Australia’s online poker players may have received a reprieve from death row thanks to the efforts of a Liberal Democrat senator.
In August, Australia’s federal government approved the Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill 2016, which clarified national laws to restrict online gambling to sports betting only.
Senator David Leyonhjelm (pictured) led a valiant but ultimately unsuccessful effort to exempt poker from the list of prohibited online activities. Anticipating defeat months before the bill’s passage, he advised the nation’s poker players to “screw the government, get yourself a [virtual private network] and an offshore account and carry on as you were.”
Fast forward to Monday, and Leyonhjelm posted an online notice declaring “Victory for online poker on the cards.” The notice claimed that, following further lobbying, the federal government “has advised that it is ‘favorably disposed’ to reforms that would exempt online poker players from illegal offshore wagering laws.”
Sky News reported that Leyonhjelm had engaged in some horse trading to ensure the government’s proposed media reforms won’t meet with too much opposition. Leyonhjelm claimed that online poker players had “won the ‘in-principle’ battle” but the question now turns to “how to make it happen in practice.”
Leyonhjelm claimed to have received a letter from Communications Minister Mitch Fifield stating that Fifield had instructed his department to “undertake some preliminary work examining the feasibility of Australian onshore providers obtaining licenses to operate online poker.”
A Senate committee is currently studying the online poker issue and will deliver a report in “mid-October.” Media reports indicate this date is likely to be October 18.
Leyonhjelm cautioned that approving online poker will require “party room approval” but Fifield has reportedly indicated he has the support of Human Services Minister Alan Tudge, who oversaw the process that drafted the amended legislation.
It’s unclear whether a locally regulated online poker market would allow operators like PokerStars – who just bid goodbye to their Australian players this past weekend – to return in triumph, or whether poker would be the sole responsibility of the nation’s current roster of online sports betting operators.
It’s equally unclear whether the market would be ring-fenced to bar liquidity sharing with other countries, even if those operators – such as Bet365, Unibet, Ladbrokes, William Hill, etc. – have poker sites operating in European regulated markets. And hey, the government could also opt to maintain the online poker ban as is. The only certainty is that we likely won’t know more until October.