Poker News

Australian online poker players, welcome to the hell we have had to deal with in the United States. On Tuesday, the Australian Senate passed the Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill 2016, effectively eliminating online poker from the country’s entertainment landscape.

The bill was introduced in November by Australia’s Minister for Human Services Alan Tudge mainly as a way to shore up Australia’s sports betting laws. Sports betting – online and otherwise – has been permitted in the country, but there were severe restrictions on “in-play” sports betting, which is what it sounds like: bets placed on sports contests while those contests are being played. In-play sports betting was allowed, but only via telephone, not online.

With the advent of smartphones, though, offshore operators introduced apps to allow players to place in-game sports bets. They were able to get away with this because they had found a loophole that owed its existence to the law’s vagaries. Smartphones are phones, so in-play bets made with the devices are being placed with phones. Clearly, this is not the intent of the law, but operators still got away with it.

So, that loophole was tightened up, but along with it, other forms of internet gambling were killed. The Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill 2016 bans all forms of online gambling that are not explicitly legal in Australia. Only sports betting is explicitly legal, so poker is now illegal by default.

It is widely believed that it is now just a matter of time before most online poker operators exit the Australian market, a significant one in the industry. Vera&John – a bingo site – was the first operator to ditch Australia in anticipation of the bill back in December. 888poker followed suit in January.

Back in November, Amaya CFO Daniel Sebag said in an earnings call that PokerStars would probably get out of Dodge, too.

“In Australia, we currently offer poker and are reviewing the applicability of proposed legislation to player versus player games of skill,” he said. “At this time, it would appear likely that if the legislation passes, we would block players from Australia. As we do not offer casino sportsbook in Australia, it currently contributes to about 2.5% of our revenues and we estimate it could reduce our EBITDA margin by up to a 150 basis points.”

It is a difficult issue for operators. In some countries, online poker is not explicitly legal, but it isn’t technically illegal, either, so they feel comfortable (or at least not too uncomfortable) offering poker. In Australia, there will be no way to acquire a license, since there is no poker licensing regime, and those who offer poker without a license could face stiff fines.

Even if an operator was willing to risk the fines, it will still probably leave. Take PokerStars, for example. PokerStars has been toeing the legal and perception lines very carefully in countries where it wants to operate. Part of this effort to make sure it is a responsible player in other markets. If it continues to offer poker in Australia, it may not be looked at as favorably in countries like the United States where it is still trying to make inroads via licensing and regulation.

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