Mon, Sep 25, 11:05am by Staff Writer
In more than two months since the Senate authorised the Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill of 2016, online poker has been outlawed and major operators have fled the market.
But according to a statement issued on September 11 by the office of Senator David Leyonhjelm, the tide may be turning for online poker advocates.
As the Senate’s lone representative from the Liberal Democratic Party, Leyonhjelm holds an influential vote as one of 21 crossbench members in Parliament. Before the IGAB’s passage was finalised, Leyonhjelm worked alongside a grassroots lobby group known as the Australian Online Poker Alliance (AOPA) to help secure a carveout for online poker within the law.
Those efforts fell short, but as Leyonhjelm’s recent statement suggests, his work on behalf of AOPA’s cause has continued behind the scenes:
“Following negotiations, the Coalition has advised that it is ‘favourably disposed’ to reforms that would exempt online poker players from illegal offshore wagering laws.
Senator David Leyonhjelm has received a letter from Communications Minister Mitch Fifield advising that he has instructed his Department to undertake some preliminary work examining the feasibility of Australian onshore providers obtaining licences to operate online poker.”
The statement goes on to confirm that a Senate committee, at the behest of Leyonhjelm, is still studying the ramifications of the IGAB online poker prohibition. That committee’s findings are scheduled to be released sometime in October.
Leyonhjelm also revealed that Minister Fifield has indicated he has the support of Human Services Minister Alan Tudge, who helped author the IGAB package of online gambling reforms following 2015’s government-ordered Illegal Offshore Wagering Review.
As a signal of his optimism, Leyonhjelm used his personal statement to frame an eventual reversal of the online poker ban as matter of regulatory tinkering, rather than a lingering ideological divide:
“I believe we have won the ‘in-principle’ battle. The question now will be how to make it happen in practice.
Gambling is largely a matter for the states, while communications and taxation are Commonwealth matters.
I’m not sure the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) is an appropriate regulatory agency and would like to see the Government consider something similar to the UK Gambling Commission, which appears to have a good understanding of the risks and benefits associated with online gambling.”
Following the Senate’s passage of the IGAB package, major international online poker operators like PokerStars and 888 Poker have ensured compliance with the new laws by barring Australians from all real money wagering.
Of course, the ban hasn’t curtailed actual play in any significant way, but has simply pushed Australians to use unregulated offshore sites like Ignition Poker instead.
Leyonhjelm made mention of the consumer protection implications of the IGAB ban:
“I will maintain close contact with Minister Fifield and his Department to ensure this matter maintains momentum.
Australian online poker players deserve to have a safe, regulated environment in which to enjoy their pastime and not be forced into using offshore sites.”
Speaking with PokerNews, AOPA founder Joseph Del Duca expressed his satisfaction at the sudden reversal in fortune:
“The AOPA is extremely pleased that the Minister is looking into the feasibility of a safe, regulated online poker market in Australia.
The poker community should be very proud of getting things to this point. As a community, all we ever wanted was to be heard.
We saw hundreds of ordinary Australians make submissions to the online poker inquiry and we are pleased that the government is listening to these players and taking this matter seriously.”
As Del Duca mentioned, Leyonhjelm had convinced his colleagues to accept public comment on the issue ahead of the Senate’s final IGAB vote. That process was ongoing when lawmakers decided to finalise the IGAB reforms.
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