Over the past few months, barely a day has gone by without one gambling story or another hitting the Australian headlines. This time, it is nothing to do with the big city casinos falling foul of licensing regulations, at least not for the moment. The latest news to emerge from the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) press office is that the regulator has issued blocking orders for six more offshore gambling providers over the past month. That takes the total to almost 700. It does, however, beg the question of what these blocking orders achieve as the number of wagers placed online in Australia continues to grow month on month.
Supply and demand
Placing a bet, especially on pokies, is part of Australian culture and tradition. The events of 2020 drove punters into cyberspace seeking online pokies in Australia for real money players. Now, Australia’s Interactive Gambling Act of 2001 prohibits the provision of specific online gambling services to persons in Australia. These include casino games such as pokies. However, where there is demand, some enterprising souls are always going to have supply.
In this case, supply comes in the shape of online casinos that are based outside Australia. It is a story that is seen the world over – the internet has no conception of national borders, and legislation is invariably concerned with the provision of gambling services, not the use of them. In other words, you can ban online casinos from operating in your country, but you can do little to stop people from using them.
Banning orders – and Whac-a-Mole
Many offshore casino platforms are specifically aimed at Australian players, using Aussie themes and even accepting Australian dollars. The ACMA has put a lot of work into identifying them and issuing blocking orders to Australian internet service providers. As mentioned earlier, the latest additions bring the total number of online casinos on the blocked list to about 700.
The issue is that the ACMA appears to be playing a 21st century version of that classic 80s game Whac-a-Mole. Anyone who experienced the game will remember that in the end, the mole could never be beaten, he would just keep popping up out of a different hole. The telling fact as far as the ACMA’s strategy is concerned is that the number of Australians playing online pokies continues to rise despite the ever-increasing list of banned sites.
Is there a better way?
There is no question of the ACMA’s motives. Australians spend substantially more on gambling than any other nationality, and by a significant margin. The regulator’s determination to control the gambling landscape and prevent problem gambling is something that everyone can get behind. The question is whether there is an alternative strategy.
One possible answer to that question lies 9,000 miles away. For years, Canada has faced identical challenges, and prohibition has simply not worked. Last April, the province of Ontario launched its own regulatory framework for licensing online casinos. By the end of 2022, there were more than 40 licensed casino brands and Ontarians has wagered around $10 billion.
Ontarian regulators argue that everyone is a winner. Players use licensed gambling platforms that meet provincial regulations, regulators get to dictate how these platforms operate in terms of betting limits and so on, casino brands get the kudos of the license and the whole province benefits from the significant tax revenue that the licensed businesses generate.
Whether a similar model could work in Australia is something only the local regulator can decide. But from the outside, it certainly looks better than playing whac-a-mole for years on end.