Editorial: Australia Is Still Upside-Down

13 February 2002

Research released last week by the Australian Casino Association serves as yet another sobering reminder that leadership among First World governments is in the dark when it comes to technology.

It's downright terrifying when you think about it. In an age when technology plays such a crucial roll in preserving national and international security--and thus the survival of 6 billion people--the individuals who make critical policy decisions are several steps behind the individuals who are trying to bring down the free world.

Despite arguments presented by U.S. Reps James Leach, Robert Goodlatte and their supporters, Internet gambling policy doesn't have much to do with preventing wide-scale catastrophe. Nevertheless, it does illustrate the massive void of much-needed technological savvy among First World legislatures. In this sense it paints a very ugly picture.

After all that's changed Down Under, Australia continues to contribute to the argument for regulating Internet gambling--only now, instead of providing a model for how to structure and maintain a regulatory system, it's the ultimate case study for why prohibition doesn't work.

Before Australia's federal government smothered three years of progress on the state level by implementing a nationwide ban on Internet casino gambling, the country's Internet Industry Association (IIA) tried to convey the fact that enforcing such a policy would be impossible.

In the word's of the association's chief executive, Peter Coroneos (as stated last May before the ban was enacted), "The legislation is technically inept and has no real prospects of protecting those whom it claims to protect. From a technical viewpoint, the bill will damage industry participants who are forced to try to make it work while delivering no tangible benefit to end users. We believe that it is so fundamentally flawed that no amount of amendment on the floor of the Senate can salvage it."

Simply put, regardless of whether prohibition is in the best interest of Australians, enforcement is impossible. The IIA knew this and the I-gaming industry knew this, but the federal government, behind Communications Minister Richard Alston and Prime Minister John Howard, chose to ignore it.

Now, nearly a year after the ban went into effect, the Australian Casino Association reports that Australians are gambling online just as much as they did before the ban. Specifically, the group's research shows that over 40 percent of Australians who gamble online are visiting offshore casinos, with the number of international sites visited growing by 38 percent between February and December 2001. Further, 0.5 percent of all Australian Internet traffic during the same period was to gambling Web sites.

The Interactive Gambling Act 2001 has in no way deterred Australians from gambling online. The only difference between now and before prohibition is that they can no longer gamble at sites operated and regulated in Australia. Instead, they're gambling at offshore sites, which lack the security and controls offered by Australian sites, and state governments are watching tax money falling through their fingers like sand.

So, with nearly a year's worth of "gambling-free" Internet access in the books Down Under, has the government learned anything? And are Robert Goodlatte and James Leach taking notes?

Either policymakers are clinging to the notion that controlling Internet access without infringing on personal freedom is technically feasible or another agenda being served. Let's hope it's the latter. Otherwise, considering these same minds are addressing much more vital technology issues, society's in a lot of trouble.

Mark Balestra

Mark Balestra is the Managing Director at BolaVerde Media Group. He previously worked at Clarion Gaming and the River City Group where he was the publisher of iGamingNews. He lives in St. Louis, Missouri.