Australia is very close to passing the Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill (IGAB) that will effectively ban online poker in the country. Prior to the amendment bill, online poker operators enjoyed free access to Australia’s growing poker market and a number of operators such as PokerStars, 888Poker and Party Poker offered their services to more than 130,000 online poker players in Australia.
Senate Agrees To Online Poker Inquiry
When news broke that legislators were looking to ban online poker, a new alliance known as the Australian Online Poker Alliance (AOPA) was formed in an effort to campaign for online poker to remain legal in Australia. The biggest supporter for the AOPA was Senator David Leyonhjelm who campaigned hard for online poker to receive an exemption under the IGAB but the senate did not buy into Leyonhjelm’s arguments.
Leyonhjelm and the AOPA joined forces and launched a campaign asking online poker players in Australia to voice their concern and call for a Senate inquiry into the matter. The motion for a senate inquiry was approved in June with a 46-22 vote in favor of the inquiry. The public hearing took place at the start of this month as a number of poker players met with key members in the Senate to share their views and concerns regarding the proposed IGAB.
Players Share Their Views With Senate
The meeting took place on August 1 and Senators Leyonhjelm, David Whish-Wilson, Jonathan Duniam and Cory Bernadi represented the Senate while the online poker player community was represented by Daniel Laidlaw, James Devine, Oliver Gill-Gaber and Luke Brabin who is a WSOP gold bracelet winner. Also in attendance were three experts in psychologists Professor Alex Blaszczynski and Dr Sally Gainsbury along with Mathematics Professor Brian Alspach.
The poker players put forward an impressive presentation which provided the Senators with a different perspective and valuable information regarding online poker in Australia and how players benefitted from the same. One of the key points highlighted in the presentation was that a licensed and regulated online poker market in the country was more beneficial to the players as well as the government. The risks of banning online poker in Australia would give room for illegal poker operators to run underground operations in the country and thereby expose Australians to greater risks.
Committee Will Submit Report By September 21
The AOPA stated that they were happy to see the discussions take place between the players and the Senate. AOPA founder Joseph Del Duca said that the hearing was proof of democracy in action and reiterated that the AOPA was interested in working with the government to ensure that it was a win-win situation for both parties. The Senate committee will collect and review all individual submissions as well as their conclusions from the public hearing and submit a final report before September 21.
Online Poker Opposition
The Australian Institute of Family Studies has also sent in a submission highlighting the concerns that online poker poses to Australians. The submission stated that both live poker and online poker players had a risk seven times higher than normal gamblers when it came to financial problems and health challenges that normal gamblers faced. The report went on to say that regular poker players were highly vulnerable to problem gambling and all the risks associated with it.
Senator Leyonhjelm had gone with one of the classic arguments that online poker is not a game of chance but a game of skill and stated that it was rather silly to see legislators suddenly adopt such a prohibitionist approach. The Salvation Army tried to debunk this argument in its report stating that online poker proponents deliberately used this argument of poker being a game of skill in order to create an illusion that the player was in full control but there was very little evidence to prove this on a long term basis.
Mitch Fifield who is the Federal Communications Minister has been one of the key members who fought against online poker receiving an exception from the IGAB. Fifield stated that the law was clear and that was the reason there were no Australian licensed online poker operators in the country. The Minister went on to say that online poker could not gain an exception under the IGAB but a separate debate could be carried out to see if online poker should be legalized in Australia.

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