Aussies, welcome to our world over here in the United States. It looks like you might not have online poker to enjoy in the near future. On January 16th, 888poker, which had the second-most cash game traffic in the world, according to PokerScout.com’s rankings, withdrew its online poker services from the Australian market. While a specific reason was not given, it most definitely has to do with pending gambling legislation in the country.
In an e-mail to players on January 13th, the online poker room made a brief announcement:
Following a business reevaluation, we’d like to inform you that 888poker’s services are not being offered to players residing in Australia and therefore your account will be closed as of 16/01/2017.
You’ll continue to be able to withdraw all funds from your bankroll using our web cashier.
If you’ve already registered to any of our tournaments starting from 16/01/2017 onwards, please unregister as you won’t be able to participate.
That “business reevaluation” is a virtual lock to have to do with the Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill 2016. The bill was introduced by Australia’s Minister for Human Services Alan Tudge in November and would tack on amendments to the country’s current gambling laws.
At first, it doesn’t look like it should affect poker. The primary goal – supposedly – behind the amendment bill is to stop “in-play” online sports betting. This sort of sports betting allows people to place wagers on sporting events as they are happening, instead of just before the games start. Some sites call it “live betting.”
In-play betting is legal in Australia, but only if the bets are placed over a phone line. Many operators, though, have gotten around the restrictions by creating smartphone apps that allow players to make the bets with their phones. I suppose the idea is that since phones are being used, the apps are technically “legal.” The amendment would put an end to this.
The bill, though, also makes any online gambling that is not specifically permitted by law illegal. Right now, online poker is neither explicitly legal or illegal in Australia, so operators like 888 have offered the games to residents without any real fear of operating in a sort of legal gray area. But if the amendments are ratified – and they are expected to be as early as next month – internet poker will be illegal because it is not explicitly legal. Operators in violation of the law could be fined as much as AUS $6.75 million (USD $5.05 million) per day. Hence, the reason 888poker has bid Australia adieu.
It is entirely likely that more operators will follow, including the big daddy, PokerStars. In November, Amaya CFO Daniel Sebag told analysts in an earnings call that it is considering the move, saying, “In Australia, we currently offer poker and are reviewing the applicability of proposed legislation to player versus player games of skill. At this time, it would appear likely that if the legislation passes, we would block players from Australia. As we do not offer casino sportsbook in Australia, it currently contributes to about 2.5% of our revenues and we estimate it could reduce our EBITDA margin by up to a 150 basis points.”
Online gambling operator Vera&John already withdrew from Australia last month.
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