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Government Review of Online Gambling Offers Few Solutions

Thu, Mar 14, 4:35pm by Ed Scimia

While pokies reform was the dominant story on the minds of most Australian gamblers in the last year, there was a second move by the government which may have been even more important to the average punter. That was the plan by the federal government to review the existing online gambling laws and make a determination as to whether or not to loosen up some restrictions on Australian firms – particularly when it came to online poker.

But according to reports that have come out this week in various Australian media outlets, it looks like this review won’t causing any major changes to the online gambling landscape. According to Fairfax Media and others, fans of online sports betting shouldn’t expect to see Australian firms allowed to offer more forms of betting – such as expanded in-play bets – any time soon.

Perhaps more disappointing is the fact that there will reportedly be no trial for Australian-based online poker. While plenty of operators such as Intertops offer online poker to Australians, gambling companies in Australia are not allowed to offer poker and other online casino games to their customers. The government had initially said that a five-year trial of online poker was a possibility, but Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has now said that the plan will be scrapped.

“Copout” Pleases Neither Side

Instead, the biggest recommendation of the report appears to be putting harm minimization first, and only later revisiting a possible expansion of online gambling. This recommendation has pleased nobody, with both gambling insiders and opponents of online gambling seeing it as a missed opportunity by the government.

One of the ways in which the government has recommended minimizing harm is a national standard that would require punters to set deposit limits at online bookmakers. That doesn’t make the bookmakers happy, of course, as they say that strong Australian regulation is the key – not forcing pre-commitment schemes on punters.

Meanwhile, anti-gambling advocates such as Senator Nick Xenophon have called the report a “copout.” Rather than wait and see what states can agree on when it comes to online gambling, Xenophon says, the federal government should lay down standards themselves – just as they’ve done with pokies.

“The government fails to acknowledge the Commonwealth has the power to intervene now and fix up the current loopholes in the legislation,” Xenophon said, likely referring to the ability of Australian players to freely gamble on foreign sites. “Instead, it has adopted a fence-sitting approach of waiting for the states and territories to come on board. That’s a recipe for delay and inaction.”

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