Australia is home to the world’s highest rate of gambling among its adult population, as over 80% of Aussie adults engage in gambling of some kind according to the BBC. Gambling is so ingrained in the fabric of Australian life that 4% of the population plays slot machines (which they call poker machines or pokies) at LEAST once a week. With that in mind, legislators have taken steps to regulate gambling in the country, including in the digital space.
Passed over 15 years ago, Australia’s Interactive Gambling Act of 2001 (IGA) was enforced with an eye towards curbing perceived negative effects of online gambling in the country. This seemed successful until technical loopholes arose and Australia had no choice but to make changes to the law to protect its residents from the risks of online gambling.
The initial approach was aimed squarely (and solely) at the operators themselves. This meant that while operators could not offer or advertise “real-money” interactive online gambling to Australian residents, it wasn’t illegal for citizens to make use of the services. Australians were free to play at online casinos located and licensed outside the country. In addition, Australia-based companies could offer gambling services to players abroad as long as it wasn’t in a so called “designated country”.
If companies failed to comply with these regulations they were forced to pay a fine in excess of one million dollars per day. However, the IGA specified that operators could be cleared of wrongdoing even if Australian citizens signed up and played, so long as the operator was unaware, with due diligence, that they were offering their games to Aussie residents. This meant that operator had to put alerts, warnings and address checks in place before and during sign-up.
There were exceptions to the law that allowed for very specific types of online gambling taking place in the land down under. The primary example is sports betting, which is allowed through licensed operators as long as the betting takes place PRIOR to the start of the event in question. This is because the law specifies that online gambling is illegal only if it is interactive, so pre-event betting is allowed but in-play betting is not. This also allows for online lotteries to be legal as long as they are not of the instant-win scratch card variety.
A 2012 government review of the act, conducted over a decade after its inception, found that the IGA was both ineffectual and potentially harmful to Australian players, as it had caused a high level of Australian gamblers to use prohibited services for their online gambling needs, including many with subpar protections for players. Determined punters found clever ways to get around the restrictions, for example, by using their mobile phones to place their wager during a live event. In fact, the report showed an increase in online gaming providers and an extra $200 million spent on online gambling activities.
The findings stated above were eye-opening and led to the decision to do things differently. In 2016 the Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill 2016 was passed. One of the major changes is regarding the legality of online casino gaming, which from now on is prohibited even if the casino is legally licenses by a reputable offshore gambling jurisdiction. The focus however remains on the operators, which means Aussie players won’t be penalised when gambling at unlicensed casino sites and essentially remain vulnerable to dodgy sites that aren’t regulated by the likes of eCOGRA.
Another consequence is that the grey area revolving online poker has been turned black. This means online poker is now illegal in Australia and poker down under players find themselves in the same boat as the Americans. With that being said, sports betting and lotteries remain legal as dictated by the initial approach. Small amendments have been put in place to penalise “click-to-call” betting and unlicensed offshore providers offering bets to Australians.
Of course, these tighter regulations aren’t appreciated by fanatic punters who like to spin the reels or bluff their way to the pot. While the internet is most likely to come up with genius ways to surpass the restrictions, we advise you to do your research and to always gamble responsibly. Stay tuned for more updates.