Lasseters Land Casino Goes Live Online

12 April 1999
Alice Springs,Australia -- Australia has become the first "First World" country to put its money where its mouth is and go live with a cyber casino operated to the same standards as applied to those in the real world. The Northern Territory Government Regulator finally signed off the 54 kilograms of test data on April 9, verifying that the new Lasseters online Casino had met the demanding requirements for this relatively new form of casino operations.

On April 10, the Northern Territory Minister for Gaming Tim Baldwin launched the Lasseters land casino into cyberspace at a formal function held at the casino in located in Alice Springs, Northern Territory, Australia. At the launch, the Minister handed over the license, suitably framed, to the casino management.

Baldwin made it clear that the Northern Territory Government is very committed to cyber gambling and that they're not in the frame of mind to be held up generating revenue from this source by recalcitrant gaming ministers in other Australian states. "I am proud to announce we are sanctioning the first Internet gaming site" he said.

"I applaud Lasseters Casino for its vision in seeing this project come to fruition," he continued. "Lasseters is conscious that an Internet web site which has the official endorsement of Government gives registered players a lot more confidence in the project."

The Minister released a copy of a letter he had sent to the other Australian State Gaming Ministers in which he said, "The reality of the adoption of such a scheme (the national approach) is some way off, and the Territory Government is in a situation where it has been asked to provide a license to an operator who is ready to commence operations. I am writing to advise you that the Northern Territory will be issuing a license to Lasseters Casino to commence Internet casino gambling on April 10".

After conceding that the casino would restrict initially operations online to it's existing physical license area (in and around Alice Springs) and international players, he went on to say, "Lasserters... is now ready... and I do not believe the company should have to sacrifice it's competitive advantage because the state and territory bureaucracies have not yet developed the national model." It seems that the proposed national model for Interactive gaming has hit a few problems.

When asked by IGN about the issue of the Kyl bill, US 1085, and the implications that offshore cybergaming operators may commit offenses under US law if they take bets from US citizens (assuming the bill passes), Minister Baldwin said of Senator Kyl efforts, " I wish him luck". It is very clear that states like the Northern Territory with a very small local economy and population see the Internet as a way of creating an economic advantage otherwise denied them by remoteness, and nothing is going to stand in their way.

Lasseters Online,, has been a long time in the making and could be the most tested and re-tested online casino ever. Both the government regulators and the casino operators have been overcautious, if anything, in bringing this it live.

Lasseters CEO Peter Bridge said that the total cost of developing the online casino over the two years of development and testing has been some $5 million Australian (about US$ 3 million). All of the software development of the propriety system took place within Australia according to Bridge, who added, "The priorities were to develop a site which is highly entertaining as well as safe and secure. For a small casino like Lasseters this will allow us to dramatically expand our potential market to the more than 100 million people connected to the Internet Worldwide."

Bridge is both optimistic and cautious in his appraisal of the potential of the online market. While he finds the much quoted $500-600 million dollar business an attractive concept (the now infamous $10 billion wasn't mentioned), it seems a player base of 1,000 (which they achieved during their testing and "play for fun" promotion), would make them more than happy in the short term.

Interestingly, the cyber casino will be able to take bets from people who live in their land casino's "gaming license territory," which covers more or less the bottom half of the Northern Territory, from Tennant Creek to the South Australian border, and from International players, but not at this stage the rest of Australia. This strange situation has been brought about by the failure to resolve the "National Approach to Online Gambling" proposed for cyber gambling in Australia as outlined in the comments by the Gaming Minister. Bridge said that "the national model for Internet gambling is still being debated between the Federal Government, the states and the territories".

"In particular the arrangements for tax sharing and implications for licenses for physical casinos remain unresolved," he added.

The end result is that Lasseters will have to wait until these issues are resolved before they can launch "stage two," which is operating nationally within Australia under the "National Approach," the thrust of which is that taxes will be remitted to the Australian state where the player physically resides. Tax revenue from offshore players will go to the Northern Territory Government under this model.

It seems that the national consensus required to get the National Approach to Interactive Gambling from theory into practice has run into some political and business roadblocks, in particular in relation to cyber casinos. The real causes of the delay in getting the national approach approved is some political backlash from the anti-lobby and territorial contract disputes between land casinos and state governments, and the Australian Federal Government is currently conducting an inquiry into all gambling and the rapid increase in total gambling in Australia over the past five years. Many states are getting up to 12 percent of all state taxes from gambling sources and have adopted a very pro-expansion approach toward all forms of gambling. So far only the state Western Australia has resisted joining in the gambling boom by resisting the introduction of slot machines outside of their Burswood Casino in downtown Perth, the capital of Western Australia .

The state of Tasmania has extended the existing license of its two land-based casinos to include cyber gambling but with the unusual proviso that local Tasmanian residents will not be allowed to play online. Queensland is in the process of licensing some cyber casinos but has four land-based casinos who are no doubt warring about who gets the go-ahead and trying to head off any new players. Queensland has also made online gambling by their citizens a criminal offense if the Queensland government has not entered into an agreement to share revenue with the government of the jurisdiction where the cyber casino is operating. New South Wales and Victoria are struggling with legal and political issues which are standing in the way of implementation. South Australia is suffering a general political backlash about the growth of slot machines and has put cyber gambling on the back burner. The semi-autonomous territory of Norfolk Island has big plans for cyber gambling and has passed the appropriate laws and is working up regulations right now.

Playing at the cyber casino requires a pretty solid sign-up routine and proof of identity and age is required to open an account. Players must be over 18, must provide proof of age by faxing of posting a copy of their drivers license or passport and provide an email address to get their login user identification and password. Credit card transactions are restricted to around US $350 per month and a player must apply for any increase beyond that limit. Credit card transactions are secured by 128-bit encryption via a direct connection to the National Australia Bank. Players must nominate a bank account for payment of winnings or withdrawals. Alternatively, a player can have a check sent to a nominate address.

The games offered are blackjack, roulette, draw poker, Sic-Bo and slots. The slots offered take the Australian approach of quite complicated game layouts, multiple play combinations and low per line cost, in this case as low as .6 of one US cent (1 Aussie cent) per line. They have catered to what they perceive is the US market with a slot game along the lines of the Las Vegas standard 3-reel machine. The site games comes with background noises and a running commentary from the virtual 'dealer'. The site also offers a chat room and even links to gambling addiction help sites.

The minimum bet is 1 cent Aussie and the US dollar will buy about 140 of them at current exchange rates. Bet limits are AUD $500 per game for blackjack, AUD $200 per game for roulette, AUD $200 per game for Sic Bo and AUD $50 per game for Joker Poker. Slots range from AUD $1 to $5 per line. The slot layout is 92 percent and other games are similar to the land casino versions. Customer service online is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The software download concept is interesting in that you download base software and thereafter on a game by game basis. Thus, there's no need to load a complete software suite if you are only interested in playing one or two games. The site is located in the upstairs computer room of the main casino building and connects to the Telstra Australia Internet backbone via a 2 megabyte fiber optic link. The disaster planning includes the option of linking via Darwin if the main link via Adelaide fails. With capacity demands of Lasseters cyber casino and the CenterBet sports betting operation, also located in Alice Springs, Telstra has upgraded the pipes into what would otherwise be a backwater of Internet activity giving local Internet users one of the fastest Web experiences in Australia.

IGN's Mr.Nambling is a gaming industry consultant and commentator with over 23 years industry experience, Glenn Barry has held senior management positions in Lottery and gaming operations around the world. His claims to fame include starting the first successful US Lotto in NewYork in 1978 and the NSW (Australia) in 1979.