A campaign to save the online poker industry in Australia from proposed legislation aimed at driving away illegal offshore operators is picking up pace following a series of meetings with key politicians last week.
The Australian Online Poker Alliance (AOPA) was established in December in response to reports that the government was planning to tighten the Interactive Gambling Act (2001) which prohibits unlicensed operators from offering gambling services to Australians. The new bill, put forward by Human Services Minister Alan Tudge, would give the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) the power to issue infringement notices and huge fines to any operator continuing to flout the rules.
The bill is primarily aimed at unlicensed online sportsbooks and casinos but would also spell the end for online poker, which is played by around 100,000 Australians. Leading online poker site 888poker has already pulled out of the market in anticipation of the bill while PokerStars has confirmed it will follow suit if the bill is passed in the coming months.
However, the AOPA – which has attracted more than 2,000 supporters since its formation – last week met with more than a dozen MPs and their representatives to fight for online poker’s survival via a regulated industry.
“We had an amazing time spreading our message about the importance of online poker remaining legal in Australia,” AOPA founder Joseph Del Duca told WGM when contacted this week.
“Our goal is to provide a voice for the hundreds of thousands of Australian citizens who enjoy playing online poker as a hobby. The message we are trying to convey to the government is that a safe, licensed online poker market is a far better outcome for Australia than the government pushing players into the hands of unscrupulous black market operators.”
Among those to meet with Mr Del Duca and his associates were Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister, Senator The Hon James McGrath; noted anti-gambling campaigner Nick Xenophon; Senators James Paterson, Cory Bernardi and David Leyonhjelm; and MPs Julian Leeser, Jason Falinski, Tim Wilson, Rick Wilson and George Christensen.
“The response overall has been extremely positive,” said Mr Del Duca. “Most of the MPs we spoke with were not even aware that this was occurring and were grateful for us bringing it to their attention. One of the Senators was so supportive of our motion that he has moved an amendment asking the Minister to keep online poker in Australia. We welcome this as it will give the government the opportunity to consider the benefits of our proposal.”
The legislation will likely be voted on in late March which is when the amendment to allow online poker will also be discussed. In the meantime, Mr Del Duca is encouraging supporters of online poker in Australia to follow the AOPA on facebook at Facebook.com/AustralianOnlinePokerAlliance or Twitter @AustOnlinePoker using the hashtag #AusFight4Poker as well as contacting their state Senators and local MPs.
“The hardest part has been raising awareness of the issue and educating the law makers about the difference between peer to peer poker and other forms of gambling,” said Mr Del Duca.
“Speaking with politicians it has become clear that many simply do not know anything about the differences between poker and house games. Once we have sat down and explained the differences to them, explained it is a skill game and a game where the house doesn’t even play, let alone win, and the fact that most gambling researchers see no significant link between online poker and problem gambling, they become a lot more receptive.
“The key is just building on that understanding so that they can make an informed decision about the game we love.”