Wed, Jul 5, 11:39am by Staff Writer
As the federal government prepares to enact sweeping reforms to the online gambling industry – courtesy of the Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill (IGAB) of 2016 passed by the Senate in March – online poker players have been caught in the crossfire.
While the IGAB package was originally intended to close loopholes exploited by online sports betting operators, the version passed by the Senate also calls for online poker prohibition throughout the country.
That news came as a surprise to major international operators like 888 Poker, which withdrew from the Australian market ahead of the Senate vote, and PokerStars, which has remained in a holding pattern until final passage.
Another party who expressed shock at the government’s blanket ban over online poker was Senator David Leyonhjelm, a member of the Liberal Democratic Party representing New South Wales. In March, as news of the Senate’s vote broke, Leyonhjelm spoke with Huffington Post Australia to express his misgivings over IGAB’s perceived overreach:
“It’s stupid. If you want to play poker, there are lots of opportunities in Australia, at casinos and tournaments.
It’s not as if there isn’t a great deal of poker playing already, but they’re just stopping it online.
The whole world is online now.”
One month later, as part of his work with grassroots lobby group the Australian Online Poker Alliance (AOPA), Leyonhjelm talked with PokerNews and delivered a message straight to the Australian poker community:
“We need to hear from Australian poker players. And, it’s useful to hear from poker players in other countries. Explain that what Australia is doing is out of step with what other countries are doing. It helps for Australian politicians to hear that what they’re doing is different from the rest of the world.
They kicked up quite a noise in the lead-up to the vote on the bill. I appreciate the fact that they’re there, they’re cheering me on. And when the time comes, I know they’ll spring into gear and make their voices heard.
And I will need their voices to be heard.”
At the time, Leyonhjelm was pursuing a pair of last-ditch efforts to save online poker in Australia.
First, he proposed a “carveout” amendment which would add language clarifying that online poker is exempted from IGAB’s purview – but that was quickly voted down.
Leyonhjelm then requested a formal inquiry into the matter, asking his fellow Senators to hold off on passing IGAB to the House until the online poker debate could be studied further.
That inquiry request was approved on June 13, and the Environment and Communications References Committee was immediately tasked with taking online poker testimonials from Australians.
Officially known as the “Participation of Australians in Online Poker” inquiry, Leyonhjelm’s efforts are focused on asking Australians directly about their experience with the industry based on the following topics:
“(A) the participation of Australians in online poker;
(B) the nature and extent of any personal or social harms and benefits arising from participating in online poker; and
(C) whether the current regulatory approach, in particular, the recently amended Interactive Gambling Act 2001, is a reasonable and proportionate response to those harms and benefits.”
Submissions from online poker players will be accepted over the next two weeks, with a deadline set for July 21.
Members of the committee will then deliver their final report to the full Senate by September 14 of this year.
The Parliament has established a dedicated website (http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Environment_and_Communications/OnlinePoker) to provide information on the inquiry, and players are invited to upload their testimonials directly.
Alternative contact information for delivering submissions can be found below:
Senate Standing Committees on Environment and Communications
PO Box 6100
Canberra ACT 2600
Phone: +61 2 6277 3526
Fax: +61 2 6277 5818
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