Online gambling in Australia under the spotlight

Wide reportage across the mainstream media on Productivity Commission conclusions

The weekend has seen a surge in mainstream reportage on internet gambling in newspapers across Australia; most of it related to the conclusions reached by the government's Productivity Commission (see previous InfoPowa reports).

The report has broadly suggested that the regulation and licensing of online gambling better serves the protection of Australians then trying to stop the thousands of online websites on the Internet from accessing gamblers Downunder.

Several reports point out that Australians using internet gambling services will lose A$1 billion this year on sites that are unregulated and operating illegally from an Australian perspective.

The use of poker sites is growing at a rate of 20 percent a year, other reports reveal, supporting the need for a cogent regulatory approach that ensures reputable and professionally operated sites are available to the Aussie market.

Predictably, there is strong anti-gambling opposition to the idea of regulation and licensing, based mainly on fears that it will increase the dangers of problem gambling in a society that has proved more prepared than most to wager on the outcome of sporting events and casino games.

Current laws allow online gambling sites for sport and racing, but prohibit sites for poker, bingo and casino games. Companies operatingor advertising these products in Australia are theoretically subject to fines of up to A$1.1 million a day.

But punters who play these games are doing nothing illegal.

The Age newspaper claims that despite 17 referrals from other agencies since 2001, Australian federal police have failed to lay any charges against suspected illegal operators.

The newspaper reports that Full Tilt, Poker Stars and 888 are becoming "increasingly brazen in their marketing, despite a ban on advertising in Australia." Poker websites now sponsor rugby league teams and free pub poker leagues, and employ sports stars such as Shane Warne and Brendan Fevola to promote their products.

Gaming industry lawyer Jamie Nettleton told The Sunday Age that legalising internet gambling would bring tax revenue onshore and was ''inevitable because it's generally recognised that any form of prohibition is not going to work''.

Others, including Betfair Australia CEO Andrew Twaits, say it would be easier to minimise harmful online betting if the sites were legal, because owners could track the spending patterns of problem gamblers, and shut down accounts if necessary.

Complicating the task of the Rudd government, which has been studying the Productivity Commission's report, is the news that independent senator Nick Xenophon has ready a private member's bill that would ban Australian credit card companies from processing payments to offshore gambling websites.

The Age reports that new figures from international industry consultants Global Betting and Gaming show frustralians are expected to spend A$968 million in 2010 on online casino, poker and bingo.

Local bans do not appear to have been able to stifle industry growth, with the Commission's report showing that in 2008, about 700 000 Australians played online casino games - twice the 2004 figure.

Online poker is driving this growth, with Australian visitors to poker sites increasing by about 20 percent a year and an estimated A$329 million flowing offshore this year from Australian online poker players alone.

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