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Australia bets on licences for offshore gambling websites

Review of gaming laws suggests licensing, blacklisting, for poker sites and bookies

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Australian policymakers may have gotten themselves in another technological tangle, this time over which mediums are fit for the purpose of gambling.

The source of the brawl is a review of Australia’s Interactive Gambling Act commissioned by the sprawling Ministry of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy. The Actcurrently makes it illegal to use unlicensed online gambling services, but of course has no effect on offshore operators who happily take Aussie cash. Indeed, the report notes that not a single prosecution has taken place since its 2001 introduction.

The review was therefore called to assess the Act’s suitability, given that rather a lot has happened to interactive technologies since 2001. That progress is nicely illustrated by the fact a distinguished prominent Australian, the soon to be Mr L. Hurley, promotes an online poker venture.

The review suggests a new licensing regime that would mean offshore gambling services need a licence to serve local punters, an arrangement that would allow Australia to milk them for license fees. But licences would only be granted to sites that “cease offering higher risk types of online gambling (for example, online slot machines) to Australians and only offer online gambling services that are of a relatively lower risk (for example, online tournament poker), and agree to comply with a set of strong harm minimisation and consumer protection measures.”

That stance has ignited a domestic political brawl, with Australia’s opposition declaring every smartphone in the land will become a gateway to family-impoverishing betting services under the regime on offer. A suggestion in the interim report that some in-game bets currently possible through voice services might be available on the Web has also raised opposition ire (and concerns in the interim report about the kind of betting activity that plagues cricket).

The interim report will also, The Reg imagines, soon raise eyebrows among online libertarians thanks to a discussion of URL blocking as one enforcement option. Australia has form with that idea, as a national net filter is current policy, although funding for implementation of the idea has been conveniently ignored. The interim report does, however, suggest adding unlicensed gambling sites to the same URL blacklists the government shares with web filter vendors.

Of possible greater interest to the rest of the world is a suggestion Australia join the USA and other nations asking financial institutions to block transactions with unlicensed gambling services. The report even raises the prospect of folks known to work for unlicensed gambling services being added to the Movement Alert Lists used to deny entry visas to people Australia feels it would rather not admit to its soil.

As this is an interim report, its recommendations are a long way from becoming policy. But with Australia already on the nose internationally thanks to the proposed national filter, any reforms to online gambling are sure to be closely watched. ®

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