The Commonwealth Productivity Commission produced a report in November 1999 on gambling in Australia and its impact on society. The report, entitled Australia’s Gambling Industries, highlighted the commonly known fact, that there were a lot of gamblers in Australia, but that moreover that there were around 130,000 problem gamblers. As a direct result of the report, the Commonwealth Government established a Ministerial Council on Gambling, to try to establish a concentric approach to the issues around gambling within all of the collective states. This Council is made up of state ministers for gambling and it in turn reports into the COAG (Council of Australian Governments). The Council on Gambling has developed two main areas; the National Framework on Problem Gambling 2004-2008, which is a coherent national approach taken up by all states and also the national Gambling Research Australia program. In 2008, the Ministerial Council on Gambling agreed that more needed to be done to protect problem gamblers from themselves and so the COAG officially requested that the Productivity Commission to update the 1999 enquiry on problem gambling and to perform an official review of Australia’s regulations for EGMs and real money online Pokies gambling. The results of this investigation will be published in November 2009.
The Gambling Regulation Act of 2003 sets out the legal framework for allowing gambling within certain establishments where there is a licence held and the regulations are adhered to honestly and are free from criminal influence. It sets about to provide for “accommodation” of gambling whilst simultaneously minimizing the potential harm of gambling. It is illegal for Australian online pokie machine gaming websites to offer or advertise any services to anyone in Australia. It is legal for these companies to provide services to anyone outside of Australian territories. It is illegal for any worldwide online pokie machine gaming websites to provide gaming platforms or advertise to anyone physically in Australia.
Some of the new bills which are in the Australian pipelines at the moment are; the Poker Machine Harm Reduction Tax (Administration) Bill 2008 and the Poker Machine Harm- Minimisation Bill 2008 and ATMs and Cash Facilities in Licensed Venues Bill 2008. The first aims to impose a progressively increasing tax rate on the operators of pokie machines within pubs and clubs. This tax will gradually increase year on year until the pokie machine is rendered non-profitable. This tax revenue will then be held in trust to be put towards helping “local communities” through sports groups and gambling awareness / support groups. Casinos and racecourses will not be subject to this tax hike. The hope is that destination model gambling will replace local gambling. The second aims to help individuals to set limits or pre-commitment systems for themselves and the third aims to reduce the number of ATM’s near gaming machines and to set a maximum withdrawal amount on these machines. There is great debate as to whether $100 is a “reasonable” amount / limit to set.
According to the ANU Center for Gambling Research in Canberra and statistics provided by the award winning Hit Pokies site, gambling taxes account for 12 percent of state revenues. The Australasian Gaming Council (http://www.austgamingcouncil.org.au/index.php) cites the total amount gambled in Australia between 2005 and 2006 as being $17.6 billion, of which around 60%, $10.4 billion, was gambled on gaming machines. From this total gambled, the collective Australian states collected AUS$4.69 billion in gaming taxes, around 25% of that gambled, went to the various state governments. Over half of this tax came from gaming machines in clubs, pubs and casinos and this revenue provided between 6 and 15% of each states total tax revenue (except for Western Australia where gambling provides just 2.8% of total tax revenue, as there is only one gambling venue / destination in the state).
These statistics are admittedly pretty horrific, on many levels;
- the amount that Australians waste on a chance outcome
- the amount that the government makes off the back of what they simultaneously term as a scourge on society
- how much of the 6-15% of the tax revenue generated in each Australian state actually gets allocated to issues appertaining to “problem gambling”
- if people didn’t indirectly contribute so much to the states revenue pot through gambling, where would that extra 6-15% required come from?
If I were a cynical being, I might suggest that the regulations set out by the IGA are there to protect Australian players from skill-free gambling (online), yes, but also to prevent billions of Australian dollars crossing the borders through online betting transactions to foreign soil based providers. On the one hand, the federal government is trying to “nanny state” / behave in a politically correct manner towards Australians, by prohibiting online pokie machine gaming. On the other hand they are condoning pokie machine gaming in pubs, clubs, hotels and casinos. It reminds me of the way that most governments across the world print little pictures and negative wording on cigarette packets which say that by smoking you are killing yourself, whilst they allow the legal sale of cigarettes. Euthenasia is illegal in most countries, yet the legalized form of euthanasia exists in a cigarette packet does it not?
There is no sensible reason for the outlawing of online skill-less betting whilst it is legal in land based operations. Both online and in-situ pokie machines are skill-free gambling devices, with the same electro-mechanical technology. In essence they are the same machine. Online gambling providers could be subject to licencing and regulatory conditions, in much the same way as the alcohol industry is. It is also far easier to monitor the gaming habits of individuals, areas, cultures, social groups and problem gamblers through registered portals (online gaming providers) than in a casino, pub or club. Online gambling and gaming companies will this way have records of each gambler and their common betting habits and stakes. Surely a more sensible approach to the problem of problem gambling or gaming, is a preventative, educational approach, which has the added safety net of harm-minimization through legislature, licencing and pre-commitment systems. Whereby each gambler, by gambling online, signs up to monitoring of his activities, which can be curtailed by the provider or a federal / state body, should his gambling amounts exceed X, Y or Z? This would be in the best interests of the players as it would allow for the upholding of freedom in all its forms whilst simultaneously providing guidance, support and monitoring.
The internet is a young creation. By its very nature it crosses territorial borders, cultural boundaries and legal jurisdictions. It is a global entity, if you like, without the global legal governances. Each state in Australia has its own government, yet the Commonwealth Laws of the Federal Government of Australia act over and above them all. For example, through the Gaming Control (Internet Gaming) Regulations Act of 1998 the Northern Territory permits the act of online pokie machine gaming, however the IGA supercedes this law, and makes online pokie machine gaming illegal in all states in Australia.*
[*The one exception to this is in NSW where one online casino, Lasseter’s Online Casino, held a licence, up until Friday 3rd October 2008 when it ceased to trade, citing as a reason for its demise;
“Following the announcement to the Australian Stock Exchange on 9 September 2008, the Directors have taken the subsequent decision to cease the operations of Lasseters Online Casino due to our inability to compete and retain our market share since the closure of the US market in October 2006.”]
The Federal government of Australia, however, does not have to pay its dues to any Global Internet Laws – as there aren’t any. This is beneficial on the one hand (it can pass prohibitive laws like the IGA if it so desires) but unenforceable on the other hand, as there is no global body to enforce the regulations set out by the IGA. Each country in the world has its own laws on land based and internet gambling and gaming;
- The United States has not banned online gambling, however, the Internet Gambling Enforcement Act 2006 now legally vilifies (prosecutes) those processing the money in internet gambling transactions. Below the US Federal Government, each jurisdiction then has its own laws in operation.
- Similarly, the EU has the same, often conflicting levels of laws appertaining to online gambling. The EU per sey, has not legislated on or against online gambling, it is one area of four where there is no harmony required by the European E-Commerce Directive. Therefore each jurisdiction under its umbrella is permitted to operate as they see fit on this matter;
- After the 2005 Gambling Act, online gambling was sanctioned in the United Kingdom and foreign companies are now even allowed to operate from its borders, (which the government insists reduces instances of money laundering and fraud whilst simultaneously bringing operational accountability, a degree of control and of course… taxes!!)
- In the Netherlands, whilst online casinos are legal, the Dutch Gaming Act prohibits nationals from engaging in online gambling when the operator does not hold a Dutch licence.
- In Germany, online gambling was totally outlawed from 1st January 2008.
- Playing pokie machines online is legal, according to the government web site outlining the IGA bill, so long as players are playing at an offshore online casino.
The Australian federal government’s most recent foray into online gambling states that plans to censor the Internet, included in which would be the censoring of online gambling, are “unworkable”. The report, made up by experts in the Australian internet field (http://Hitpokies.com/Real-Money-Pokies/), was given to the Government back in February 2008, but the full results have not been released. The end result would be to “significantly slow internet speeds and will block access to legitimate websites”. The proposed censoring, could slow internet speeds down by up to 87%. Not only might the filters not pick up all the content that they would be endeavoring to ban, but it would result in censorship issues and questions over large sites (like YouTube) where there is one suspect posting displayed. Ultimately, the Internet is such a massive, complex, hitherto uncensored entity that attempting to impose censorship on it would be a massive probably unworkable task.