Aussie Online Poker Players Faced with Grey-Market Future

Updated: April 5th, 2017 by Dev Ops

Due to pending changes in Australia’s regulatory online-gambling framework, the country’s online poker players will soon be facing a future where most of the largest online sites simply won’t be available.  While a select few elite players may pursue the option of relocating to other countries to play, the vast majority of Aussie online players won’t have that option.

Whether a casual player or a grinder at low- to mid-stakes, these players will faced with a tough decision: Either stop playing online entirely, patronize the small handful of grey-market sites that are likely to still accept Aussie players, or consider even riskier options, such as trying to play via a VPN (virtual private network).  The VPN option is fraught with risk and difficulty, from trying to create a fake identity in another country to possible bankroll forfeiture if one’s VPN usage is detected by sites who would have pulled out of the country.

Such a bleak future is about to become Australian reality, thanks to the pending passage of the Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill 2016.  Known by its acronym, IGA, the bill will soon be passed and signed into law, the latter through the executive-branch rubber-stamping known as “Royal Assent”.

It’s only a small handful of procedural delays that have kept the IGA from taking effect already.  The bill, which implements a series of amendments to Australia’s original online-gambling laws — which themselves date back to 2001 — will effctively bar all online-gambling services with the exception of formally regulated sports betting.  Aussies cherish a good punt, so that activity was never in serious doubt.

Everything else, though, from online poker to casino games, bingo and more, all goes away in the formal sense of the law.  The soon-to-be-passed amendment bill declares all online wagering activity for which the country has no regulatory structure to be illegal.  Since such a structure exists only for sports betting, all he other activity, including online poker, can no longer be offered by any firm already licensed for sports betting in Australia, or who might want to be licensed down the road.

The de facto van wlll also prevent operators from most white-label licensing jurisdictions from trying to serve Aussie poker players without a license, because their own juridictional licenses generally bar them from willfully breaking the laws of other countries.  So there’s no way for major online-poker sites to continue serving the Aussie market.

Right now, Aussie players are attempting to savor their last few weeks of online action.  If not for some procedural delays, the virtual door might have already closed.  However, a handful of changes made to the IGA by Australia’s Senate must be approved by Australia’s House.  Those changes are relatively minor and almost certainly will be approved.  However, the IGA ratification was buried deep in the House’s agenda last week, and never made it to the House floor for final consideration.

As a result, the official Aussie online-poker market will stay open for an extra six weeks or so.  The next time tte House can consider the IGA won’t come until early May.  If approved, the Royal Assent can occur anywhere from overnight to two or three weeks. and the IGA itself has cluases which don’t take effect for another 28 days.  Add it all together, and Aussie players should be able to play at the virtual tables until mid-June.

Then it’s lights out, for the most part.  888 has already closed up virtual shop, and the market’s giants, from PokerStars to PartyPoker to the iPoker Netork sites, will be forced out in June, assumin the current schedule plays out as it appears.

When all those sites depart, who will be left for Aussie players to consider?  One possibility is the Winning Poker Network (WPN) and its major skins, including America’s Cardroom.  ACR, as it’s known, may also soon become known as Australia’s Cardroom, too.

Then there’s Ignition Casino, which despite its “casino” name is the online-poker arm of the Bodog/Bovada arm hat was sold off to the Mohawks of Kahnawake a few years back.  The same political pressures that forced Bodog to splinter off its online-poker services to United States-based players may well make Ignition a likely site to accept wayward Aussie players as well.

Both of those two sites/networks rank in the top ten of all online-poker offerings as estimated by overall player traffic.  After that, the options are even smaller sites, such as a few skins on the Chico Network or a couple of Bitcoin-only poker offerings that may receive consideration.

The sadder story, however, is that a lot of Aussie players won’t want to jump through all the hurdles.  Many casual and occasional players, in particular, are likely to just skip the extra bother, settling for live poker play in the few Aussie casinos where it’s offered.  Over time, that’s going totranslate to a reduced interest in Australia for poker in general, despite the widespread love for the game in the country.

While the short-term prognosis is dark, it’s not all bad news.  A special inquiry into online poker and its possible future Australian licensing may be launched, though such efforts to “unring a bell” typically take a few years to yield results.  Governments tend to want to allow just-passed laws a trial period of workability, and the IGA is unlikely to be an exception.  It’s still worth the fight, though, just to get that ball rolling.

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