In mid-March, Australia made a long-awaited and dreaded move toward banning offshore internet gaming operators from offering services to customers based in Australia. The Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill will update the current laws to push non-Australian-based companies out of the market by implementing significant fines. The loopholes through which operators have been using will no longer be available, and online poker will effectively be banned.
Knowing this was going to happen, many online gaming sites exited the Australian market earlier this year, with 888poker among them. And when the news of the Senate’s passage of the bill came in late March, the Australian online poker community prepared to play their last hands, knowing the House would pass the bill any day and make it official.
However, there is now a delay. And while most industry experts do not believe the House’s postponement of a vote on the bill means anything positive for the gaming industry, it does give Aussies a few more weeks of poker action and time to process the inevitable.
Very disappointed to see Australia going the way of America on this one https://t.co/EUKTwqWaob— Poker Refugees (@PokerRefugees) March 31, 2017
What Happened in the House?
The House of Representatives ultimately decided it had more important issues on its plate when passing the last of its bills for the current session. The House is now on a break until the new session begins in early May, at which time its members are expected to pass the Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill. By the time it makes it to publication as law, it will likely be sometime in early to mid-June.
Is there time for the Australian Online Poker Alliance to petition legislators one last time? Yes, but the grassroots organization is unlikely to have any more success than it did before the Senate vote. At that time, they had the support of Liberal Democratic Senator David Leyonhjelm, who tried to stave off the bill with an amendment of his own to make an exception for online poker. But with the strong vote for the IGA in the Senate, the House is expected to follow suit.
A Long Goodbye
PokerStars has avoided exiting the substantial Australian market for as long as possible. As long ago as December, company representatives have noted that they were watching the progress of the bill and would act as legal advice dictated. As 888poker and others left the market, PokerStars remained. The site has a strong connection to Australia, not only having sponsored players like WSOP champion Joe Hachem but also having held numerous live tournaments and tours there. It has always been a strong market for online poker in general and a particularly good one for PokerStars.
At a time when the inevitable is now on hold for more than a month, PokerStars did the right thing and communicated with players in an email acknowledging the actions of Parliament thus far and what is likely to come. “It’s with great sadness that we have to say that if this bill is passed, it means we will have to halt real-money poker play for you and all other Australian players,” it read. And it continued to assure players that their funds are safe and will be available for withdrawal when the time comes, but the site remains available until they are notified otherwise.
The lengthy message went on to praise the efforts of the Australian Online Poker Alliance and vowed to continue lobbying governments around the world for legal and safe online poker. PokerStars realized that the group was fighting hard and did everything possible to try to stop the current legislation.
Finally, PokerStars wrote, “We’re committed to keeping you informed and to support the game in all its shapes and sizes, wherever it may be in the world.” The communication with Australian poker players is vital, as it was in the United States after Black Friday in 2011. Though that situation was different in that it was sudden and without warning, keeping players informed as much as possible creates long-term good will. At a time when players may be confused or worried, PokerStars is staying in touch.
Meanwhile, players will be able to take advantage of more action on the site before it leaves the Australian market. Since April and May are big months for online poker tournaments, players can now look forward to participating in the Spring Championship of Online Poker (SCOOP) on PokerStars from April 30 to May 23. And if PartyPoker remains until the last minute, players can access Powerfest events from May 7 to May 21. With $75 million in tournament guarantees available between the two major series, players can go for the glory before saying goodbye.