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Online gambling is now a billion dollar-a-year business Downunder
Posted 3/11/11 : The sheer size and growth of the internet gambling market generated in Australia by online gamblers has prompted further calls for regulation rather than the present government’s prohibitionary stance.
In an article at http://au.news.yahoo.com/thewest/a/-/breaking/8989891/online-gambling-soars-to-1-billion/, the various offshore licensing jurisdictions are depicted, along with a claim that Aussies now spend a billion dollars a year or more on offshore gambling websites.
Online wagering in Oz is legal, but in 2001 the federal government banned the provision of online gaming services to customers in Australia, forcing Aussie punters to seek their entertainment at offshore gambling sites.
Consequently, the Interactive Gambling Act did not stop Australians from gambling or from accessing gambling services outside of the Australian government's jurisdiction.
That said, the federal government is moving toward an ISP blocking initiative aimed at 'undesirable websites' which has been internationally criticised as Web censorship and in any case ineffective in practical terms.
Sally Gainsbury, of Southern Cross University's Centre for Gambling Education and Research, says in the article that the restrictive online gambling services laws have done little to curb online gaming, and that growing numbers of Australians are playing on sites owned by companies in Malta, Gibraltar and Canada.
"Prohibition has not been very effective," Dr Gainsbury said. "We know that 30 percent of Australians over age 16 have gambled online, investing about $1 billion in 2010 - and that's probably an underestimate.
"The advantages of regulating this industry would be the safeguards that could be introduced - to protect the punter - as part of any licensing arrangement. We would also know who was playing, identify risk behaviour and intervene where appropriate."
Centrecare acting executive manager (counselling), Rod West said problem gambling online was beginning to increase. He said improved accessibility and increased awareness of online gambling was having an impact, particularly on young gamblers.
Last year, the Productivity Commission reported that international gaming sites were being accessed increasingly by Australians. Its report said restrictive Australian laws had the effect of "driving consumers to international sites, some with poor harm minimisation features and unscrupulous business practices".
"Regulated access to domestic or licensed overseas online providers - rather than prohibition - has potential benefits," the Commission recommended. "It could achieve many of the benefits of online gambling to consumers, while diverting consumers away from unsafe sites to ones that met stringent probity and consumer safety standards - thus reducing the risks of harm to online gamblers."
However, the report stopped short of complete liberalisation.
"A gradual approach to managed liberalisation that began with a relatively "safe" form of online gambling - poker card games - would be appropriate," it said.
The recommendations were rejected by the current federal government, which does not support the liberalisation of online gaming, including online poker, the report notes.
However, Communications Minister Stephen Conroy - who has been pushing the Internet censorship bill - has promised to examine the regulatory approach taken by other countries to online gaming.
Western Australia Racing and Gaming Minister Terry Waldron told Yahoo News that there was no doubt the growth of online gambling had been a feature of the market in recent years and was of particular concern to legislators looking to instigate programs to deal with problem gambling.
Former casino consultant, former president of the Australian Casino Association, and self-confessed online gambler John Beagle has been lobbying for the liberalisation of online poker for many years. He said online poker was more than a game of chance and required an element of skill, adding that it was ludicrous that enthusiasts were forced to play on websites based in Ireland or the Isle of Man, sending millions of dollars overseas.
"It is a sociable game, because you are playing against other individuals around the world, using your skills and your intelligence," he said.
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