Australia Inches Closer to a Ban

16 August 2000
As the U.S. House of Representatives spends the month of August preparing for the 2000 elections, policy makers in Australia are busy trying to stop Internet gambling. Reports indicate that legislation could be introduced to parliament as early as tomorrow.

The new law would enforce a one-year moratorium, imposed by the federal government May 19, on the issuing of new online gambling licenses in Australia. The moratorium could be a first step in an all-out ban as part of the government's plan to control the expansion of gambling.

The Coalition partyroom has already approved the moratorium measure, which could result in violators being punished with fines of up to $10 million and jail terms.

Australian Democrats have indicated that they may support prohibition. Democrats information technology spokeswoman Natasha Stott Despoja yesterday confirmed the party's position. "The Democrats signed off on a Senate committee report which had sympathy for a moratorium," she said, "provided the (moratorium) was consultative and that it resulted in a proper national regulatory environment."

The Australian Labor Party, meanwhile, is isn't so quick to lend its support. "If (the legislation) amounts to a de facto ban, then that is not an approach we think is going to be successful," a Labor communications spokesperson said. The spokesperson said the proposals will be reviewed by a policy committee.

The moratorium, since its introduction, has faced adamant opposition. Most of Australia's states and territories have voiced their disapproval, arguing that gambling issues are clearly supposed to be legislated on the state level. The federal government, however, argues that it has the right to ban online gambling because Internet and communications issues fall under its responsibilities.

Several Australian states have already passed laws for regulating Internet gaming; online casinos have opened their virtual doors in the Northern Territory, Tasmania and Queensland. The status of three casinos--www.ausvegas.com, www.wrestpointcasino.com and www.countryclubcasino.com--remains in limbo, as they were launched after May 19, the date to which the moratorium, should it be approved, would be backdated.

Lasseters Online, the only Australian-licensed online casino to open its doors before May 19, has been consistently vocal in its disapproval of the moratorium. In a statement released this morning, Lasseters Managing Director Peter Bridge warned that banning interactive gambling would be a nearly impossible task. "The community would ultimately pay to find the proverbial needles in the haystack," he said. "Higher ISP charges, slower Internet performance, accidental blocks on illegitimate sites and reduced confidence in electronic commerce would result from having to filter the billions of online access requests in order to find the online gaming sites."

Bridge also said that Lasseters is investigating the reverse of the trend by making its considerable investment in its call center and financial transaction technology available to non-gambling organizations within Alice Springs. "We are considering a portal for electronic commerce for Alice Springs businesses which, for these small businesses, would provide a low cost entry to the Internet and a new way of servicing customers in remote parts of the country," he said. "However, it raises the question of how could a ban on online gaming differentiate between the provision of gambling and non-gambling services within the one site? Our understanding is that it could not."

Lasseters Holdings made a submission today to the federal government study into banning interactive gaming. Click here to view the submission.