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Australian Senate Inquiry Releases Online Poker Findings as Lawmakers Resume Fight for Regulation

With the release of its long-awaited report – entitled “Participation of Australians in Online Poker” – the Australian Senate’s Environment and Communications References Committee (ECRE) completed a months-long inquiry into the recently banned industry.

But as critics of the federal prohibition over online poker have pointed out, that report was released on October 18 – well after the full Senate voted to pass the Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill (IGAB) of 2016 on August 9.

On June 13, the Senate ECRE issued a call for public input on the status of online poker in Australia, which was slated to be banned along with online casino games as part of the IGAB package. In soliciting input, the Senate ECRE asked interested stakeholders – including players, operators, lawmakers, and problem gambling experts – to submit written testimony on the following three topics:

“1) The participation of Australians in online poker;

2) the nature and extent of any personal or social harms and benefits arising from participating in online poker; and

3) whether the current regulatory approach, in particular, the recently amended Interactive Gambling Act 2001, is a reasonable and proportionate response to those harms and benefits.”

The Senate ECRE originally set September 7 as the deadline for publishing its inquiry report, and that deadline was then extended to October 18.

Even so, the full Senate elected to forego any examination of its own ECRE inquiry when it voted to authorize the IGAB package in August.

Now that the report has been made public, longtime critics of the online poker ban like crossbench (minority party) senators David Leyonhjelm and Cory Bernardi are up in arms over the findings. Per the report, instances of problem gambling within the online poker community are quite rare relative to online casino gambling and sports betting. Furthermore, the report concludes that national prohibition over online gambling industries in places like the United States have done little to curb the activity, while allowing unregulated offshore sites to flourish.

Speaking in front of the Senate ECRE on October 18, Senator Leyonhjelm accused his colleagues of overreaching with IGAB – which was originally written to prohibit online casino gambling while closing online sportsbook loopholes in the Interactive Gambling Act of 2001:

“The online poker inquiry was instigated by me, because the government had passed amendments to the Interactive Gambling Act without, I suspect, realising what it was doing in relation to online poker.

While I disagree with its prohibition approach to online gambling in general, the ban on online poker is particularly egregious.”

Rather than reflexively banning activities … they can be legalised, regulated, monitored and of course taxed.

Australian online poker players deserve to have a safe, regulated environment in which to enjoy their pastime and not be forced into using offshore sites.”

Leyonhjelm has previously allied himself with the Australian Online Poker Alliance (AOPA), a grassroots organization dedicated to preserving online poker rights.

In a statement, AOPA founder Joseph Del Duca confirmed that the majority of his constituents continue to play online poker despite the IGAB ban, by using the same black market offshore sites mentioned in the report:

“We can confirm that this is already the case. Even though the ban was introduced months ago the majority of Australian players have not stopped playing but have just moved their play to operators who have deliberately chosen to defy Australian law.

If these operators don’t care for our laws how likely is it that they will care for our citizens? It is only a matter of time before something goes wrong and Australians are significantly hurt by this government ban.

The Australian Online Poker Alliance calls on the Australian Government to act quickly to legalise online poker and remove Aussie players from harm’s way.

Only a safe, regulated online poker market can provide the consumer protections and freedom of choice that Australian poker players deserve.”

Senators Leyonhjelm and Bernardi have vowed to keep pressure on their colleagues, while using their status as crossbench members to “trade” votes on other issues for online poker support.

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