New laws passed in a bid to ban online card games

IGA amendments

If you are a card game fanatic who has enjoyed a dabble in online gambling, your days of playing real money card games online may be numbered thanks to changes in Australia’s Interactive Gambling Act (IGA) which were passed in parliament in March 2017.

The Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill was sold as a way of protecting online players, but the reality is the new laws will make the Internet a lot more dangerous for card game enthusiasts hoping to enjoy a casual punt on their favourite blackjack or poker game every now and then.

Under the existing laws of the IGA, it is illegal for any Australian operator to advertise or provide gambling services to Australian players. Until recently, the IGA was full of all kinds of loopholes that meant Aussies were free to play at any online casino that was legally licensed by an offshore gambling jurisdiction, leaving us with plenty of choices when it came to finding a reputable casino site to have a flutter on a wide range of real money card games.

The 2017 IGA amendments aim to close those loopholes, with the new legislation now clearly stating that any online gambling service is “prohibited from offering services to Australian players unless they hold a license from an Australian state or territory”.

At first glance this doesn’t sound too bad, but the kicker is that no Australian state or territory has approval to distribute online casino licenses, so the IGA amendments will essentially make all forms of real money online card games illegal to Aussie players.

While these changes are spruiked as a way to protect players, the IGA amendments actually hold the potential to make things more dangerous. The new laws will focus on the casino vendors themselves, with nothing in the legislation to prosecute or punish players who continue to service offshore casino sites. This means players who choose to play online may be forced to frequent offshore casinos with dubious licensing and no player protection programs in place, leaving them vulnerable to all kinds of scams and unsafe gaming environments.

Many believe the smarter thing to do would be to take inspiration from the United Kingdom and regulate the online casino industry in Australia so we can benefit from the gambling revenue instead of sending it overseas, while also protecting players with our own gambling helplines.

It’s no surprise that politicians opposing the IGA amendments have been embraced by card game enthusiasts, especially Senator David Leyonhjelm who disputed against the IGA changes. Senator Leyonhjelm argued that card games like poker and blackjack require a certain level of player skill and should therefore be exempt from the laws which should focus on luck-based games like the pokies which are designed to be addictive.

Leyonhjelm said, “Despite the current lack of regulation – or, should I say, loophole of regulation – there is no evidence that online poker and blackjack causes more harm than the other services this bill seeks to regulate rather than prohibit, like online sports betting.”

He said that players who are determined to play online card games will continue to do so, with the increasing popularity of VPN (virtual private networks) making it easy for Aussies to access any website without having to reveal their location.

Until the IGA amendments are in full force, it remains unclear which offshore casino operators will pull out of the Australian market. Some of the biggest and most trusted names in online gambling, 32Red and Roxy Palace, have already exited from Australia.

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