Prohibiting internet poker machines and casinos is futile

Independent Australia
Prohibiting internet poker machines and casinos is futile

The prohibition of internet-based poker machines (also known as Electronic Gaming Machines or EGMs) and casinos to Australians attracts little media attention despite the fact it has been an utter failure.

While many types of gambling are allowed in Australia, including internet-based wagering services, it has been illegal to provide internet-based poker machines and other casino-type gambling to Australians since the early 2000s.

A quick internet search finds thousands of websites offering online poker and casino games to Australians. Indeed, there are numerous sites that rate the different offerings that are available based on reviews by Australian players.

There is even a rating website that explicitly targets Australians. This is run by an entirely legitimate organisation called eCOGRA which describes itself as an ‘independent and internationally approved testing agency’.

Since 2017, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) reports it has facilitated the blocking of 354 websites offering illegal gambling services and 21 affiliate marketing sites.

But this is dealing with just the tip of the iceberg. It’s like playing Whack-a-Mole. Offshore-based internet poker machine and casino providers know they won’t be prosecuted. The ACMA blocking activity is little more than a minor annoyance. The blocking can be easily avoided and business resumes.

Data on how many Australians use the internet to play poker machines and casino games and how much they lose is understandably sparse. It is likely to be over 5% of Australians and growing.

A National Online Survey conducted as part of the Second National Study of Interactive Gambling in Australia found that

‘...47.1% of interactive gamblers had used an illegal offshore gambling site in 2019, most commonly to gamble on instant scratch tickets (26.3%), EGMs (15.8%), casino games (15.7%), poker (15.0%), bingo (13.9%) and skin gambling (9.0%).

Awareness of the illegality of offshore sites was low in this sample.’

The Survey found online gamblers are nearly three times more likely than offline gamblers to be problem gamblers and about twice as likely to be at-risk gamblers. Online gamblers were ‘significantly more likely to experience at least one harm to self (34.0%) compared to non-online gamblers (15.6%)’.

Online poker machines (27.5%) were reported to be the most harmful form amongst ‘harmed’ interactive gamblers, followed by race betting (17.1%), sports betting (15.3%) or lotteries (13.9%).

The prohibition of online poker machines and casino games is clearly not working. Yet the media focuses almost entirely on the issues created by bricks-and-mortar gambling and online wagering.  

While those issues are very real, the growing level of problem gambling using online poker machines and casino games requires both attention and a different approach to regulating and managing these currently illegal services.

Dr Abul Rizvi is an Independent Australia columnist and a former Deputy Secretary of the Department of Immigration. You can follow Abul on Twitter @RizviAbul.

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