Back in 2016 the Federal Parliament passed an amendment bill known as the Interactive Gambling Bill that addressed loopholes in the Interactive Gambling Act 2001 (Cth) (the Act), which allegedly allowed online gambling to continue as a result of offshore companies circumventing regulations.

What Is The Interactive Gambling Act?

The Interactive Gambling Act (Cth) was passed in 2001 to regulate all online gambling in Australia. Basically, it sets restrictions on online gambling and iGaming, such as casino gambling, by targeting online poker providers. In summary the Act makes it illegal for domestic and foreign companies without an Australian licence from marketing or providing online poker to Australians.

Is It Legal To Play Online Poker In Australia?

Generally, the amendment is designed to prohibit and regulate interactive gambling services. In a move to protect problem gamblers, the federal government tightened restrictions on offshore operators who operate online gambling services in Australia. Now, gambling operators are required to hold a licence under an Australian State or Territory.

Since the beginning of 2017, it is an offence under the Act for unlicensed operators to offer real-money virtual gambling to Australian customers, such as websites 32Red, 888Poker, Vera&John and PokerStars. Violators will be penalised with fines of $1.35 million a day for individuals and $6.75 million a day for organisations, and other measures may be taken, such as blacklisting. Also, the Australian Communications and Media Authority has the power to issue warnings, infringement notices, civil penalties and injunctions against gambling sites.

However, new laws only apply to the providers of interactive gambling, rather than the users. Therefore, it is not an offence for Australians to access or use online gambling services. It is completely legal.

Criticisms

The amendment has been received both positively and negatively by a number of authorities and online poker players.

For

According to Human Services Minister Alan Tudge the amendment is about “taking tougher action” on predatory offshore wagering providers. He told The Guardian the main object of the tougher laws is to stop “illegal offshore providers from acting unscrupulously or targeting vulnerable Australians.” The problem at hand is reducing opportunities for corruption with offshore providers. When the law is amended it makes clear to unlicensed overseas gambling companies it is illegal to offer products and services to Australians.

Similarly, Federal Communications Minister Mitch Fifield argued the Act is intended to prohibit services such as online poker. He said the amendments remove inconsistencies and imbalances present in the previous laws, which allowed overseas operators to freely offer their services. Mr Fifield reminded online poker has always been a prohibited under the Act.

Against

In contrast, online poker players are concerned their favourite game will disappear. A Sydney investment banker claimed big poker sites will be forced out of the market, which will negatively impact full-time online poker players who play the game for a living. For example, Australian players will be blocked from joining cash tables on the poker site 888Poker.com, which Vice President of Corporate Communications for Amaya Inc. Eric Hollreiser affirmed the company will be doing.

Finally, University of Sydney gambling expert Sally Gainsbury said the changes to the Act may have an opposite effect. Dr Gainsbury expressed concerns about the exodus of “more reputable providers”. She claims consumers may resort to using less-reputable sites that do not offer consumer protection, and the risks associated with it, such as cybercrimes.

Final Thoughts

As of today, Australians are not prohibited from playing online poker. It is not illegal. Instead, it is illegal for unlicensed online poker companies to provide online gambling services.

Let us know your thoughts about the new changes on poker players and online poker providers by tagging us at #lawpath or @lawpath.

Fiona Lu

Fiona is a Paralegal working in our content team which aims to provide free legal guides to facilitate public access to legal resources. With an interest in information, media, consumer and employment law, her primary focus is on how technology will affect the future of the legal industry.