Australia Introduces New Measures Against Problem Gambling

Australia’s Interactive Gambling Act 2001 (IGA) prohibits certain gambling services from being offered to physically present customers in Australia via the Internet. Licensed exceptions exist for online wagering, sports betting, and lotteries. This means Australian pokies, casino-style games, scratchies, in-play betting on sports, and unlicensed sports betting are theoretically illegal.

However, the focus of IGA is on targeting providers of online gambling, not customers. Reports have claimed that some have voiced concerns about its vaguely regulated nature, citing addiction and data safety concerns.

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As a response, Australia is gearing up for the launch of its inaugural national self-exclusion register for online gambling, known as “BetStop.” This move is hailed as a transformative step by officials, including Amanda Rishworth, the social services minister. The national self-exclusion register for online gambling is finally scheduled for launch on August 21 after almost five years since its introduction to parliament.

The system will replace fragmented state and territory systems that have faced criticism for failing to cover all online bookmakers. The initiative, first proposed by former communications minister Paul Fletcher in 2018, gained industry support but was delayed due to various factors, including the recent voluntary administration of the implementation company, Big Village Australia.

BetStop will be the final measure introduced under the National Consumer Protection Framework for online wagering, focusing on bolstering consumer safeguards.

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The register, unlike previously proposed plans, will require gambling companies to promptly verify a person’s identity before accepting a bet, eliminating a 72-hour window that was criticised for potential misuse. Notably, Australians currently listed on state or territory self-exclusion registers will not be automatically migrated to the national system to ensure privacy.

Making responsible gambling a habit

A study conducted in Australia in 2018 shed light on the issue of problem gambling, revealing that 39% of regular gamblers surveyed faced moderate to severe gambling problems, and about 25% admitted causing financial difficulties for themselves or their families.

Responsible Wagering Australia highlighted in a 2021 submission that about 20% of wagering account deposits are made through credit cards. Tabcorp reported a 13.7% credit card deposit rate for the 2021 fiscal year.

Responding to the issue, Australia’s federal government is set to introduce new legislation in the coming months that will prohibit the use of credit cards for online gambling. The move follows recommendations from a 2021 parliamentary inquiry, aiming to align online gambling regulations with those of land-based gambling establishments.

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Rishworth and Communications Minister Michelle Rowland will lead the effort, consulting stakeholders to determine the technical implementation. The move will likely utilise Bank Identification Numbers (BINs) to block credit card payments for betting account deposits.

The proposed change will involve amending the Interactive Gambling Act 2001, granting the Australian Communications and Media Authority expanded enforcement powers. The move is aimed at promoting responsible gambling practices and ensuring players only bet with funds they possess.

The CEO of the Alliance for Gambling Reform, Carol Bennett, welcomed the move, stating it would help reduce harm from online gambling, particularly for those prone to high gambling harm who might use credit cards for cash advances. Bennett emphasized the importance of aligning online gambling policies with other wagering practices and reiterated the call for a comprehensive ban on gambling advertising across broadcast platforms.

However, despite the warm welcome, there’s been no significant update on the progress of this initiative after the announcement three months ago. This is not the first delay that Australia experienced when it comes to gambling measures.

The longest would be the M15+ classification for games with loot boxes, which the government said would consider to classify as gambling. The statement was delivered approximately two years ago, but there is no sign of implementation just yet.

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