Australia’s CMA Hails Positive Illegal Online Gambling Results

Australian Communications and Media Authority Logo

On Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2018, Australia’s Communications and Media Authority (CMA) released a report detailing its efforts against offshore gambling sites during the period Sept. 13, 2017 to Sept. 13, 2018. This government watchdog agency declared success, claiming that its actions were responsible for the withdrawal of 33 illegal online gaming sites from the Australian market over the past year.

The Australian Online Poker Alliance (AOPA), on the other hand, says the report is flawed, and that the country’s gambling regulator ‘s success is based upon a list of sites that were operational in Australia “years ago”. Accusing it of creating a new era for unregulated sites, AOPA founder Joseph Del Duca stated:

“Yes, some grey market sites may have gone, but they have been replaced with different ones. If anything, there are more unregulated poker sites for players to choose from today than there was previously.”

About the CMA’s Activities

The CMA has broad powers to levy fines both against individuals and corporations that it determines to be in violation of the relevant anti-gambling laws. However, it prefers to work behind the scenes to get operators to quit the county voluntarily without resorting to fines or legal action.

Key to the CMA’s approach are the collaborative relationships it maintains with other gambling regulators the world over. By contacting them and letting them know that their licensees are breaking Australian law, pressure can be put on violators to conform to all relevant legalities or else risk punitive action in their home jurisdictions. This is a chance most companies are unwilling to take.

The CMA also reaches out to third parties that are instrumental in making online gambling services possible, like payment processors and software vendors. In many cases, it can convince them to stop working with entities that are flouting the law. Reviewing its operations over the past year, the CMA commented in its report:

“Our investigations and enforcement activity has been targeted to have the greatest impact in disrupting offshore gambling. This strategic approach has proven effective in driving compliance, reflected in the withdrawal of prominent offshore gambling sites from the Australian market [and] downward trend in offshore gambling expenditure.”

What Laws Apply to Internet Gaming?

The main piece of legislation that applies to online gambling in Australia is the Interactive Gambling Act 2001 as amended by the 2016 Interactive Gambling Amendment. This latter amendment was passed in August 2017 as a means of correcting flaws in the original Interactive Gambling Act whereby gaming sites could use loopholes to easily circumvent the rules laid out for them.

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Only wagering businesses licensed by a competent Australian body are allowed to accept Australian customers. Not only is it illegal to run gambling sites that are unlicensed, but it’s also against the law to advertise them in Australian media. In practice, the only type of gambling permitted over the internet is sports betting, and quite a few online bookies are licensed in the Northern Territory. There are no Australia-licensed online poker or casino websites because there’s no licensing scheme set up to accommodate them.

As stipulated in the relevant laws, the CMA has the power to issue fines of up to AU$1.575 million ($1.1 million) for individuals who are found culpable, and corporations that are in violation can be punished at a rate up to five times higher. These fines can be applied each day that a person or business is contravening the law.

Perhaps the size of the potential fines, and the possibility that courts would therefore be loathe to convict, lies at the heart of the CMA’s preference for convincing illicit gaming sites to cease trading in Australia of their own accord. At the same time, the threat of massive financial losses probably serves as great leverage when the CMA attempts to persuade them to stop serving Australians.

What Sites Were Targeted?

The CMA has not publicly revealed which operators it has found to be breaking the law and which ones it convinced to exit the country. Therefore, we cannot say for certain whether or not a particular enterprise was targeted.

Some of the big names in igaming that have left the Australian market in the past 12 months include Pinnacle Sports, the Winning Poker Network, the Chico Poker Network and Intertops. It’s likely that one or more of these organizations was contacted by the CMA and pressured into abandoning the country.

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Other gaming providers, like PokerStars, PartyPoker and 888, have also stopping transacting in Australia. However, these three sites announced their departures before the Interactive Gambling Amendment 2016 went into effect. Therefore, it’s unlikely that they were the recipient of any negative attention from the CMA over the past year.

CMA’s Effectiveness Called Into Doubt

There are some who feel that the CMA’s recent report is little more than a self-congratulatory propaganda piece that has little basis in reality. One such individual is Joseph Del Duca, the leader of the Australian Online Poker Alliance: a grassroots advocacy group that was one of the main opponents of the Interactive Gambling Amendment.

Del Duca contends that despite the closure of several dozen black-market gambling endeavors, more have popped up to take their place. According to the Alliance, the ACMA takes its numbers from a list of 138 sites that was compiled years ago, and does not take account of the numerous new sites that have mushroomed post-Interactive Gambling Amendment Act (IGA) amendment.

Del Duca further asserts that no online poker enthusiast he has spoken to has stopped playing as a consequence of site closures; they have merely moved elsewhere to play.  Furthermore, Del Duca raised the specter of the CMA’s actions driving customers into the hands of providers who are shadier and more unscrupulous than the reputable sites that have been forced to halt their Australia-facing efforts, such as PokerStars and PartyPoker.

Consequently, AOPA has stated that in order to truly improve the situation the Australian regulator should alter the IGA to make provision for poker licenses. As Del Duca explains:

“The AOPA calls on ACMA to stop patting themselves on the back over false truths and to get serious about protecting online poker players. The only way that they can do that is by joining with us to call for the Morrison Government to amend the IGA and to bring safe, regulated, online poker back to Australia.”