Australia's 'List'

6 July 2001
The Australian government's effort to ban interactive gambling came full circle last week with the official passing of the Interactive Gambling Bill. Now that experts have been able to sit back and analyze the full law, many questions concerning the practicality of the measure are arising.

The bill prohibits Australia-based online casinos from taking bets from Australian residents. It also prohibits Australians from betting at online casinos based out of the country and makes advertising online casinos a crime.

But one of the more intriguing aspects of the bill is Section 9A, which spells out procedures for countries to have themselves put on a list of jurisdictions that don't want their residents being targeted by online operators as well.

The idea is to give governments that have outlawed online gaming another avenue in curtailing the activity outside their countries. If a country is on the list, its government can rest assured its citizens aren't gambling on Australian-based sites.

While the theory may sound good--and was enough to persuade some undecided senators to vote for the ban--its practicality is another issue.

Now that gaming experts (both in Australia and elsewhere) have had a chance to study the full text of the bill, which was released this week, questions are beginning to fly.

"I just don't see this working," one government official told IGN. "There really aren't a whole lot of countries who are going to meet the criteria they have set up."

A country must meet a host of criteria to be a "designated country," as outlined by the bill.

A government must first send a written request to the Minster for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts for inclusion in the ban. But more importantly, for a country to be put on the list, it must also have legislation that "corresponds" to what was passed in Australia.

"I think there are a few countries in the world that have actually come out and said 'we will not tolerate online gambling," the government source said. "But most nations are like the U.S. where it is a gray area. Either that or they have accepted the activity."

The corresponding law, according the Australian ban, must have some weight to it.

"Such corresponding legislation would have to provide for a ban on the provision of interactive gambling services to customers in that country," the bill reads.

Even if a government has a similar law in place, it still has to petition the Australian government to be added to the list. The Minster cannot add countries to the banned list without them first seeking it.

Once a country has been added, the Minister must publish his intent of adding the country in papers throughout Australia for 90 days before the country can be included.

In other words, the government official said, "Good luck finding countries to put on the list."

"There just aren't any out there that I am aware of that will have this 'corresponding' legislation," he said. "Plenty of countries have said they don't want it in their borders, but they haven't gone so far as to pass legislation about it. Maybe this bill will trigger other countries to pass anti-online gaming legislation, but I don't think that will happen."

For example, the source said, the United States currently has no federal law in the books banning online gaming. The Federal Wire Act of 1961 deals with transmitting sports betting information over telephone lines, but it doesn't directly address gambling on the Internet. Laws must directly address Internet gambling for a country to be placed on the list.

The government source said that the bottom line for the Interactive Gambling Bill is politics. Despite the passing of the permanent ban, he feels the future of online gambling in Australia will not be determined until after the federal elections scheduled for the fall.

Until then he predicts that the recently passed ban will be tied up in legal battles in courtrooms all over Australia and the world.