Australian Lawmakers Force Inquiry into Online Poker Ban

Posted on: June 14, 2017, 01:00h. 

Last updated on: June 14, 2017, 11:33h.

Two Australian Senators have made progress in their push to block Australia’s de facto ban on online poker. Senators David Leyonhjelm and Cory Bernardi, respectively of the Liberal Democrats and Australian Conservatives, two minor political parties in the country, had their motion to establish an inquiry into online poker approved this week.   

Leyonhjelm forces online poker inquiry in Australia
Senator David Leyonhjelm has branded Australia’s prohibition of online poker “a really stupid situation to be in.” The Interactive Gambling Act Amendment is likely to have the opposite of its intended effect by driving players towards the black market. (Image: Kym Smith/The Australian)

“It’s prohibited,” Leyonhjelm, an outspoken libertarian, told reporters in Canberra this week. “The stupid government has made it virtually impossible to play poker online. As a result, thousands of Australians who play poker for fun … can’t play it online, or they won’t once the bill takes effect. It’s insane.”

The bill in question is the Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill, a piece of legislation designed to protect consumers from unlicensed operators by making it far more difficult for such operators to target Australian players.

It clarifies that the original Interactive Gambling Act only permits operators licensed in Australia to provide online gambling services. But since Australia only offers licensing for sports betting, it has the effect of banning both online poker and casino gaming.

Black is the New Gray

Previously, operators like PokerStars and 888 were able to offer games to Australians due to the lack of legal clarity over what it meant to be “licensed.” Since they were licensed and regulated elsewhere, and had no opportunity to be licensed in Australia, they continued to operate, albeit it in a “gray market.”

But with the bill’s enactment, the country’s online poker players will have little recourse but to engage with offshore, unlicensed operators, thus achieving the opposite of its intended purpose.

It will drive players into the hands of less reputable online poker sites, rather than those that would gladly have sought Australian licensing had the opportunity been available.   

“There is quite an active online poker community in Australia,” said Leyonhjelm. “I don’t think [prohibition] will succeed for those really determined. If you have a VPN or offshore account, you will still play. It’s a stupid situation to be in.”

First Online Poker Conviction

Earlier this month, Australia secured its first prosecution of an online poker operator for violating the Interactive Gambling Act. Luke Brabin, WSOP Asia-Pacific gold bracelet holder and owner of the site play.pokerasiapacific.com, was fined A$10,000 ($7,500) for providing an illegal gambling service.

At the time the charges against Brabin were filed, play.pokerasiapacific.com was lobbying he government to have online poker excluded from the Interactive Gambling Act.

On his Facebook page, Leyonhjelm said he encourages all Australians concerned about online poker to make a submission to the forthcoming inquiry and that he would post a link to submissions as soon as one is made available.