Australia Gets Beefed-Up Powers to Block Illegal Online Gambling Sites

Posted on: November 11, 2019, 08:23h. 

Last updated on: November 11, 2019, 10:47h.

Australia’s government can now force internet providers to block illegal foreign gaming websites, especially those which fail to pay out winnings to residents.

Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) chair Nerida O’Loughlin is pledging to have internet providers block foreign illegal gambling sites. (Image: The Flinders News)

The move builds on previous steps by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), a national regulator, to remove the illegal wagering sites. At least 65 illegal online gambling companies left the Australian market since 2017 once ACMA started enforcement of stronger laws.

In many cases, these sites refuse to pay significant winnings, or only a small portion,” ACMA Chair Nerida O’Loughlin said in a recent statement. “Customers had also experienced illegal operators continuing to withdraw funds from their bank account without authorization.”

Emu Casino and Fair Go Casino allegedly are likely among the first sites that will be blocked by ISPs in Australia, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. They are based in Curacao, a Caribbean island.

The ACMA prioritizes illegal offshore gambling websites that target Australians who often end up cheated or defrauded, the regulator said in the statement. The new authority to have internet service providers block sites will only be taken if less-severe steps are unlikely, the Herald said.

Australia Builds on Anti-Gambling Legal Arsenal

The Interactive Gambling Act 2001 was the original legal weapon used against offending sites. More regulatory authority was enacted since then.

For instance, the ACMA has fined companies for running illegal sites. Last year, the government began its efforts to impose hefty fines.

The ACMA can now inflict penalties of up to AU$1.35 million ($925,000) per day for individuals, and up to AU$6.75 ($4.6 million) for companies found to be in violation of the law. The government also blocked customers from getting credit from the offending companies.

The ACMA additionally listed directors of the illegal gambling sites on the Department of Home Affairs Movement Alert List, and notified regulators in the home countries where the sites operate.

Despite these efforts, Australians still spend about $400 million a year on illegal gaming sites, the Herald said, quoting Communications Minister Paul Fletcher. That represents some $100 million that could have been raised by the government if the gamblers were using legal venues.

It remains possible that Australians who want to circumvent a blocked site can use a virtual private network. That way, their location is not revealed. But such an illegal workaround is unlikely for many gamblers.

The ability to have ISPs block illegal websites will be a valuable additional weapon in the ACMA’s arsenal in the fight against illegal online gambling,” O’Loughlin said. “We have been targeting illegal gambling services we know are active in the Australian market through complaints received and monitoring.”

Last November, 33 unlicensed gambling operators left the Australian market in the course of 12 months under the increased regulatory authority.

“But we expect that list of sites will grow as we investigate more,” O’Loughlin said in the recent statement. “There is little to no recourse for consumers engaging with these unscrupulous operators.”

Among the most recent alleged violators, the ACMA claimed in June that Lottoland Australia Pty Ltd violated the Interactive Gambling Act 2001 by providing prohibited interactive gambling services. Several Lottoland online jackpot betting services were allegedly games of chance, which are prohibited. Lottoland disagrees and started legal proceedings.

Also, information that can help consumers protect themselves from illegal gambling sites — particularly those targeting Australians — is posted on the ACMA website.

“Public education is … crucial in deterring Australians from using these sites, given many illegal offshore gambling websites target Australians by using Australian themes and images, such as the Australian flag and native animals,” O’Loughlin said.

She further recommends those who have used the illegal gambling sites withdraw any money now deposited with the operation.

Russia, China Also Block Sites

Both Russia and China also block illegal gambling sites. In January, Google began to filter search queries in Russia as demanded by the country’s laws, including those involving gambling, according to the Moscow Times.

Australia is also considering enacting new laws for those who want to gamble legally online. Australian online gamblers, or those who want to watch adult content on their computers, may soon have to agree to a facial scan.