New legislation has been introduced in the Australian parliament which seeks to push unlicensed online gaming operators from the market and finally close a loophole that allows customers to bet in-play.
Minister for Communications Mitch Fifield and Minister for Human Services Alan Tudge, both of Australia's Liberal Party-led government, have introduced the Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill 2016 which aims to make a number of adjustments to the 2001 Interactive Gambling Act (IGA).
It is the first step taken as part of a strategy to improve the country's gambling regulations after former New South Wales Premier Barry O'Farrell put forward a series of recommendations in a report published late last year.
In April 2016 the government set out a three-point plan in response to the recommendations, pledging to close the in-play loophole, crack down on unlicensed operators, and establish a national consumer protection framework. The bill's proposals aim to make good on the first two promises.
It looks to redefine in-play betting to close a loophole exploited by operators to offer bets on sporting events in progress. This so-called 'click to call' service, where players use an automated telephone service to place wagering, has been a key point of contention, with foreign operators in the market in favour of live betting being regulated, and local operator Tabcorp firmly against.
By changing the language of the IGA to define an in-play bet as a wager placed in any way during a sporting event, this loophole has been closed to operators.
O'Farrell previously said the language used in the original legislation was unclear and open to interpretation, and described the loophole as “breaching the provisions and intent of the interactive gambling act."
The bill also looks to end the grey market status of non-sports betting products in Australia by making it clear that only companies holding a licence in the country can offer gambling services to consumers.
While legislation only permits sports betting, a number of operators offer online casino and poker in the country without a licence, due again to unclear language used in the 2001 Act.
The O'Farrell report estimated that around AUD$400m is gambled via offshore sports, casino and poker operators each year, resulting in the country missing out on up to $100m in taxes and product fees.
In order to ensure the ban on such companies operating in Australia is effective, the bill gives the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) new powers to impose civil penalties on those in breach. These are designed to complement the Australian Federal Police's powers and will allow the ACMA to oversee gambling-related complaint handling processes from receipt to enforcement.
It also introduces so-called "disruption measures" to tackle unlicensed activity, such as placing gambling company directors or executives on Australia's Movement Alert List, meaning they will be arrested should they travel to the country.
"The new powers will allow the ACMA to implement civil penalties for breaches of the IGA provisions and make it easier for people to complain and for those complaints to be investigated," Minister Fifield said.
Operators that continue to breach the amended act will also be "named and shamed" by the government, he said, while information on breaches of the IGA will be shared with regulatory bodies in other countries.
Minister Tudge said that while many Australians were regulator bettors, he was keen to ensure sensible protections were put in place for such players.
"Currently hundreds of illegal gambling services are easily accessible on the internet and we know that people are more likely to get into trouble online - 2.7 per cent of interactive gamblers are problem gamblers compared to 0.9 per cent of all gamblers," he explained.
"We expect online wagering providers to meet community expectations. The tougher laws will seriously disrupt illegal offshore providers from acting unscrupulously or targeting vulnerable Australians.
"The government committed to taking tougher action against illegal offshore wagering providers and this bill does exactly that."
Work is also underway on delivering the third point of the plan - the national consumer protection framework.
Tudge is due to meet State and Territory Ministers on November 25th to discuss the framework, including measures such as a national self-exclusion register and voluntary pre-commitment scheme for online wagering. A prohibition on lines of credit being offered by operators will also be explored.
The Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill now goes before the Australian Senate for discussion, and will need to secure approval from Labour Party or cross-bench Senators in order to pass into law.