Australians Banned From Online Wagering

Australians have effectively been banned from gambling with online casinos. The Australian Federal Government made several 11th-hour compromises to get its watered-down internet gambling bill through the Senate stage on June 28. As the bill was passed at the final sitting before the winter recess, it became illegal for Australians to bet with online casinos offshore as well as domestically.

The interactive ban on offshore casino betting came indirectly, through a decree that Australian banks refuse to honor payments to and from clients of internet casinos. This means that in six months, from June 28, interactive gambling operators outside Australia will be unable to enforce debts incurred by Australian-based customers on their sites.

A minor party, The Greens, forced the banking compromise on the Liberal (conservative) and National Party coalition from left-field to replace an earlier agreement to ban overseas wagering companies from offering services to Australian-based clients. The Government dumped this option as unenforcable. The Australian Bankers Association refused to comment specifically on the ramifications of this controversial amendment. However, a spokesperson said banks noted practical and pragmatic concerns regarding the identification of particular gambling related transactions.

Lassiters Online, an Australian internet casino operator, said it will seek to have the legislation overturned in the High Court. "It may also be subject to the World Trade Organization, given what amounts to a restraint of trade," its managing director Peter Bridge said. "Lassiters Online generates $14.3 million (Australian funds) annually," he continued, "but only 37 of our 160,000 customers are Australian."

Australia's richest man, Kerry Packer, was this time a loser. The majority owner of Melbourne's Crown casino moved his online gambling operation offshore in anticipation of a ban on domestic operators. Racing -- Thoroughbreds, Standardbreds and greyhounds -- and sports betting was exempted before the bill went to the Upper House for ratification by the Senate. However, it's obvious online casinos pose a heightened threat to Thoroughbred racing everywhere when added to lotteries, slot machines and other forms of gambling competition.

A new report on internet gambling by research company Datamonitor estimates that turnover will reach $US6.6 billion worldwide in 2001. It predicts that by 2005, that figure could almost double to at least $13.6 billion.

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