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Apple flushes poker apps after prod from Australia

Rarely-used anti-gambling law pressed into service

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In 2001 Australia passed the Interactive Gambling Act 2001, a law the then-conservative government created in a “won't somebody think of the children” knee-jerk reaction to worries about the possible effects of the early-ish internet.

The law banned online gambling services in Australia and, in what was seen at the time as a futile act of legislative overreach, also prohibited anyone in another nation from providing interactive gambling services to Australians.

The law turned out to be a damp squib: when Australia's government decided to review of the Act last year, it admitted that not a single prosecution had ever been made under its provisions.

But Australia has now unsheathed the law and reminded Apple of its existence.

Apple was targeted because its App Store offered apps from two outfits, PokerStars and 888 Poker, both of which offered the chance to gamble with real money. PokerStars even offers a ”real money” option for gamblers that Vulture South was able to access without any restrictions from our antipodean eyrie.

Any legal missive from Australia's government to PokerStars' Isle of Man headquarters would probably find itself in the shredder within moments, as the zero prosecution rate under the Act attests. But The Reg has been told by Australia's Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy (DBCDE) that it “wrote to Apple raising its concern that the availability of the Pokerstars App is contrary to the provisions of the Interactive Gambling Act 2001.”

Here's how the Department said things played out:

“Apple sought to resolve this issue with the App developer. After the developer failed to take action, Apple wrote to the Department to advise that it would remove the Pokerstars App from its Australian App Store.”

Poker players now report the apps are no longer available to Australian customers of the app store. Vulture South can confirm PokerStars remains on sale in the US app store, confirmation – if any was needed – that Australia's laws only reach so far.

DBCDE spokesfolk ignored our questions asking why Australia chose to wield the Act now, or why these apps deserved to feel its force.

One possible answer is that Australia's Parliament is currently considering an amendment to the Act that would prohibit in-app purchases of virtual credit , as such arrangments are felt to contravene the spirit of the law. The nation has also launched an inquiry into apps, again in “think of the children mode” after numerous reports of families being slugged with horror bills after children failed to recognise their in-app purchases involve real currency.

Pointing out the provisions of the Interactive Gambling Act 2001 to Apple therefore represents a notable new front in lawmakers' attempts to curb online gambling. Vulture South makes that assertion because the amendment mentioned above does not include any provision for controlling apps, while the review of the the Interactive Gambling Act 2001, which emerged (PDF) in March 2013, made a number of recommendations about how to improve the law, but to date those recommendations have not been legislated.

Perhaps the mere existence of Apple's Australian outpost made the move possible. The company has been under pressure, of late, over its Australian taxation and product pricing arrangements, even going so far as to appear before a Parliamentary committee to defend the latter and acquitting itself rather better than Microsoft and Adobe, who were also compelled to appear.

But Australia is still looking into multinational companies' tax affairs. By acting quickly on PokerStars, might Apple have bought itself a little credit with Australia's Government? ®

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