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How Could Changes to Interactive Gambling Act Affect Australians?

Recently, there has been a lot of talk about the possibility of the Australian government making changes to the Interactive Gambling Act – the set of laws that currently governs how Australia treats online gambling. While the changes sound exciting and could have a large impact on how Australians gamble online, some of the changes might seem confusing or unclear to some players.

The Situation Today

First, let’s review where online gambling stands today in Australia. Under the Interactive Gambling Act of 2001 (IGA), Australian firms cannot offer real money casino or poker games to Australian citizens. Most forms of online sports betting are allowed, however. In addition, the IGA does not make it illegal for Australians to gamble online with foreign operators, so Australians are free to play casino games or poker at hundreds of sites hosted in other parts of the world.

The Potential Changes

A recent report that was released by the Australian government showed that they are currently considering making some changes to the IGA to allow Australia to be more competitive in the online gambling world. Among the changes were two major ones that would affect what Australians should expect to see in terms of both poker and online sports betting.

In-Play Betting Law Changes

For sports punters, the biggest change in the law would be allowing gamblers to make live or in-play bets on sporting events online. This would include, for instance, betting on the winner of a football match during play, when the score and situation could impact the odds. However, this would not include so called “micro-betting,” or betting on individual balls in cricket or similar bets in other sports.

These bets are already allowed at live betting offices and over the phone, so adding them to online sportsbooks seems like a logical step. Interestingly, the report would not only suggest banning micro-betting at online sites, but will also encourage states to do this at live betting locations as well.

Online Poker Law Changes

Another exciting change could be the introduction of online poker to gambling websites based in Australia itself. Of course, there are plenty of places to play online poker for Australians at the moment, but companies based in Australia are not allowed to offer such games under the current IGA.

According to the report, the Australian government would like to put forward a series of standards that would be required for any company wishing to offer online poker. Once those standards were finalized, the government would begin a trial period for online poker. Sites would be given licences to offer online poker as long as they did not offer any other online casino games, which would still be considered illegal for Australian operators to feature on their websites.

Other Changes

While the live-betting and online poker provisions have rightfully grabbed most of the attention, there were other changes recommended in the government report. A few of these proposed addendums to the IGA were as follows:

  • There would be heavier penalties for companies and individuals in Australia that ran illegal gambling sites. The Australian Federal Police would be empowered to take actions against those websites, and directors of those companies would be held liable for offering illegal games. Websites deemed illegal could be entirely shut down, or ISPs could be required to flash warnings to customers when they access those sites.
  • Efforts would be made to minimize the potential harm of online gambling. This could include pre-commitment schemes similar to those proposed for pokies, self-exclusion lists that would allow players to prevent themselves from having access to websites, and easily available data that would let bettors know how much money they had spent.
  • Online gambling laws and match-fixing laws would be coordinated and linked, likely with the goal of preventing match-fixing through the monitoring of online betting activities.

Legislative Outlook

While the potential changes to the IGA have been widely reported on, and many have discussed them as though they are a certainty to go into effect, it’s important to remember that these are just that: potential changes. Since these proposals have only been suggested in a report and haven’t even reached the stage of being debated on – let alone voted on – in Parliament, there is still quite a ways to go before any such legislation would be put into place.

That said, there are some good signs for the future of the bill. There is plenty of support for the proposals, ranging from the gaming industry in Australia to a wide cross-section of political figures. Even some of the more pragmatic opponents of gambling have supported similar proposals in the past, due in large part to the fact that Australian-licensed online poker and gambling sites would be easier to hold accountable than foreign sites.

Of course, not everyone is necessarily on board with the changes. Independent Senator Nick Xenophon was particularly sharp in his criticism of the proposals, calling them a “thinly disguised sell-out to expose more Australians to online gambling.” Others have been more muted, but have still wondered if the government might be pushing the reforms too quickly before fully considering how to minimize any harmful effects.

Overall, though, the prospects for some sort of liberalisation of Australia’s online gambling laws – including reforms to both bookmakers and online poker – appear strong. While the specifics of any reforms to the IGA may well change between now and when they go into law, it’s likely that the general principals of the current report will survive, and some have predicted that the new gambling laws could be passed within a year.