The Senate on Tuesday passed the Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill, 2016 (IGAB), a piece of legislation that will effectively kill off online poker in this country as we know it.

Leyonhjelm’s poker carve-out fails

Senator David Leyonhjelm’s believes that the Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill will drive players to the black market and help, not hinder, match-fixers. (Image: Sydney Morning Herald)

A last-minute intervention by Liberal Dem Senator David Leyonhjelm, in the form of a proposed amendment that would have exempted online poker, along with online casino games, from the remit of the bill, was rejected by his colleagues. He branded the situation “stupid.”

Next stop for the bill is the House of Representatives, where, tragically for the nation’s online poker players, it is expected to pass as a formality.

What is IGAB?

IGAB seeks to clarify a loophole in the Interactive Gambling Act, 2001 (IGA), which states that only “licensed operators” may offer bets to Australian residents. However, it neglected to mention precisely where these operators needed to be licensed and by whom. Do they need an Australian license, for example, or will a UK one do?

It was in this legally gray area that online poker operators have been able to operate for the past 16 years. But IGAB closes that loophole. An Australian license and only an Australian license will do, it says.

But the only problem is, there is no Australian license available for online poker, or online casino gaming. If there were, the major online poker operators would have applied for one years ago, as they have done in numerous other jurisdictions around the world.

The fallout has already begun. 888 has already quit the market, while PokerStars has announced its intention to do so, presumably once the bill is enacted, leaving poker players to fend for themselves among black market operators that have no qualms about breaking Australian laws.

“[The bill] will promote the black market,” Leyonhjelm told Huffington Post Australia. “There are ways to circumvent these prohibition approaches. People will gamble using foreign providers by various means. They will be in the hands of sometimes shady providers, and if they get ripped off, they will have no recourse.”    

Live Betting Ban

Leyonhjelm is also infuriated by another aspect of the bill, which bans live, in-play sports betting, closing the loophole that enables ‘click to call’ services to exist. The grounds for this is that live betting encourages ‘match-fixing,’ according to the bill, but Leyonhjelm disagrees.       

“In the UK, there are licensed providers of in-play betting and the government taxes them,” he said. “They raised hundreds of millions in revenue last year. They are also able to audit the betting, to link sports events being rigged and correlate that back to activity, to follow the money trail.”

“The ban on in-play betting is meant to stop corruption of sport. If that happens now, we may never know,” he added.

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