Australia Votes Against Moratorium

9 October 2000
A vote to impose a one-year moratorium on the issuing Internet gambling licenses in Australia has failed. Thanks to a tie-vote in the Senate, the bill failed to pass, thus closing--for now--the biggest challenges interactive gambling has faced Down Under. Preceding the vote was a 10-month odyssey of uproar and confusion.

It began last December when Prime Minister John Howard suggested that a moratorium on interactive gambling be considered. His suggestions received a boost when the Netbets report was released in March. The 110-page report from the Australian Senate Select Committee on Information Technologies recommended that no new licenses be issued until several new policies are implemented. Such policies included a ban on credit card betting, tighter privacy provisions, limitations on advertising and stricter measures for preventing money laundering. While the Netbets report itself recommended a harm minimization approach instead of prohibition, Senator Brian Harradine and Liberal John Tierney, in a supplementary report to Netbets, suggested that a five-year moratorium should be imposed.

During an April meeting of gaming ministers, Howard then called for a one-year moratorium, setting forth a firestorm of protest. Various state and territorial governments responded vociferously, and issued numerous licenses despite the federal government's condemnation. Some officials even threatened legal action, such as Northern Territory officials' vow to battle the moratorium all the way to Australia's High Court. During a May radio interview, Paul Lennon, Tasmania's Gaming Minister said, "We assert our right under the Constitution to run our affairs and we require the Commonwealth to recognize what they already know, and that is that is a matter for the States."

Operators were also vocal about the moratorium's effect. "It is ridiculous that under the proposed moratorium, Australian players can access Australian online gaming operators who are licensed offshore but offer little more control than a rubber stamp. But the sites that have invested heavily in player protection are victimized and prevented from offering a safe alternative," online casino Lasseters General Manager David Ohlson said.

The war of words failed, however, and the interactive gambling moratorium was officially introduced in May. A study was also commissioned to examine the effectiveness of banning Internet gambling, which brought in 30 written submissions. The Environment, Communication, Information Technology and The Arts Committee for the Australian Senate also heard testimony from 23 individuals or groups during a one-day hearing. The end result was a lengthy report that, despite much testimony to the contrary, recommended that the government proceed with the moratorium. The report also includes a minority report from the ALP Senators (the Labor party) who say a ban on interactive gambling is not technically feasible or necessary. Their stance was echoed in a dissenting report from Australian Democrats, also included in the Committee's report.

Operators are hoping that today's news hopefully brings the moratorium issue to an end. If not, several have already begun looking for new homes outside of Australia. Should the moratorium issue persist, the interactive gambling industry could go through a vast shift of power as major operators relocate to more receptive locations.