The title of Peter Charlton’s 1987 book Two Flies Up a Wall tells you everything you need to know about Australians and gambling. It is as much a part of the fabric of Australian society as it is in the UK.
This puts the nation somewhat at odds with other parts of the western world, most notably the USA, where state by state, legalisation of physical and online betting on sport, slots and table games is becoming widespread.
Concern over certain types of wagering is both understandable and right, in particular when it comes to the fixed odds machines that were memorably described as the crack cocaine of gambling. However, where does it place other pastimes like poker, which is rapidly gaining recognition as a sport and is even under consideration for inclusion in future Olympic Games?
Australia’s proud poker heritage
Over the past 20 years, Australia has been at the forefront of poker’s rise on the world stage. It culminated in Australian pro Joe Hachem’s victory in the WSOP Main Event in 2005. Coming at the same time as the online and smartphone revolution making poker rooms more accessible to both seasoned pros and new gamers, this should have heralded a golden age of poker. However, regulatory forces soon threw a spanner in the works.
The Interactive Gambling Act of 2001 prohibits the operation of unlicensed gambling operations within Australia. There is nothing remarkable about this, and it mirrors the rules in other countries such as the UK where all operations must be licensed by the UK Gambling Commission. In Australia, they must be licensed by the Australian Communication and Media Authority.
The legislation is highly restrictive as to the types of games that can be offered online. While sports betting and lotteries are permitted, slots and table games like poker are not. Until recently, Australian poker players could simply play at offshore poker sites, but in 2016, the law was amended. It now applies to poker providers worldwide. This has resulted in many of the biggest poker sites from withdrawing from the Australian market.
Can Australians still play poker?
The implications of the above for Australia’s poker pros who want to join international big money tournaments online is clear. However, it is important to understand that the legislation applies only to the providers. There is no law that prohibits Australians from playing poker, and there never has been.
As such, Australians have restricted choice when it comes to playing poker, but that is better than no choice at all. Some, for example, choose to use VPNs to access offshore sites. However, anyone choosing this course of action needs to look closely at terms of their User Agreement. Alternatively, Australia still enjoys a vast network of licensed poker rooms across the different states, where games and tournaments are offered to suit every level of experience.
Australia’s gambling legislation can seem frustratingly restrictive, especially when it is compared with other nations. Ultimately, however, it is important to remember the laws are not directed at players but at gambling operators, and are designed to promote responsible gambling.