While some may have thought the release of the Australian Productivity Commission's long-awaited report into gambling in June last year would have meant the end of government inquiries into the gambling sector for some time, it appears it is only the first of many.
As a condition of an agreement between the federal Labor Party and the independent MP Andrew Wilkie which enabled the Labor Party to form government, the newly formed Government has created a joint select committee on gambling reform. This is a permanent parliamentary committee, comprising members from both houses of Parliament and all major parties. The committee has commenced with an inquiry into pre-commitment systems for electronic gaming machines but has signalled its intention to look at gambling and sport as well as online gambling in due course.
In the wake of widespread opposition to its proposal to introduce a mandatory Internet filtering scheme, the Government requested the Australian Law Reform Commission to commence a review of the national classification system before any further actions were taken on Internet filtering. Although the Commission will consider in its review issues other than gambling, if the Government maintains its determination to impose a filter that relates to the classification system, gambling may still be affected.
In addition to inquiries that may take place at the Federal level, there are further inquiries taking place at the State and Territory level. The New South Wales Law Reform Commission has announced it will conduct an inquiry into cheating in gambling (particularly relating to sports bookmakers), Racing Victoria Limited has announced an inquiry into race field fees and the Australian Capital Territory Independent Competition and Regulatory Commission has released a draft report on the ACT racing industry (which also comments on race fields fees).
As noted above, further action on mandatory Internet filtering has largely been delayed while the Law Reform Commission considers the national classification system.
However, Senator Stephen Conroy, the Minister for Communications, announced recently that moves by three of the largest telecommunication providers in Australia (Telstra, Optus and iPrimus) to impose voluntarily some form of filtering on their respective users was proceeding.
There remains a frenzy of activity around the Australian online wagering market. Rumours that leading overseas providers (following the example of Paddy Power) will move into the burgeoning Australian market remain in the press while competition between the corporate bookmakers for market share appears to be ever increasing.
In November, Centrebet, one of the largest corporate bookmakers in Australia, announced a new marketing initiative aimed at increasing its market share among Australian punters. So far, this has resulted in major sponsorship deals being signed with Australian rugby league and Australian Rules football teams. While there has been no concerted response from other corporate bookmakers at this stage, Centrebet's actions appear to have spurned greater marketing efforts directed at sporting sponsorships from casinos in Sydney and Melbourne.
Advertising and Marketing
The increasing profile of gambling operators through sporting sponsorships has raised questions in the media about the level of advertising and marketing that should be permitted by gambling operators. This is likely to receive significant attention in the months ahead.
As the Federal Government attempts to step up regulation of electronic gaming machines (either directly or in cooperation with the States and Territories), we anticipate there will be calls for greater harmonisation of gambling regulation and greater levels of harm minimisation. This could result in certain forms of advertising being restricted or prohibited.
While concerns about advertising have dominated the headlines since the beginning of the year, race fields will return to the agenda when the High Court of Australia hears the special leave applications from Sportsbet and Betfair. Both parties were on the receiving end of adverse decisions in the Full Federal Court in November 2010 regarding their separate claims relating to the legality of the New South Wales race fields regime and the approvals that had been granted.
The special leave applications are expected to be heard on 11 March 2011. If the applications are successful, the matters will proceed to appeal before the full bench of the High Court during 2011. If the applications are rejected or the appeals dismissed, it will be the end of the line for these claims.
However, this may not mean the end of race fields litigation. Sportingbet Australia launched its own case against the race fields fees last year and that matter has been stayed pending the outcome of these proceedings. Should Sportsbet and Betfair be unsuccessful in their claims, Sportingbet's matter will proceed.
Renewed concerned about integrity in sport has prompted talk of harmonising laws relating to gambling on sport. At present, Victoria is the only State that requires wagering operators to enter into integrity agreements with authorised sports controlling bodies. Representatives of major professional sports in Australia have recently held discussions with the Federal Minister for Sport about enacting similar legislation to cover all States and Territories.
While ostensibly concerned with ensuring the integrity of sport is protected, these agreements also provide a means by which sports controlling bodies can receive a payment in exchange for the use of sporting fixture information by wagering operators. Although most major wagering operators have entered into agreements at a national level with such bodies (notwithstanding the absence of any legal obligation to do so outside Victoria), the negotiating position of the controlling bodies would be enhanced considerably if national legislation existed (or if all States and Territories adopted legislation similar to Victoria). This is likely to be important if sports controlling bodies seek to move away from the current gross profits fee benchmark that they have negotiated at present to a turnover-based fee.
Recent reports have stated that the Federal Sports Minister will be taking these proposals to a IOC seminar in March with the recommendation that similar measures to preserve the integrity of sport should be introduced at the international level
While race fields litigation may be winding down, wagering operators are not showing any signs that they are wary of further court battles. Last year, Sportsbet began proceedings against the State of Victoria over restrictions prohibiting its installation of betting terminals in hotels. Retail betting exclusivity has long been the cornerstone of the dominance of totalisators in Australia and, were Sportsbet to be successful, it would result in dramatic change for the industry.
Growth to Continue
While considerable regulatory uncertainty persists, growth is likely to continue in the Australian online gambling market (in both the online wagering and gaming sectors) during 2011.
The assistance of Michael Camilleri, solicitor, of Addisons in the preparation of this article is noted and greatly appreciated
 Special leave has been granted by the High Court in respect of both matters.
 Senator Mark Arbib gave a presentation to a Forum organised by IOC on 4 March 2011.
 A hearing on this issue commences in the Federal Court in Melbourne on 11 April 2011.
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