The government's Productivity Commission is in the first phase of a government consultation process to study gambling reform, and has to date received over 200 submissions from interested parties other than Betfair. In the next phase, public hearings are scheduled for September, eventually leading to the Commission's full report to the federal government in November 2009.
Many submissions made to the Commission thus far have called for changes to the Interactive Gambling Act 2001, among them Betfair's suggestions which include opening up online casino games and poker, and more player-sensitive rules that will permit in-running bets. Betfair claims that current bans are not practically enforceable and merely drive Australians offshore in the pursuit of their pastime.
The betting exchange estimates that as much as A$ 300 million a year leaves the country in bets with offshore Internet gambling sites, cash that could stay at home in an enlightened approach to the fait accompli of Internet gambling. The submission signles out online poker for a special mention, commenting: “Poker has undergone a phenomenal rise in popularity in recent years, and as a result, more and more poker and other card game players are turning to the web.
“It is illegal to offer online poker to Australian residents, but that hasn’t prevented several large international operators from creating an enormous customer base here – assisted by promotional activities using high profile Australians and cross-selling through ‘play for free’ sites. It is estimated that more than A$300 million is bet by Australians annually on online poker – and it’s a figure that is rapidly growing.
“All revenues flow directly offshore without any tax being paid in Australia. Furthermore, players are gambling in a largely unregulated environment, with little protection offered to players in terms of fraud, security or harm minimisation. The ban on offering interactive gaming to Australians has had very little effect on curtailing the enormous growth of that sector of the market in Australia.
“Betfair advocates an approach based on regulation, rather than attempts to prohibit the activity. Only through regulation can effective player protection initiatives be enforced in the online environment.”
In its appeal for the legalisation of in-running betting, the gambling group asserts: “Australia is the only jurisdiction in the world that allows online wagering on sport but at the same time prevents punters from using the Internet to place in-play bets. To put it another way, except in Australia, wherever it is legal to place a wager over the internet, it is also legal to do so in-play on a racing or sporting event.
“Because there is no law against someone in Australia betting online in-play on sport (the prohibition is directed solely at the operator) there is a large incentive for Australians to bet with these overseas operators. As a result, licensed Australian wagering operators are permanently losing the business of punters who are lured to these sites by offering in-play sports betting online. This means that transactions are not regulated in Australia, there is no requirement to place appropriate social harm minimisation measures in place and no taxes or product fees are returned to governments or sporting bodies.”
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