Australian newspapers such as The Sunday Age and WA Today attacked the international gambling group Ladbrokes over the weekend, accusing the firm of breaking the law by encouraging Australians to gamble on the internet, and implying that this may act against its ambitions to obtain a Victorian land wagering licence.
"British betting behemoth Ladbrokes openly invites Australian players on its internet poker site, which is based in Gibraltar, even though the [Australian] Interactive Gambling Act prohibits it," the newspapers claim, adding that contraventions could result in penalties of up to A$1.1 million a day.
The Sunday Age emailed Ladbrokes asking if it was true that Australians were prohibited from playing poker for money through its Internet site. The reporter was told, by what sounds like a Support Centre rep: "We have no legal restrictions for customers playing from Australia and I can confirm that you are able to use any of our online facilities."
The report claims: "The Interactive Gambling Act, 2001, makes it an offence for a company in Australia or overseas to provide online casino games to any person who is ‘physically present in Australia'".
Fines for breaching the law include maximum penalties of A$220 000 per day for individuals, and A$1.1 million per day for companies.
The legalization is under review by the Productivity Commission, and is widely considered to be bad law, because Australian courts cannot enforce penalties against overseas companies, the report adds.
Betfair recently made strong representations to the Commission for a more enlightened and regulatory approach to online gambling Downunder
The newspapers go on to report that the Australian government does "not even purport to prosecute" international companies under the legalization, with a government spokesman passing the hot potato to the Australian Communications and Media Authority, which, when asked for comment, he said handles all complaints.
The article notes that Ladbrokes recently confirmed that it was interested in the $750 million TAB wagering licence for Victoria, which is currently run by Tabcorp and is due to go to tender in 2012. WA Today quoted Interchurch Gambling Taskforce chief Mark Zirnsak, who said the law breach should render Ladbrokes ineligible to bid.
"If they have this level of disregard for Australian law, then they are not a fit company to be holding a wagering licence in Victoria," he said.
Victorian Gaming Minister Tony Robinson would not comment, and as we went to press Ladbrokes had not responded to newspaper requests for its perspective.
All reports note that Ladbrokes is not the only online gambling company apparently flouting the Australian interactive gambling law, and quotes sources that estimate that $300 million is taken from Australians every year by online casino sites.
The Irish Sun provided an interesting footnote to the Australian reports, revealing that a new study by Roy Morgan Research has found that a decline in the number of Australians over 18 gambling has taken place.
The figures support a trend Morgan has been tracking from 2002. Since the end of that year the number of Australians gambling has in general fallen from 72 percent to 65 percent, the study found. This is despite the widespread availability of land gambling facilities and machines.
"Australians have casinos in every state and territory, and has poker machines in almost every pub in every state and territory except Western Australia," the report informs. "Many Australian pubs generate more revenue from gaming than from their food and beverage operations."
Jane Ianniello of Roy Morgan Research told the Irish Sun: "Australians are gradually changing their leisure patterns, with traditional leisure activities such as day trips, hobbies, gambling, and sports participation all in decline.
"The only activity to increase is using a computer at home, which has increased from 61 percent in the year ended December 2002 to 74 percent in the year ended December 2008."