Australian Online Gambling HearingBy: Shirley Spicer, Friday August 12th 2011
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Australia is one of the countries where the political establishment vehemently opposes online gambling. Currently a federal inquiry is being conducted into online gambling and gambling advertising in connection with the Interactive Gambling and Broadcasting Amendment (Online Transactions and Other Measures) Bill 2011. Sportsbet chief executive Cormac Barry deposed at the hearing and put up an admirable case for online gambling.
One of the issues discussed was problem gambling and Barry said that online gambling operators give more protection to potentially problem gamblers than their land based counterparts, through third party verification and analytics software. One way in which problem gamblers try to beat the system is by trying to open multiple accounts so that they can wager beyond the limits set by the online casinos. Another technique used by problem gamblers who have applied for self exclusion is to open a new account with the same email address or phone number or using a different address. The real-time matching software will pick out common characteristics with similar accounts and will flag an alert to the fraud team. The fraud team would then take appropriate action.
An issue that the Australian politicians have with the current regulatory arrangements is the ninety days period for customers to be verified. Barry pointed out that during the verification period players could not withdraw the funds. But he conceded that they could lose money by wagering during this period. Barry also admitted that there was scope to cut down the verification period, but he opined that completing the verification before allowing players to open a real money account was impractical. Such a restriction would drive players to unregulated online gambling sites, which would be worse.
Barry accepted the need for a set of federal standards to ensure that online casino players were assured of the best possible protection. He was also in favor of a scheme wherein licensed Australian gambling operators made annual financial contributions to a national gambling problem fund. The fund would be a resource for gambling research and counseling organizations and could be used to help registered problem gamblers.
Finally Barry cited some statistics to put the problem in perspective. He quoted recent research from the Queensland government that showed that there was no evidence of increase in problem gambling after the introduction of online gambling in Australia since 2001. The instance of problem gambling is not higher among online gamblers in comparison to those that gamble in land casinos and retail outlets. His own company, Sportsbet has 700,000 customers, of which over 95% are based in Australia. Around 900 had used Sportsbet's self-exclusion service in the past financial year and 1,600 customers had voluntarily set deposit limits.
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