Some slim hope at last for the Australian poker community in the form of a parliamentary enquiry into the forthcoming ban on the online version of the game.

Leyonhjelm forces online poker inquiry in Australia

Senator David Leyonhjelm has said Australia’s prohibition of online poker is “embarrassing” and “a really stupid situation to be in.” He’s hoping that the parliamentary inquiry will derail the ban. (Image: Sydney Morning Herald)

The enquiry has been forced by the outspoken, staunchly libertarian David Leyonhjelm, the Liberal Democrat Senator for New South Wales, who sees the ban as a brazen violation of civil liberties.

He’s calling all of those who are concerned about online poker to make a submission to the forthcoming enquiry, and online poker players who care about preserving the game in this country should keep an eye on his Facebook page, where he will post a link to submissions as soon as one becomes available.

For those late to the party, Leyonhjelm is railing against the injustice of the Interactive Gambling Amendment Act, a piece of legislation that will have the effect of denying online poker players their right to safely play the game they love.

No Wiggle Room

The aim of the bill is to clarify ambiguities in the Interactive Gambling Act of 2002, which permitted only “licensed operators” to offer bets to Australian players.

But it neglected to say where those operators had to be licensed. Since Australia does not offer licenses for online poker, many of our favorite poker sites were operating on a legally grey, but not strictly illegal basis.

But the new legislation makes it clear that operators must be licensed in Australia, offering no legal wiggle room whatsoever. Many operators have already left the market, staunch favourite including 888 Poker, while PokerStars is expected follow as soon as the bill is enacted.

The idea behind the bill is to protect Australian sports betting consumers, ensuring they play within the domestic licensed market. But for poker players, it will have the opposite effect, driving respectable operators away and leaving the players little recourse but to engage with less scrupulous offshore sites.

“Stupid Situation”

It’s a state of affairs that Leyonhjelm described to reporters this week as a “really stupid situation to be in.”

“The fact that our country allows online sports betting and horse racing so freely, which are both truly gambling, and doesn’t allow online poker is truly embarrassing,” he said. 

“There is quite an active online poker community in Australia,” he added. “I don’t think [prohibition] will succeed for those really determined. If you have a VPN or offshore account, you will still play.

Leyonhejlm unsuccessfully lobbied parliament to include a carve out for online poker in March, however he remains optimistic about his chances of derailing the de facto online poke ban.    

“If I initiate an inquiry which highlights the stupidity of the law as it stands, perhaps some changes can be implemented,” he said.