The Federal Government’s temporary ban on new Internet gaming licences will drive Australians on to unsafe foreign sites, the Australian industry warns. It argues that gambling in Australian online casinos is safer than betting in a bricks-and-mortar one.
The government’s surprise victory this week in passing its 12-month moratorium on new Internet gaming licences has inflamed a debate about the future of Australian gambling.
The 12-month moratorium has been debated for so long that it is already half over – backdated to May this year, it will be lifted in six months’ time for the consideration of the long-term problem – whether to ban Internet gambling altogether.
Opponents, including the Australian Democrats information technology spokeswoman, Natasha Stott Despoja, argue that the moratorium is useless, as its retrospective application to May pulls the rug out from under existing operators.
Gaming giants such as casino en ligne and Federal Hotels agree. “This is almost criminal – to take a legal activity and overnight make it illegal,” said Greg Farrell, managing director of Federal Hotels.
He is planning legal action against the government over the two online casinos his company will be forced to close, at a cost of 20 Tasmanian jobs.
Peter Coroneos, of the Internet Industry Association, said the move was a misguided response to the gambling problems Australians experience. “We’re as concerned as anyone about the potential problems that online gambling may present, but the fact is that this legislation seems a disproportionate and ineffective response to a risk that is not even actual yet.”
The association claims only 0.6per cent of Australians gamble on the Internet. “This will do nothing to prevent Australians from accessing the 1000-or-so sites that operate overseas in unregulated systems,” Mr Coroneos said.
Baptist minister and anti-gambling lobbyist Tim Costello said the industry was being “blatantly dishonest”. “Their intention is to phase interactive gambling in massively – what they want is licensing and legalisation so they can advertise,” he said.
“The industry is using the Trojan horse of saying `we just want to protect Australians’ as the vehicle to mainstream interactive gambling and particularly, through mainstreaming, to advertise.”
But Mr Coroneous said the move “will only add to the perception that the Australian Government doesn’t really understand the Internet”.
A spokesman for Communications Minister Richard Alston said the industry should be interested in making the Internet a safe place for families.
“Since the introduction of … (Internet anti-pornography) legislation, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of families accessing the Internet,” he said. “This is an appropriate time to look at Internet gaming because it’s in its infancy.”
Several states, including Victoria, have developed regulations for licensing Internet gambling sites, which could become a rich source of taxation revenue.