Top Australian Online Poker Sites Leave Gaming Market

Tuesday, August 8th, 2017 | Written by April Bergman
Top Australian Online Poker Sites Leave Gaming Market

Top Australian online poker sites like PokerStars, 888Poker, and PartyPoker plan to leave the Aussie gaming market soon. Amendments to the Interactive Gaming Act 2016 are the reason for the sites’ departures.

Most attention has focused on “in-play betting” apps, which allow people with Android smartphones and iPhones to place many live bets during one sporting event. Mobile sportsbooks are a lightning rod in Australian gambling law, but they are not the only ones affected by the IGA 2017 amendments.

The Australian online poker community has taken measures to defend their hobby, despite receiving less media attention. One Sydney resident formed the Australian Poker Players Alliance in response to the new round of legislation.

Australian Online Poker Sites Leave Market

Since the Interactive Gaming Act of 2001, online gambling has been illegal in Australia. Online poker sites, casinos, and bookmaker sites existed in a gray area, though, because officials did not pursue sanctions against illegal offshore operators.

The Coalition government began to tighten laws against such operators beginning with IGA 2016 in November of last year. Several rounds of amendments have been passed, so Aussie gaming regulators now think they have the tools to target unlicensed poker sites. More importantly, the poker operators think regulators have the ability to push them out of the market.

Massive New Fines for Online Poker Sites

Online card rooms face massive new fines if they continue to operate in the Australian gaming market. Individuals could receive fines up to $1.35 million a day, while organizations face fines up to $6.75 million a day. It is enough to intimidate even deep-pocketed mobile and online poker operators like PokerStars, who do not want to have to pay stiff fines if ever Australia’s parliament legalizes online gambling — or face bans due to “bad actor” laws.

Another factor that makes these sanctions different is coordination with foreign governments, such as gaming authorities in the UK and Canada. Gaming regulators in those countries have vowed to help Australia’s government make life difficult for those who violate IGA 2016.

Not everyone is on-board with the new policies. Liberal Democrat Senator David Leyonhjelm questions the government’s policy, at least as it pertains to poker. Senator Leyonhjelm said, “I think Australia is rather silly to take a prohibitionist approach. Online poker is probably the most innocent of all gambling…it’s more of a game of skill, not just some sort of vacuous pull of a handle.”

Aussie Card Player Reaction

Joseph Del Luca (pictured), who works in the financial sector of Sydney, is a poker player who’s enjoyed the more permissive atmosphere the past decade-and-a-half. Del Luca, who strikes the pose of a typical Australian online poker player, spoke to the Sydney Morning Herald Aussie card players’ online message boards discuss the loss of PokerStars and 888poker in the coming weeks and months.

Del Luca said, “Many of the companies that operate in Australia are publicly listed in Canada and the UK. but they are now saying it’s not in their interest to operate outside of the laws of Australia, and have indicated they will be leaving.”

To oppose the new government policy, Joseph Del Luca has formed the Australian Poker Players Alliance. It is an Aussie counterpart to the Poker Players Alliance in the United States, which successfully pushed for an end to a federal online poker ban in the United States (from 2007 to 2011). That move worked, at least for now, as the US Justice Department stated online poker and casinos were legal, even if online sportsbooks remain banned.

Australian online poker players face the same uncertain future that US poker players did in late-2006, when the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) went into effect. For years, Australia was a welcoming place for online gambling operators, with stable laws and hundreds of thousands of potential customer. Australia has 130,000 online poker players who’ll be affected by the new laws.

Jen Butler on Tasmanian Poker Machines

The next time those laws might be changed will be after the next national election, which likely will be in 2019. Candidates already are stating their opinions, but most of the outspoken ones support anti-gambling laws. One Labor candidate from Lyons, Jen Butler, is running against poker machine proliferation. Ms. Butler says Lyons is near four of the five most disadvantaged local governments in Tasmania.

For that reason, she is more concerned about problem gambling than she is about cash-strapped Tasmanian pubs and clubs viable through pokies. Though Jen Butler describes herself as a Labor centrist, the former daughter of Labor MP Heather Butler has pinned her candidacy to an anti-gambling platform.

Butler said in comments about her own experiences hearing the horror stories of problem gambling. She said, “I have worked behind the scenes for many years and have heard so many stories about the negative impact of poker machines on families.”

Labor v. Liberal Stance on Pokies

A member of the Labor Party’s Right-faction, MP Madeleine Ogilvie, has similar views. Ogilvie voiced her opposition to poker machines in pubs. The hotel lobby announced fierce opposition to the candidacy of Madeleine Ogilvie in reply.

The Liberal Party supports pokies in clubs and pubs, as a way to keep small business owners in the area viable. The Labor Party as a whole does not have a set policy yet, but awaits the results of a parliamentary inquiry into the future of poker machines before it will announce a central policy.

Will Australia’s Online Gambling Laws Be Changed?

Whether the online gambling industry ever will make a comeback in Australia is doubtful. The Labour Party wants stiffer laws against gambling in general, while the Liberal Party wants to help the brick-and-mortar gambling industry’s small business owners. That’s why the Coalition is passing IGA 2017, because it eliminates competition for the land-based operators by driving out online and mobile gambling sites.

The problem is, that strategy will not work. Just as the publicly-traded online poker sites leave Australia, the privately-owned offshore online poker sites are going to enter the Australian market. These sites cannot be pressured through regulatory oversight, just as their shareholders cannot be threatened. Those 130,000 Australian online card players will not wander into Aussie pubs; they’ll simply find a new online card room. What Australian lawmakers might not know is that 80% of online gamblers never step foot in a land-based gaming venue in a year’s time, anyway.