Thu, Nov 24, 9:09am by Staff Writer
In light of the likelihood that a strict package of laws, known as the Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill (IGAB) of 2016, will classify online poker as federally illegal, PokerStars has signalled that its globally-leading brand will consider withdrawing from the Australian marketplace.
A collection of proposed amendments to the Interactive Gambling Act of 2001, the IGAB was introduced by Minister For Communications Mitch Fifield on November 10. Since then, the proposal – which would actualise the government-commissioned recommendations put forth by the 2015 Review of Illegal Offshore Wagering – has since been championed by Minister for Human Services Alan Tudge and other anti-gambling figures within the Xenophon Team.
Effectively, the IGAB’s legislative language seeks to eliminate all forms of ‘live’ online gambling, It would specifically classify online casinos and poker rooms as illegal.
“Prohibited services under the IGA include online casino-style gaming services of chance or mixed skill and chance, such as blackjack, roulette and poker, which are played for money or anything else of value. Wagering and lotteries are permitted under limited circumstances.”
In a statement, Minister Tudge (pictured) was clear in positioning the IGAB as a tool in the anti-gambling government’s policymaking arsenal:
“The government is committed to taking tougher action against illegal offshore wagering providers and this bill does exactly that.”
Daniel Sebag, who serves as CFO of PokerStars parent company Amaya Inc., offered a stark appraisal of the current regulatory climate in Australia during a recent Q3 earnings conference call:
“We continuously monitor the regulatory environments of the countries in which we currently operate and in which we hope to operate.”
“In Australia, we currently offer poker and are reviewing the applicability of proposed legislation to player versus player games of skill. At this time, it would appear likely that if the legislation passes, we would block players from Australia. As we do not offer casino sportsbook in Australia, it currently contributes to about 2.5 percent of our revenues.”
PokerStars would be permitted to apply for an offshore online sportsbook operator’s license with the Australian government, under its BetStars offshoot, but according to Amaya executives the company is seeking the proverbial greener pasture.
In a statement issued to Amaya shareholders, the company’s CEO Rafi Ashkenazi pledged that any revenue losses incurred by a possible withdrawal from Australia would soon be offset by a planned entrance into the lucrative Indian market:
“India could be a greater opportunity compared to Australia, and when we look at the player base it would be a bigger one. However, from the purchasing power point of view, India is quite different from Australia.”
“We estimate the market in India to be anywhere between $80 million to a $150 million a year. So, it will be bigger than Australia eventually, of course. But it will take time to build up this level of revenues from India.”
Per Ashkenazi’s statement, PokerStars intends to set up shop in India – where the India Times reports more than 50,000 players making use of online poker startups such as Adda52, Poker-Baazi, and Spartan Poker – sometime in 2017. PokerStars currently controls an estimated 70 percent of the worldwide online poker market.
Any strategic withdrawal from Australia could also depend on the outcome of a possible takeover of Amaya by a consortium lead by former CEO David Baazaov.
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