Gaming industry officials Down Under are positioning themselves as the Australian government’s yearlong moratorium on Internet gaming draws near a close. The moratorium isn't up until May, but the window for supporters of a move to enlist new regulations on the industry is closing.
The current parliament is on a two-week break before concluding its session with a two-week return to action. Any legislation that needs to be voted on needs to be sent before the parliament before they finish their session.
The Australian Casino Association came out on Friday in support of draft rules for the interactive gambling industry written by the Northern Territory Government. Officials with the government sought industry officials as well as other- jurisdictional officials in drafting the new guidelines.
The executive director of the ACA Chris Downy, said supporting the new rules only made sense for his group. The "AUS Model--Australia: Uniform Standards for the Regulation of Interactive Gambling" calls for tougher guidelines for the industry to regulate itself rather than continuing the moratorium.
Last week, the Racing, Gaming and Licensing Minister for the Northern Territory Tim Baldwin, outlined some of the points of the new plan to parliament.
"While the NT Government shares concerns about the negative social consequences of gambling, we do not support a total ban on interactive gambling," he said. "We have worked with other Australian jurisdiction to develop a national model of regulation for interactive gambling. This model includes features such as scope for self exclusion, links to Amity Community Service website, links to download filtering software, and the capacity to set expenditure limits."
Baldwin pointed out that many of the updated procedures were evolutions on regulations that were in place in Australia prior to the moratorium. He said it was those regulations that helped build Australian sites as some of the leaders in the worldwide industry. He gave Centrebet, an Australian-based online sportsbook, as an example.
"By 1997, Centrebet accounted for over half of Australia’s e-commerce," he said. "By 1999 it was ranked in the world’s top five Internet gambling sites, receiving up to 100,000 hits every day and taking around 10,000 bets every week."
He also pointed out the success land-based Lasseters had when it opened up an online venture.
"Lasseters Casino established an Internet casino in 1999 and recorded some 35,000 registered players and around $50 million in turnover within 10 months of starting operations," he said. "It took only five more months to double that result. During 2000 Lasseters achieved the distinction of being the third most popular Australian site of any kind that was accessed by Americans."
And Lasseters and Centrebet aren’t the only players in the Northern Territory. Centre Racing joins the other two leading sites in calling Alice Springs home.
"It is apparent that Alice Springs is emerging as an e-commerce center both locally and nationally," Baldwin said. "Their success has help build the Territory’s e-commerce capability by developing IT infrastructure and by growing a pool of IT professionals to service this industry."
It was that association that also spurned not just experts in the IT field, but also experts in regulating the industry.
"For this reason the Northern Territory has, from the beginning, had responsible gaming as one of the central planks of its Internet gaming policy."
When Lasseters Casino opened its Internet casino they were forced to comply with jurisdictional guidelines setup largely by the NT government. Many of those regulations--self-exclusion options, links to download filter software, ect.--are included in the purposed national regulations for the industry.
"These measures have set the international benchmark for responsible gambling and player protection," Baldwin said.
Considering how widely viewed in the industry the regulations are, Baldwin has held the national ones close to the chest.
"Many countries have imitated the Australian scheme for regulation of online gambling," he said. "For this reason the new AUS Model was not released immediately--with the moratorium in place--it would have provided other countries with the new initiatives and measures developed by Australia but ones that Australia is unable to use."
Baldwin says he sought the advice of industry experts and regulators to get input for the new regulations. He said together they have come up with a better alternative to the moratorium.
"It is in my view that a sensible and responsible scheme of regulation is the best way of meeting the concerns that prompted the federal government to impose a moratorium," he said.
Downy says that while time is running out on efforts to legislate new nationwide guidelines, there may not be a better alternative for those who oppose the moratorium.
"They (the parliament) have four options," he said. "They can do nothing and everyone goes back into business; they can extend the moratorium; they can accept the standards; or they could introduce legislation to ban Internet gaming."
While the main details of the purposed standards are somewhat sketchy, Baldwin did offer some basic principals that would be contained in the regulation.
The new rules would make sure Internet operators:
are subject to the same licensing conditions as other gaming companies;
use software that can be easily audited, logs transactions, is secure and passes an independent test;
market their services responsibly;
ask clients' permission before passing on personal information;
check proof of ID before allowing a player to register;
ban children and credit betting;
allow gamblers to ban themselves for at least seven days and enforce a permanent ban across all states after three self-exclusions;
let players set personal bet limits; and
provide information on player returns.
Operators have also offered to spend one per cent of revenue on anti-gambling programs.
A spokesman for Communications Minster Richard Alston said the government was considering its
recommendations and would make an announcement soon regarding what steps would be taken relating to the moratorium.