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Australia: Cyber Casinos Flouting Bet Laws

Written by:
Guest
Published on:
Apr/28/2009

THE federal Government has been warned its internet gambling laws are being openly flouted, with offshore cyber casinos taking more than $300 million in bets from Australians each year.

Although laws prohibit taking bets from Australians in online casino games, backed by fines of up to $1.1 million a day, several gaming sites allow Australians to sign up and bet.

These include big players such as PokerStars and Full Tilt. One site, 888 Poker, uses cricket star Shane Warne, boxing champ Jeff Fenech and AFL player Brendan Fevola to promote their service and advertises a tournament called the poker "Ashes" beneath a graphic of an Australian flag.

The Gibraltar-based 888 is listed on the London stock exchange and hosted a bushfire relief charity tournament after Black Saturday in Victoria.

In a submission to a Productivity Commission inquiry into gambling set up by the Council of Australian Governments, betting giant Betfair says the current rules are being ignored, costing the commonwealth significant tax revenue and leaving players vulnerable to fraud.

"It is illegal to offer online poker to Australian residents, but that hasn't prevented several large international operators from creating an enormous customer base here ... using high-profile Australians and cross-selling through 'play for free' sites," the company says.

"It is estimated that more than $300 million is bet by Australians annually on online poker, and it's a figure that's rapidly growing. All revenues flow directly offshore without any tax being paid in Australia. Furthermore, players are gambling in a largely unregulated environment with little protection in terms of fraud, security or harm minimisation."

The laws were drawn up almost a decade ago when internet gambling was in its infancy.

Betfair, whose local arm is Melbourne-based, is calling for Australian companies to be allowed to offer online casino games to Australian gamblers under licence. The company also wants an end to the ban on betting "in the run" on the internet, which prevents players making bets while matches are in progress.

Betfair runs a bet exchange where people's wagers are matched with those of other punters for a small commission on winnings. Its submission says many overseas companies do not prevent Australians from betting in the run, which accounts for the majority of bets on sports such as tennis and football.

Mark Zirnsak, the chair of the Interchurch Gambling Taskforce, said the taskforce opposed Betfair's online casino push.

"We would rather see a total ban on internet gambling," he said. "We don't think Australians need any more opportunity to gamble and lose their homes without leaving their homes."

He said the taskforce believed the current laws acted as a deterrent by forcing those who wanted to play online poker and other games to do so on more risky foreign sites.

Communications Minister Stephen Conroy's office did not return calls.

Source:  The Australian 

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