RealTime IT News

Federal Senate Passes Online Gambling Moratorium

[Sydney, AUSTRALIA] Two months after it was first defeated, the Federal Senate has passed a 12 month moratorium on new interactive gambling services.

The bill, which is yet to be debated in the House of Representatives, would implement a 12 month ban on the introduction of new commercial online gambling services in Australia, backdated from May 19 this year and in force until May 18, 2001.

The passing of the moratorium has caused a divide among the minor parties, on the basis of what is permitted under the banner of interactive gambling. Greens Senator Bob Brown forced the Government to exempt online racing bets, a clause which will allow Victorian and Tasmanian totalizator agencies to accept such bets along with interstate TAB operators.

This amendment recognizes online wagering as "merely an extension of current offline betting services...[and it] will not be affected by the moratorium," according to a statement from the Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts. "However, the legislation will not permit the introduction of new services that offer real-time betting after a sporting event has commenced. It is the Government's view that these services have the potential to impact significantly on the incidence of problem gambling in Australia."

Democrats Senator Natasha Stott Despoja was incredulous at this distinction however, and maintained it would do nothing to address problem gambling, but merely force gamblers to use offshore and often unregulated online operations. "I find it extraordinary today that we have decided that sports betting isn't really gambling," she said. "But if that's the way the Government can get its legislation through then obviously it's prepared to do it, and people are prepared to compromise their morals and principles in the process."

The moratorium, which was originally defeated in the Senate on October 9 (see story), will give the Government the opportunity to further investigate the societal impact of interactive gambling, with a possible view to banning new forms of interactive gambling permanently. This has been the Government's eventual intention from the first steps toward the moratorium. The National Office for the Information Economy (NOIE) is currently finalising a study into the feasibility and consequences of such a ban.

While anti-gambling campaigners such as Baptist minister Tim Costello have hailed the moratorium as "a victory for the people's will," The Australian Casino Association (ACA) has decried it as "bad legislation."

We now have a situation where online wagering and sports betting will be okay but a small number of online gambling sites will be subject to a moratorium," said ACA eceutive director Chris Downy. "These sites are already highly regulated and offer higher degrees of customer protection than do the wagering sites."

Downy said that many online operators have been actively involved in improving customer protections since the Federal Government's Netbets inquiry into the effects of and protections surrounding online gambling, and have worked with State and Territory governments to help regulate the industry.

Australia has been recognized as a world leader in terms of regulation of online gambling," said Downy. "We now have a situation where the Government by imposing this moratorium has in fact done more to undermine all the efforts to bring in high standards of player protection than would have been the case if the moratorium had not been imposed."