Australia Loses 888 Poker, the World’s Second-Largest Online Poker Room

Over the course of the last week, online poker players across Australia have logged into their 888 Poker accounts to discover a truly bad beat.

With a simple announcement plastered on lobby screens, 888 Poker informed thousands of Australian players that they could no longer access the site, effective Monday, January 16:

“Following a business reevaluation, we’d like to inform you that 888poker’s services are not being offered to players residing in Australia and therefore your account will be closed as of 01/16/2017.

You can still withdraw funds from your bankroll at any time using our web cashier. Please check your email for more information.”

That email simply repeated the original announcement, while offering a terse addendum to tournament players directing them to unregister from all events before accounts were restricted:

“If you’ve already registered to any of our tournaments starting from 16/01/2017 onwards, please unregister as you won’t be able to participate.”

With that, Australia unofficially entered an age of online poker prohibition that closely resembles the regulatory climate created in the United States over the last decade.

Officially, Australia hasn’t yet banned the industry through federal legislation, but 888 Poker’s withdrawal from the lucrative marketplace was based on anticipated passage of the Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill (IGAB) 2016.

Currently, online poker in Australia exists in what the industry classifies as a legislative “grey zone,” meaning laws in place to ban the business are absent or unenforced.

Three primary laws govern online gambling in the country – the Australian Interactive Gambling Act (2001), the Interactive Gambling Regulations (2001), and the Australian Communications and Media Authority Act (2005) – and per those provisions, offering online poker constitutes a violation.

But a jurisdictional dispute between the Australian Broadcasting Authority and the Australian Federal Police has rendered these laws obsolete, thus allowing online poker to thrive Down Under over the last decade.

With the ascendancy of anti-gambling political figure Senator Nick Xenophon to power within the Australian Parliament, IGAB was authorized to make online gambling bans easily enforceable. Should the legislative package be passed, which Australian political experts widely believe to be imminent, online casino games, lotteries, and poker would be expressly banned, leaving only sportsbooks eligible for licensure.

Unlicensed operators would then face stiff fines of AUD$6.75 million per day for violating IGAB – a provision which likely prompted 888 Poker’s early departure.

The IGAB was introduced in November by Minister for Communications Mitch Fifield, in response to the 2015 Review of Illegal Offshore Wagering, a government-ordered inquiry into online gambling. The bill has been endorsed by Minister for Human Services Alan Tudge and other allies of the Xenophon Team political bloc.

Written to provide a direct response to Australia’s rampant problem gambling phenomenon, IGAB’s language seeks to limit online wagering in the country to sportsbooks:

“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.”

Another focus of IGAB is dissuading foreign operators, like the Gibraltar-based 888 Poker, from providing Australians with online gambling services, as Tudge has stated:

“The government is committed to taking tougher action against illegal offshore wagering providers and this bill does exactly that.”

While 888 Poker was the first offshore operator to take the hint and head for safer waters, Isle of Man-based PokerStars previously issued a statement signaling that a similar move was in the works for the world’s leading online poker provider.