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Australia to make online gambling illegal

Loses its mind, not its shirt

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Not satisfied with nannying laws over Internet content, the luddites in the Australian federal government have set their sights on online gambling.

There was widespread confusion earlier this month over proposed legislation that made it an offence for Australians to post anything unsuitable for kids on the Internet.

Now an official notice on the government's Web site says: "The Federal Government will shortly introduce legislation to prohibit Australian gambling service providers from providing online and interactive gambling and wagering services to people located in Australia, the Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, Senator Richard Alston announced today."

It goes on: "The prohibition will apply to all gaming and wagering services, including poker machines, casino games, sports betting and lotteries, that are offered on a commercial basis over the Internet or through online delivery systems such as interactive television and advanced mobile phone technologies,' Senator Alston said."

The law will not apply to Australian gambling companies that only serve people outside Australia however. The onus is apparently not on ISPs (this time) but gambling companies. They will have to "determine whether users are physically located in Australia and, if they are, to prevent them from accessing the gambling site".

What is going on down there? The government appears to have gone stark raving mad. Not only is the legislation over the top it is also completely impractical. We had the same thing in France with the Yahoo auction case. Then, the government ruled that Yahoo! would have to block any French citizens from accessing its US auction site because it sold Nazi memorabilia. A panel of experts decided this was possible, although one subsequently announced that it was impossible to block users because of the way the Internet is set up.

It's not only impossible - because people only have to sign up to a non-Australian provider - it is also foolhardy because it will cost the industry a fortune to attempt to run (while more people move away from it). Since it can be so easily bypassed, this really is an Internet Maginot line.

A telling piece of the official announcement says: "While it is a matter for other countries to decide how they will approach online gambling, Australia's status as one of the world's leading problem gambling nations demands that we take decisive action to protect the most vulnerable in our community." Most vulnerable? They've been watching too many Neighbours re-runs. And all this comes on the back of the law that makes Australians liable for any (yes, any) information on the Internet that the police (yes, the police) decide is unsuitable for children.

The Prime Minister, John Howard, is right behind the legislation. He "acknowledges it [the banning of all forms of Internet gambling for every Australian] will be difficult to achieve, but believes it is worth trying." He said: "When indulged into excess, it has hugely damaging social and family consequences."

Should a prime minister, charged with running the country, use his position to enforce his moral beliefs as well? Isn't that what religious leaders, philosophers, game show hosts et al are for?

There has been some heavy criticism but less than you might expect. Political enemies have "serious doubts" about the legislation but are not prepared to put their career on the line. Also, most of the criticism seems to be more about the impracticality of it, rather than the fact that the government is damaging a very important industry as well as trying to bluntly and blatantly control its citizens. ®

Related Link

Official release

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