During the 16 years which have passed since Australia enacted its Interactive Gambling Act (IGA) of 2001, the country has never prosecuted an online poker operator – until now.
As reported by The Australian, professional poker player Luke Gregory Brabin was fined AUD$10,000 by the Southport Magistrates Court, having been found guilty under the IGA of running an illegal gambling operation.
The 37-year old Brabin acquired the online poker platform play.pokerasiapacific.com in 2015, under the auspices of his company EV Plus Pty Ltd. He assumed ownership and operation of the Australian-facing site at that time, but Australian authorities have confined his criminal actions to the period between April and August of last year.
On August 10 of last year, a statement posted to the website and Facebook page maintained by Poker Asia Pacific announced the sudden closure of the site:
“Unfortunately, Poker Asia Pacific must suspend its services until pending legal action regarding the Interactive Gambling Act is resolved.
During this time, Poker Asia Pacific will be lobbying strongly to exclude online poker from the Interactive Gambling Act and resume its services without any legal implications.”
In November of last year, Australia’s federal government sought to strengthen existing laws covering the iGaming industry, including the IGA of 2001.
In crafting a new set of restrictions known as the Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill (IGAB) of 2016, Communications Minister Mitch Fifield followed up on the agenda of Senator Nick Xenophon. The anti-gambling political figure, who leads the Nick Xenophon Team (NXT) party, assumed the role of parliamentary “kingmaker” following last year’s elections, after NXT secured enough seats on the crossbench to influence major policymaking actions.
The initial objective of the IGAB was to tighten restrictions on “in-play” betting, or wagers placed as live sporting events are in progress. The original IGA of 2001 outlawed this practice, but unclear language in the law allowed for loopholes to be exploited, and up until the IGAB of 2016 was introduced operators of offshore online sportsbooks openly flouted the ban.
Unfortunately for Brabin, and millions of online poker players living in Australia, the IGAB of 2016 was written with open-ended legislative language, leaving only pre-game sports betting and casino games as exempted activities.
The Senate passed the IGAB in March of this year, but the law has yet to receive final assent, leaving Australia’s previously thriving online poker industry in a state of limbo ever since.
By December of last year, Poker Asia Pacific was posting regularly about the company’s lobbying efforts, in hopes of adding an online poker exemption to the IGAB before final passage.
But in an ominously worded post issued to the company’s Facebook feed on December 23 of last year, Poker Asia Pacific predicted that the entire industry would be rendered illegal upon the IGAB’s passage:
“If our efforts are not successful (then) online poker is likely to be banned in 2017 under the new bill (IGAB).
Which would mean Poker Asia Pacific would not be able to reopen and all of the other online poker sites would be banned as well.”
Even though the IGAB hasn’t become the law of the land just yet, it does call for the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) to dispense civil judgments against illegal operators. When the IGAB is fully assented, individual operators will be subject to fines of up to AUD$1.35 million per day, while companies may be fined up to AUD$6.75 million per day.
Not coincidentally, The Australian reports that the agency in question was indeed responsible for referring Brabin and his Asia Poker Pacific site to federal investigators.
Brabin declined to comment when asked by The Australian.
As a player, Brabin pocketed AUD$131,365 by winning an $1,100 Accumulator event at the 2014 World Series of Poker (WSOP) Asia Pacific event.