Editorial: Fumble Down Under

2 July 2001
Our friends in Australia are at it again, and the fun may only be starting.

Late last week the Australian Senate narrowly passed (by a vote of 33-28) a bill that will permanently outlaw online casinos gambling in the country. The Interactive Gaming Bill, which exempts sports betting, race betting and lottery sales, also forbids Australian residents to patronize online casinos, unless they're located outside Australia.

Virtual casino operators couldn't escape the wrath of the federal government either. They cannot operate anymore, unless of course they can get players from countries with governments that are OK with online gambling.

So, players can still gamble and operators can still take bets, but both groups will have to go outside the country to do so.

Rumors that operators are plotting their next moves are already jumping around quicker than a kangaroo in the Outback. Some, including the owner of the country's only currently operating online casino, Lasseters Online, have hinted that they may take the issue up in court. The Alice Springs-based company feels that the government has stepped over its ministerial lines and that the law is in violation of the World Trade Organization's rules allowing for international growth and expansion.

Australia's highest roller, Kerry Packer, has hinted that the branch of his online gaming company, ecorp, may move offshore so it can continue to target the strong player base it has built up.

Regardless of what the next step is for the industry, it's hard to not sit back and laugh off the actions from the Australian parliament. First, the government came out saying it was going to lay the hammer down. It was going to settle the issue of problem gambling and the havoc it has inflicted on society.

Ironically, a country which in the last five years has been more than progressive in its approach to technology set aside some money for campaigns targeted at problem gamblers, but still made the activity accessible to them. Further, the government cowered to the sports betting, horse racing and lottery industries in excluding them from the bill.

In the end, online gaming operators won't need the Australian government's OK to make a profit. If a casino can't accept bets from Aussies, it will find players elsewhere. Rather than accepting this fact and regulating the industry with common sense and progressive thinking, the government has regressed to an era of introspection. That kind of thinking went out hundreds of years ago when we figured out that the Earth isn't round and that we're not the center of the universe. . . and even later when we learned that Milly Vanilly had lip synched their way to a Grammy.

Rather than opening its arms and minds to a rapidly growing and ever-changing way of legislating its own corner of the "global" economy, the Australian government decided to bury its head in the sand. They've tried to take the moral high ground on this issue, like other governments before and surely many more after. It's the easy way out for governments. Why try to come up with a revolutionary way to govern online gaming, and hence maybe the Internet itself, when you can just sit back, throw your arms in the air and say "Hey, we tried to ban it."

You can't sneak the sun by a rooster, and consumers are too savvy to be kept from partaking in their leisure activities on the Internet. If players want to gamble they will find a place to accept their bets. And if operators want to continue to accept bets, they will find a country willing to house their operations. The Australian government tried to take the easy way out but instead may have opened a can of worms.

Seeing a national government try to take the high road, when really all it's doing is copping out of thoughtful legislation, is nothing new to us in America. We just thought the American government held the license on that form of government.

I guess we were wrong.

Nobody knows where Kevin Smith came from. He simply showed up one day and started writing articles for IGN. We liked him, so we decided to keep him. We think you'll like him too. Kevin can be reached at kevin@igamingnews.com.