It’s more challenging than ever to crack down on illegal online gambling in Australia, and it’s down to a number of key factors, including the advent of technology, the rise of cryptocurrency, and the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the country’s online gambling watchdog.
The Australia Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) is responsible for the enforcement of the Interactive Gambling Act 2001 (IGA), an act that makes it illegal for unlicensed operators to offer online gambling services, including online casino and online poker, to Australian customers.
The agency also handles the National Self-Exclusion Register and is tasked with regulating all gambling advertisements across broadcast and online platforms.
Increase in Online Gambling Participation During COVID-19
As of June 2021, more Australians had reported taking part in online gambling at some point in the previous six months, with the figure jumping to 11 percent, up from 8 percent in the same period in 2020. 16 percent of Australian customers also said their online gambling frequency had increased during the COVID-19 period compared to before the pandemic.
The COVID-19 lockdowns forced customers to turn to online sites to gamble. Online poker sites in particular enjoyed a surge in traffic, with players from across the globe, including Australia, flocking into online rooms to play. This has led to an increase in the number of Australians engaging in some forms of online gambling in the past two years.
ACMA Continues to Crack Down on Online Poker Sites
Online poker sites are among 150 illegal gambling sites forced to withdraw from the Australian market since 2017 when ACMA began to intensify efforts to crack down on unauthorized online gambling operators.
Over the last three years, the agency has also directed internet service providers in the country to block over 375 sites. With these efforts, the size of Australia’s unlicensed gambling market shrank to A$1.63 billion, compared to A$1.71 billion in 2016, based on figures from H2 Gambling Capital.
However, unlicensed operators, such as those offering online poker, have continued to thrive in Australia due to some emerging factors.
Fiona Cameron, ACMA Authority Member, said COVID-19’s impact on gambling behavior has been hampering their efforts in stamping out illegal online gambling. But it isn’t the only challenge facing them. According to Cameron, the rise of cryptocurrency has also made it more difficult for them to go after unlicensed operators.
For instance, many online poker sites nowadays accept crypto payments which are preferred by players because of the anonymity, security, and convenience that they offer. These transactions are hard to track down given the nature of cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology.
Along with the latest developments in technology, illegal operators have also become more sophisticated in protecting their operations. According to Cameron, many operators use mirror sites to bypass the blocks imposed on their original site. Others also hide the licensing details from their website, not disclosing the legal entity behind their operations.
Cameron said that based on the complaints they’ve been receiving, online casino operators are posing the highest risk to Australian gamblers, with many raising issues about non-payment of winnings, lack of regulatory oversight, unfair play, and poor treatment.
Affiliate Services Contributing to the Problem
Apart from the factors mentioned above, affiliate services also seem to contribute to the problem. According to Cameron, operators, mostly online casinos, run affiliate programs that give incentives to those promoting online gambling. The affiliate services usually target Australians through social media and streaming platforms including Twitch, which is widely used in online poker.
Cameron said they will now concentrate on hunting down these gambling affiliate services to help in their efforts to rid the country of illegal online gambling.