Keep Online Poker In Australia!
Keep Online Poker In Australia!
Online Poker is a hobby enjoyed by many thousands of Australians on a weekly basis.
Recently, the Federal Government introduced the 'Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill (2016)' to the parliament. This is an important piece of legislation which is looking to protect problem gamblers. It is looking to offer protections by banning unlicensed offshore operators and also by clearly clarifying and defining the laws around 'in play' betting.
This is a good initiative and something that is broadly supported by the Australian Poker Community.
However, as the Bill is currently written it will spell the end of online poker in Australia.
The overwhelming majority of online poker operators utilised by Australians are run by offshore companies. There are no licensed Australian operators. The difference is, these are not small cowboy operations set up externally to exploit Australian laws. These are large publically listed companies listed on large scale economic centres such as the London Stock Exchange.
The intention of the Bill is not to end online poker in Australia but as it stands online poker will become a casualty of this bill, destroying a past time enjoyed by many Australians.
All we are asking is for the Government to amend the Bill to stipulate the exclusion of online poker.
As consenting citizens of mature age it is our right to be able to pursue any hobby or past time we choose as long as it doesn't effect others. One small amendment to this Bill will go along way to keeping online poker in Australia.
Please sign this petition to save Online Poker in Australia.
The Difference between Online Poker and Other Forms of Gambling
This is something that the 2012 Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy’s Review of the Interactive Gambling Act 2001 has gone to great lengths to point out. A copy of this review can be found here.
Poker is a game that combines both skill and luck. Furthermore players are competing against each other and not against ‘the house’. It is an interactive game where humans compete against humans. Not against computer algorithms designed to take their money.
The 2012 report found amongst other things that
- It has a different character to Electronic Gaming Machines (EGMs)
- It is partly a game of skill
- There is no evidence that players experience the trance like states that occur when playing EGMs
- There is a social element to the game as you are playing against other people so it is very interactive
- It is a game in which people compete for a pot of money to which they contribute which therefore limits losses
In her submission on the review Dr Sally Gainsbury (Deputy Director at Gambling Treatment Clinic and Research Group, University of Sydney), observed that online poker appears to have relatively low likelihood of leading to gambling problems. The report recommended amending the IGA to pave the way for online poker to be licensed in Australia.
Whilst we appreciate that the Bill before the house is being considered due to a desire to protect those susceptible to problem gambling the evidence shows that online poker is not a leading cause of this.
Poker and other card games are an important part of many Australian families. Countless families have grown up playing cards together and online poker is a natural extension of this in the digital age. The intention of this Bill is to assist problem gamblers it is important that we keep in mind the rights of individuals who do want to play online poker by excluding this game which the findings show does not have a high prevalence of problem gambling.
As mentioned above we completely refute any suggestion that there is not a social side to online poker. Many of us have a strong network of friends from all around Australia that we would not have or know if it wasn’t for online poker. The fact that it is a skill game leads the players involved to be quite aspirational. There is a very strong community involved with poker who constantly talk with each other to discuss strategy and ways to improve their game. This is not the same as sitting there mindlessly clicking a button on a pokies/slot machine it is a hobby that many people love talking about and discussing. For those that play poker it is the constant struggle for perfection that invigorates them. People do not simply play and hope to get lucky, they try and improve and enhance their skills continuously.
Online Poker vs Live Poker
A common thought is that if we ban online poker many people can just go and play live poker at a licensed venue. Whilst on a basic level this seems to make sense there are a few reasons as to why this should be considered with caution.
If you are going to play a poker tournament at a licensed venue you are likely to be looking at a much higher cost then you would face online. The cheapest poker tournament you can play at The Star Casino in Sydney is $220. There are also $330 and $550 tournaments on a regular basis at this venue. Tournament entry fees can be significantly more than this. For example, once a year at Crown Casino in Melbourne there is a tournament that costs $250,000 to enter.
Contrast this to Online Poker where there are literally thousands of tournaments each day with many of these being free or costing less than a dollar or two to play. There are more expensive tournaments online but there is ample choice for players looking to invest only a couple of dollars for a tournament that may last hours. Importantly, there is a sufficient range to enable players to choose the amount that they can afford.
It is true that some pubs do offer free poker tournaments but often they are free to enter and then you have the option of paying an additional $20 or $40 after an hour of play to get more chips. Most players take up this option so the cost to the consumer is generally higher.
(To clarify we are not suggesting that there is a problem with licensed venues offering these games, people are free to make a choice in relation to these games and whether they can afford to play in them. It is just that as far as low cost options go online poker has a far greater range)
Playing at a Licensed Venue
If people can no longer play online poker those that still want to play will be forced to go to a licensed venue. The whole intent of this Bill is to try and restrict problem gambling. Encouraging Australians to visit a licensed venue when they otherwise would have stayed at home is not consistent with this aim.
The research has shown that EGMs are far more problematic to problem gamblers than poker. With that in mind any action that leads people to venues that holds these machines needs to be considered with caution.
There is a reason licensed venues like to host poker tournaments. It is quite similar to the reason that supermarkets like to sell milk for $2. Patrons who come to a licensed venue to play poker are confronted with a range of pokies/slot machine options that they otherwise would not have been exposed to.
Playing at home
People often talk about the dangers of allowing patrons to gamble from home. When we look at house games or poker machines that can lead players to a ‘trance like state’ I can certainly see why there is a fear in relation to this.
However, there is another side to the conversation of playing at home which I don’t think is discussed. That is, you are actually at home, not out at a licensed venue.
As a married person would you prefer your spouse to have the option to be playing poker online from home as opposed to being out at a licensed venue all the time? At least when playing poker from home you are with your family. A poker tournament can take many hours but it is not necessary for you to be 100% focussed the whole time. You able to converse with others, help her with household chores and spend some degree of time with your family.
We are not suggesting that this is the most quality time that we spend together but you are available if needed. This would not be the case from a licensed venue.
The ability to play online poker at home allows patrons to do other things at home with their family that they could not do if they were out of the house playing poker.
Another factor is early detection of problem gambling. Let’s say someone does one day did start to develop a gambling problem. Would we not want the person to be at home where problems may be detected by their loved ones? They are far more likely to notice and hopefully prevent this from occurring at home than anyone at a licensed venue is.
One of the main concerns that this Amendment Bill looks to address is offshore agencies providing gambling services to Australians. This casts the offshore sites as being small ‘dodgy’ operators looking to profit in unscrupulous ways. Whilst this may be true with some gambling sites the evidence shows that the same is not true with the leading online poker sites.
The largest Poker site in the world is available through Pokerstars.com and Fulltiltpoker.com. Which is owned by Amaya Inc. This is a publically listed company on the Toronto Stock Exchange.
Other large operators in the Online Poker world are PartyPoker.com (owned by GVC Holdings which is listed on the London Stock Exchange) and 888 Poker (owned by 888 Holdings which is listed on the London Stock Exchange).
These companies make up an overwhelming majority of the online poker landscape and these are all publically listed companies in trusted Commonwealth nations.
As publically listed companies these sites have reporting and accounting standards that must be adhered to which leads to increased visibility. Banning online poker sees a risk that these transparent sites would leave the Australian market potentially paving the way for smaller operators to fill the void. This has obvious dangers for all involved.
We believe Australia would be better looking at a path for these companies to be licensed in Australia as opposed to banning them. There are a few options that have been trialled and floated in other nations in regards to licensing and taxing these companies in Sovereign nations (such as a consumption tax or through licensing fees).
The Conservative Government in the United Kingdom recently struck the right chord with this a few years ago through their Gambling (Licensing and Advertising) Act 2014. An extensive study was held and a regulation process was established which has been hailed as a win for the players, the government and the providers. We would urge the government to consider this when looking at what steps to take with online poker in Australia.
We believe these are options that should be explored to ensure that the government is receiving appropriate revenue however we cannot ban online poker and then try to bring it back later once we have decided how to tax it.
The United States has tried this and we currently see a situation of piece meal legislations being implemented and varying state by state. This has led to a situation where the online poker community is dissatisfied and the government is not making significant revenue as most American players still choose to play on unlicensed poker sites (such as Bovada and America’s Cardroom) rather than the legal state by state networks.
Where the policy of banning and then licensing has failed in the United States the process adopted by the United Kingdom have succeeded in addressing the problems of balancing consumer protections and personal freedom with the need to protect problem gamblers.
This is why we believe the best course of action is for the government to exclude online poker from this Amendment Bill and then actively work with these companies to determine how to license them in Australia with the status quo remaining in place until that has occurred.
The rights of the individual
Regardless of whether you are a fan of poker or not to me this is the most important part of this entire conversation. We as Australian citizens of mature age should have a right to spend our money and our time doing any activity we choose given that it does not significantly infringe on the rights of others.
As a centre-right government this should be at the forefront of everything the Federal government does. It is not the role of government to restrict the choices that we have, it is their role to empower and enable us to make the right choice for ourselves. We should always strive to avoid banning any activity unless the arguments to do so are too strong to ignore.
No such argument exists in relation to banning online poker, this would just be an unfortunate by-product of the Amendment Bill being put before the house. Please don’t ban a hobby enjoyed by thousands of Australians just because it is easier.
We saw the NSW government attempt this with the Greyhound Industry. We all know how that turned out. Yes the online poker industry is not as large and resourceful as the Greyhound Industry but that doesn’t mean it is right to end it.
Please amend the Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill (2016) to specifically exclude online poker and look at measures taken in other nations such as the United Kingdom to determine the best way to license and tax poker in Australia.