Australia Ramps Up Online Betting Reforms With Site Blocking
ACMA chair Nerida O'Loughlin has launched a 'valuable weapon' to stop illegal betting (Image © PA)
If you have funds deposited with an illegal gambling site, withdraw them now. That was the stark warning from the Australian Communications and Media Authority when it announced it was about to start blocking 'unscrupulous operators'.
The move is the final stage of online gambling reforms introduced in 2017 under the 2001 Interactive Gambling Act, in response to the 2015 O'Farrell Review, and it comes after reports that the ACMA has found illegal offshore betting companies refusing to allow players to withdraw funds.
Since the ACMA began enforcing the new laws to combat these operators, more than 65 have pulled out of the market. But that is not good enough, says the ACMA, who will now use its powers to ask internet service providers to block persistant unlicensed sites.
Blocking Is Valuable 'Weapon' Against Illegal Gambling
ACMA chair Nerida O'Loughlin said: "We have been targeting illegal gambling services we know are active in the Australian market through complaints received and monitoring. But we expect that list of sites will grow as we investigate more.
“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."
She added: “In many cases these sites refuse to pay significant winnings, or only a small portion. Customers had also experienced illegal operators continuing to withdraw funds from their bank account without authorisation.
“There is little to no recourse for consumers engaging with these unscrupulous operators. If you have funds deposited with an illegal gambling site, you should withdraw those funds now."
Australian bettors can find out whether they are using an illegal online betting site by checking the ACMA's register of licensed online wagering services. If the gambling site, or on-course bookmaker, is not listed there, then it is an illegal betting service in Australia.
Gambling.com follows the ACMA's lead and only recommends and reviews licensed online betting sites, giving Australians a secondary resource to protect their gambling activities.
Unlicensed Betting Sites Take $400m Each Year
Welcoming the ACMA's new enforcement strategy, Communications and Cyber Safety Minister Paul Fletcher stressed the significance of the issue in Australia.
“Up to $400 million is spent annually by Australians on illegal gambling websites, accounting for around $100 million in lost tax revenue each year," he said. "While ACMA has a range of powers to protect Australians from illegal gambling services – including issuing formal warnings and seeking civil penalty orders – it can be difficult to take direct action against faceless companies with no legal presence on our shores.
“This is an important partnership with the Communications Alliance, and I want to acknowledge the industry’s support. Working with ACMA, these additional measures give ISPs the ability to block illegal websites, protecting Australians and contributing to a safer online gambling environment.”
Now, using these new measures, when the ACMA's other enforcement actions are not adequate, they will be able to refer offending gambling sites to internet service providers to be blocked under section 313 (2) of the Telecomunnications Act 1997.
But Not All Illegal Gambling Sites Will Get Blocked
In the name of transparency, the ACMA has detailed the processes they will adopt when deciding whether or not to make a disruption request for an illegal gambling site.
It shows that disruption requests will only be issued if the betting companies involved are alleged to have engaged in serious criminal or civil offences, or threats to national security.
Only if their alleged crimes carry a maximum prison term of at least two years, or a financial penalty of at least 120 Commonwealth penalty units, will the website be blocked by Australian internet service providers.
The ACMA states that these strict guidelines are to ensure that as they crack down on illegal betting providers, that they also continue to promote 'an open, free and secure internet'.
With that same policy in mind, no block will be eternal; each disruption request that is fulfilled will expire, and the affects of the withdrawal of access to the website will be monitored throughout the restriction period.
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