Australia’s Online Poker Ban Delayed Until June; Advocacy Group Vows to Keep Fighting

Weeks after learning that their favorite pastime had been banned, the increasingly vocal online poker community in Australia received a brief reprieve.

After the Australian Senate voted to pass the Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill (IGAB) of 2016 on March 20, online poker players in the country expected it to sail through the House of Representatives.

Australia’s recent parliamentary elections empowered staunch anti-gambling political figure Senator Nick Xenophon, who leads a crossbench coalition which is intent on tightening up the nation’s gambling laws. But while IGAB is expected to be swept through the House with little resistance, that legislative body decided to place dozens of more pressing measures ahead of online gambling reform on the upcoming schedule.

The House returns for its next bill approval session on May 9, and while IGAB will almost certainly be passed at that time, the process of receiving royal assent will prolong online poker in Australia until at least mid-June.

In a letter sent to players in late March, PokerStars mentioned the May legislative session as the “next step” that they will be kept informed about. PokerStars also guaranteed the safety of all account funds, before telling Australians that they can play on the site until further notice.

The expected June window should give Australian players time to participate in one of the platform’s most prominent tournament series, the Spring Championship of Online Poker (SCOOP), which runs from April 30 through May 23.

In the letter, PokerStars also praised the work of a grassroots lobbying group known as the Australian Online Poker Alliance (AOPA). Working to raise public awareness about the ban, the AOPA appeared to be making inroads to a possible online poker exemption within IGAB before the Senate’s passage.

Senator David Leyonhjelm, a member of the Liberal Democratic Party in New South Wales, aligned himself with the AOPA to pursue an online poker carveout. Leyonhjelm introduced an amendment known as Sheet 8054 in February, while offering a rousing defense of online poker during subsequent hearings:

“There is a very active poker community in Australia. They like to play poker. That is not, essentially, regulated very much at all. That occurs in pubs and clubs where people gather, and if you are interested in playing poker competitively, there are no shortage of opportunities.

What we are doing here is saying, ‘You can’t do that online. You can’t play poker online with the same sort of people.’ It’s a little bit like saying to Australians, ‘You’re allowed to talk to each other by telephone, but you are not allowed to talk to each other by FaceTime, because FaceTime goes via a server in another country.”

Leyonhjelm’s amendment was soundly defeated ahead of the Senate vote, but AOPA leader Joseph Del Duca recently spoke with reporter Mo Nuwwarah of PokerNews to discuss the next steps to defend online poker in Australia:

“How many times in poker have you seen a player lose a big hand early on and then come back and win? This happens all the time and our campaign is no different. Poker players are amazingly resilient people. Giving up is not the answer.

We still have a long way until the final table so it is important that we all stay positive and focused on the job at hand. We know that this decision has hurt and saddened a lot of the Australian online poker community.

Our message to you is this: We may have lost the battle, but we will win the war.”