPA for a change in the laws. “As supporters of sensible online gaming regulation and the most licensed poker brand in the world,” wrote PokerStars, “we hope that future legislation will be considered that will allow PokerStars to return to Australia.”
The upcoming election will thus determine if the AOPA is able to work with the new government to change the laws. If successful, a broad spectrum of online poker may subsequently be welcomed back to the Australian market.