Online poker has long been debated in Australia due to its gray market status under ambiguous laws. But the government just changed all that by passing the Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill of 2016.
Major online gaming companies have offered services to Australians for many years. By the time of the poker boom that began in 2003 and the World Series of Poker Main Event win by Aussie Joe Hachem in 2005, Australia had its own poker boom on its hands. Online poker options were prevalent, and that translated into massive growth for the live and online poker industry.
Turning Gray Areas to Black
The Interactive Gambling Act of 2001 was the government’s attempt to regulate online gaming and discourage offshore real-money operators from targeting Australian customers. However, games like online poker were so popular with citizens and lucrative for operators that the internet action continued. And with loopholes in the language of the law, there was little legal recourse for the Australian government.
Look at all of the responsible gambling options that online poker players can use today that won't be offered soon without new legislation pic.twitter.com/K6jA4T6c1Q— Oliver Gill (@capitao85) March 21, 2017
However, a movement began in 2016 to change that. Minister of Communications Mitch Fifield and Minister of Human Services Alan Tudge spearheaded the movement to update the laws with the new Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill of 2016, which proposed significant fines on offshore operators.
The proposal gained significant support in the Australian Parliament, so much so that 888poker made the decision on January 13 to withdraw from the market. All accounts were closed three days later. And PokerStars indicated that its legal team was reviewing the new law. Amaya CFO Daniel Sebag noted late in 2016: “At this time, it would appear likely that if the legislation passes, we would block players from Australia.”
On March 21, the Australian Senate passed the Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill. Significant efforts in past months from the Australian Online Poker Alliance, a grassroots organization dedicated to saving online poker from the proposed law, were strong but did not influence legislators enough to create a carve-out for poker. Liberal Democratic Senator David Leyonhjelm did introduce an amendment to exempt online poker from the proposed law, but it garnered no support. Fifield specifically noted that online poker is a problem gambling risk, and it remained a cornerstone of the bill.
The House of Representatives is expected to pass the same bill in short order, which will make the new law official and enable the government to enforce it.
This puts PokerStars, PartyPoker, and numerous other online gaming operators on the spot. As most of them are officially licensed in other parts of the world, including the UK, US, and various European countries, the good standing of those licenses require them to withdraw from the Australian market as soon as the law is official. Players can expect notifications from those sites within the coming days and weeks, most likely sooner rather than later due to the urgency with which the Australian lawmakers are urging final passage.
Not Much Recourse for Players
Americans know how Australians are feeling. Black Friday in the US left players stunned and with few options besides leaving the country in order to play or switching to live poker. Professionals in Australia are now facing the same decisions that may change their entire career paths or uproot their lives to move to another part of the world.
The best advice is to follow the directions of the sites on which poker accounts are open. When PokerStars and others send notices to transfer or withdraw funds, it is wise to do so immediately to ensure timely payments. The government can and should allow a grace period for operators and players to take the appropriate actions.
There will be few choices for online poker players in Australia going forward. Live poker will remain legal and a viable option for those who live near land-based casinos, but the environment, pace, and game selection will be radically different from the typical online action. Relocating is also an option, though many other areas of the world are also enacting laws that segregate player pools and offer much different options than the dot-com market to which the Aussies have become accustomed.
One last sesh. Goodbye online poker in Australia. Was a huge part of my life for 3-4yrs, sad to see it go. gg Aussies pic.twitter.com/Tbwi9GTAd0— Jordan Grady (@straykatbluz) March 21, 2017
Finally, beware of offshore operators who skirt the law. Of the unlicensed and rogue sites that have offered services to American customers since Black Friday, some like Merge Gaming and Full Flush Poker have folded and/or left thousands of players without access to their online poker funds. Caution is advised when choosing such a path.
Aussies, lean on your American friends. Reach out to them on internet poker forums and ask for advice from people who have been in your position.