22 Nov

888, Party Poker hint at exit from Australia Online Poker Market

Over the weekend, the Australia online poker community was distraught over PokerStars‘ proclamation that it will block Aussies from the network if a newly proposed online gambling amendment is passed. Now, reports state 888Poker and PartyPoker have eluded to the same course of action.

Australia Online Poker Exodus Imminent?

For years now, online gambling has been labeled a “grey market” in Australia. It’s not explicitly legal for offshore operators to offer their services to Aussies. But then again, it’s not necessarily illegal, either – at least, not in any enforceable sense of the word.

The Interactive Gambling Act of 2001 prohibits operators located in Australia from allowing Aussies to bet on anything except lotteries, racing and sports betting. Offshore operators can still accept players from Australia, so long as there are no complaints received from those players.

Amendment Could Criminalize Online Gambling

A new amendment to the Act, proposed by Human Services Minister Alan Trudge, would alter the context in such a way that offshore operators can no longer (legally) present Australia online poker or casino content.

In order to access Australian punters, they would be required to obtain a licence to operate in the region. However, that licence would only permit them to offer legal online gambling activities, which are – as mentioned above – restricted to lotteries, racing and sports betting.

For unlicenced operators, the bill would effectively transition Australia from a “grey market” to a “black market” territory.

Australia Online Poker Exodus?

Amaya Gaming, parent company of PokerStars, said last weekend that it’s legal team was poring over the context of the bill to see if the terminology would apply to poker. If so – and it’s very probable at this point – PokerStars will move to exit the Australia online poker market as soon as the bill is enacted, most likely by blocking IP addresses from the region.

Today, news headlines were alight with similar news from two other major poker operators, 888 Poker and Party Poker, both based out of Gibraltar. Sources indicated that both companies have hinted they will follow PokerStars out the virtual door if the Australian Senate passes the amendment.

Other companies – particularly those who operate with a licence from the UK and/or one of the three US states (Delaware, Nevada and New Jersey) where internet gambling is permitted – will likely pull their plugs from Australia as well.

888 Poker operates in all three US-regulated states. Party Poker and PokerStars both have a large presence in New Jersey. And all three of them are licenced by the UK Gambling Commission.

If the Senate passes the legislation – and if those operators chose to continue accepting Australia online poker players – it could result in them being stripped of their UK/US licences. One of the strict stipulations upheld by both jurisdictions is that licenced operators must not offer their services in any black market territories.

However, operators who already access black market regions may choose to maintain their presence in Australia, despite threat of pecuniary penalties from the government. These would especially include US-facing online poker sites that provide services outside of those three aforementioned states.

How Likely Is Amendment To Pass?

Analysts believe the chances that Australia will pass the amendment are fairly high. When the current government body rose to power, they vowed to combat the rising rate of problem gambling in the country by closing the loopholes that give offshore online gambling operators access to Aussies.

According to Tudge, 0.9% of all gamblers in Australia are classified as problem gamblers, while three times that amount (2.7%) of the country’s internet gamblers are classified as such. Thus cutting off access to Australia online poker and casino services could – theoretically – reduce gambling addiction in the region.