18 Nov

Australia Online Gambling Laws could send PokerStars Packing

Australia online gambling lawsIn Australia, online gambling laws have been on the books for the last 15 years. But those laws don’t make it illegal to play online poker and casino games over the internet. They are just strict enough to keep offshore operators in line, threatening (arguably unenforceable) criminal pursuit if they don’t supply a genuine experience to local players.

That could change very soon, thanks to a newly introduced amendment to the Interactive Gambling Act of 2001. The amendment was introduced in Parliament on Thursday, November 10, 2016 by Minister for Services Allan Tudge.

Known by its official title, Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill 2016, Tudge’s measure would completely alter the landscape for Australia online poker and casino operators who continue to access the market from overseas.

Under current Australia online gambling laws, operators are not technically permitted to accept Australian punters unless they obtain a licence from the Aussie government. Those who do obtain a licence are only permitted to offer sports betting and lottery services – not poker and casino games.

But for all these year, operators have been able to access the market unheeded. Australia chose not to take action against operators, so long as they weren’t taking advantage of local customers. And because, quite frankly, there weren’t strict enough laws in place to go after them in the first place.

Tudge’s amendment changes that, giving the country all the power it needs to enforce penalties against operators who accept Australian punters without a local licence.

Australia Online Poker Players May Lose PokerStars

PokerStars Australia Online PokerAmaya Gaming, the Canada-based parent company of online poker giant, PokerStars, has already vowed to pull out of the Great Southern Land if the amendment is passed.

PokerStars has no intention of marring its stellar reputation by operating in what could become a black-market, and acquiring a licence to operate legally still wouldn’t give them access to the Australia online poker market.

During a recent earnings call, Amaya CFO Daniel Sebag confirmed the company is “reviewing the applicability of proposed legislation to player-vs-player games of skill”, (as opposed to pokies and house-banked games of chance). He said that, if passed, PokerStars would likely block access to players from that country.

The Australia online poker market currently makes up 2.5% of Amaya’s revenue. While it’s not an amount they would be keen on losing, it’s not worth the loss of their presence in strictly regulated jurisdictions like the UK or the US state of New Jersey, either.

Amaya spent millions of dollars over several years to earn the right to launch PokerStars in New Jersey. If the operator engages its services in any black market – which Australia could soon be listed as – it risks being stripped of its New Jersey licnece.

Instead, it looks like PokerStars could turn away from Australia to focus on a new regulated market. Amaya also recently announced intentions to expand into Portugal in the near future.

The only way PokerStars would remain a part Australia online poker market is (a) if the new amendment doesn’t pass, (b) if the legislation is found not to relate to skill-based player-versus-player games, or (c) if Australia online gambling laws are further altered to permit licensed online poker games.