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Australian Online Gambling Update

By: Fabian Rictor, Sunday November 13th 2011
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For the last few months the Australian authorities have been struggling with deciding the future of online gambling in that country. A special parliamentary committee has been constituted to discuss and formulate policy on gambling reforms. Recently the committee took up discussion on a measure introduced by independent Senator Nick Xenophon. This measure seeks to restrict financial transactions on prohibited online casinos and other Internet gambling sites, in the manner of the UIGEA in America.

The Australian Bankers' Association has come out strongly against this and has stated that using the national payments system to clamp down on online gambling will not work. It has been joined by industry members and experts. The chief executive of the Australian Bankers' Association, Steven Munchenberg, informed the committee that trying to restrict financial transactions was complicated. Such a measure would affect a wide range of online services and impair the competitiveness of Australian businesses and make it difficult for Australian customers making online purchases. Such a measure would instill concerns that there could be difficulties and delays in receiving payments against Australian credit cards and online merchants could refuse business and payments from Australian customers. The leading credit card services provider Visa said the same thing to the Sydney Morning Herald. The gambling reforms committee, which is headed by independent Member of Parliament Andrew Wilkie, is scheduled to release its report to the federal government at the end of November.

Earlier this month a policy discussion paper on gambling reform was released by the opposition coalition. It put forward measures to increase counseling for problem gamblers, extend self-exclusion at pokie venues and ban deposits at online casinos using credit cards. One radical suggestion was the enforcement of exclusion of problem gamblers at the request of third parties such as families. Senior Members of Parliaments have been asked to conduct discussions and report back to government early in 2012.

During the hearings evidence was provided to the committee that Australians can easily reach 92% of the online casinos available on the Internet, even though the Interactive Gambling Act has banned local online gambling sites from accepting funds from Australian residents. It had been estimated that Australians spent more than $968 million last year on offshore online casino, poker and bingo sites. Professor Alex Blaszczynski, a member of the government's advisory council on gambling has pointed out that Australians gambling at these offshore Internet sites have little recourse if they lose their money to unscrupulous operators.

The total gambling industry in Australia employs over 150,000 people and their livelihood also cannot be ignored. The challenge before the Government is to balance the legitimate right of Australians to gamble responsibly with the appropriate protection and support for problem gamblers.

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