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Australian government officials have announced an upcoming review of online-gambling services available to Aussie’s punters, with the initiative’s proponents declaring that the focus of the review, scheduled to begin later this year, will be as many as 2,000 offshore and regulated sites who offer unregulated betting services to the nation.
Contrary to conjecture in Aussie news outlets that the pending review would focus both on the country’s controversial “in-play” interactive betting ban — and the workarounds that firms such as William Hill and Ladbrokes have enacted in recent years — the review will leave that aspect alone. Instead the focus, as announced by Social Services Minister Scott Morrison today, will be the plethora of offshore sites. Collectively, all the sites unofficially taking Aussie bettors’ business are believed to take in at least as traffic, collectively, as those sites officially regulated and taxed by the Oz government.
Per as statement from Morrison’s Social Services Ministry office, “According to the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) online gambling is a $1.6 billion dollar business in Australia with sixty percent of this revenue going offshore to more than 2, 000 sites beyond the reach of our regulators and tax collectors.” The AUD $1.6 billion represents, almost exactly, an estimated billion-Euro industry on an annual basis.
The review, added Morrison, is set to begin immediately, with New South Wales Premier Barry O’Farrell in charge of the investigation. The review is slated to provide a series of recommended changes in Australia’s gambling regulation to the country’s Parliament in mid-December.
Added Morrison, in regards to the review’s focus, “Unlike Australia’s licensed operators, overseas agencies don’t contribute product fees to racing and sporting bodies, do not comply with Australia’s legal system and are not obligated to monitor and report suspicious betting activity.
“Illegal offshore wagering also leaves Australian punters without protection for payouts on their winnings.”
Ways and means to curb problem gambling behavior in the online sphere will also be part of the ongoing investigation and review. Though several international studies have indicated that online gambling in general is a slightly less addictive behavior that various “live” forms of gambling, addictive behaviors can and do cause some social ills, and the unregulated sites indirectly cited by Morrison in his statement are those least likely to have adequate protections in place.
As Morrison noted, “More than 400,000 Australians, mainly men, have gambling problems. These issues can affect hundreds of thousands of Australian families and the children growing up in them. Problem gambling can also have a significant impact on social services and welfare spending such as income support payments, financial counselling and measures to address domestic violence.”
However, the Coalition Government official noted, “These are not arguments for banning interactive gambling but cases for common sense to drive the development of more effective measures to negate, wherever possible, the adverse social and economic impacts of these new and growing forms of gambling.”
Some anti-gambling Australian officials derided Morrison’s announcement as catering both to the country’s established gambling and as the forerunner to an expansion of Australian gambling in general. South Australian Senator and anti-gambling activist Nick Xenophon was among those denouncing the planned study.
“This very narrow review ignores the powerful vested interests of the online gambling industry in Australia, including Jamie Packer’s CrownBet,” proclaimed Xenophon, “and the impact of TV advertising on a problem-gambling culture.” Xenophon, it should be noted, was among the prominent supports and proponents of a proposed “blacklist” plan designed to block Australian citizens from even being able to visit online-gaming sites. That proposal was roundly decried by Internet-freedom groups, and failed to garner serious Aussie government consideration.
Whether or not the Australian review succeeds in enacting its promised goals won’t be known for some time to come. Australia faces many of the same concerns other nations’ gaming regulators have encountered in the online age, and the country’s proximity to Asia’s gigantic underground gambling market translates to industry exposures not encountered as severely in other jurisdictions.