The Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy (Department) released its Final Report on the Review of the Interactive Gambling Act 2001 (Cth) (IGA). The review has resulted in 32 recommendations by the Department, which include:
- Development and implementation of a national standard for harm minimisation and consumer protection as a first step
- Removal of the exemption under the IGA which currently permits micro-bets to be made over the phone or at a physical venue
- Permitting currently prohibited online gaming sites that offer poker tournament gaming services to obtain a licence on a trial basis on the conditions that:
- they only offer online poker tournaments (which are considered the lowest risk type of online gaming), and
- they adopt the harm minimisation and consumer protection standards when enacted.
- An increase in powers for the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) to issue civil penalties, to target directors/principals of a gambling service provider and to list known prohibited internet gambling service providers on its website
- The introduction of a "safe-harbour" provision for financial institutions that choose to voluntarily block financial transactions involving prohibited gambling service providers
- A focus on education of Australian customers about the risks
associated with using prohibited online gambling services.
Clarification of the prohibitions on advertising and promotion of online gambling.
Harm minimisation and consumer protection
The Department recommends that a national standard be developed for harm minimisation and consumer protection with which licensed online gambling services must comply. Currently these matters are dealt with in individual state/territory legislation.
The proposed minimum standard would include:
- An ability for users to pre-determine total spend, time played or bets placed and to track their losses/profits
- An identity verification system to determine identity and age of users
- Establishing a national self-exclusion database which would be a centralised database to ensure that those customers who have excluded themselves from one gambling service provider are not able to use other providers
- Targeted warning messages (such as pop-up messages) alerting the customers to gambling behaviour that is indicative of problem gambling.
It is suggested that the states and territories would be responsible for the enforcement of this standard.
The Department has recommended the introduction of a provision to allow currently prohibited online gaming sites to become licensed on the conditions that they cease offering high risk online gaming services to Australians and only offer low risk gaming (such as online tournament poker). This is subject to:
- A harm minimisation and consumer protection standard first being implemented,and
- A 5 year trial period.
The Department has also recommended the prohibition on all forms of micro-betting (such as betting on an individual point in tennis or ball-by-ball play in cricket), irrespective of whether online or at the physical venue.
Deterrence and enforcement
The Department recognises that deterrence and enforcement measures must be strengthened. Accordingly, the Department recommends:
- ACMA be given the power to issue civil penalties, including infringement notices, take-down notices and the ability to apply to the Federal Court for injunctive relief if a gambling service provider fails to comply with a notice.
- Including a provision in the IGA that allows a director, principal or other person acting in an official capacity for a provider to be issued with a notice requiring that person to cause the provider to cease offering services in contravention of the IGA. Failure to comply will be a strict liability offence.
- A list of known prohibited internet gambling service providers be published on the ACMA website as well as the names of directors/principals of these providers.
- A safe harbour provision be introduced for financial institutions that choose to voluntarily block financial transactions between Australian consumers and unlicensed online gambling service providers.
Education and awareness
The Department also recommends increased focus on education, which will involve the introduction of internet service provider level warning pages to provide customers with information on the risks of using unregulated sites, promoting the use of the Cybersafety Help Button (which is free to download for personal computers, mobile devices and web browsers) and further and on-going research to monitor risks to children.
Advertising and promotion
The Department recognised that with respect to advertising of prohibited services, some adjustments and clarification of the relevant IGA provisions is warranted, including:
- The definition of an "accidental" or "incidental" advertisement as used in section 61ED of the IGA. The broadcast in Australia of events taking place outside of Australia should be permitted where the broadcaster has not added any message to the broadcast and did not receive any direct or indirect benefit.
- Clarification that advertisements for free-play sites that are provided for new poker players to learn the game and that are branded to strongly resemble the related for money site are prohibited.
The Government will now consult with states and territories on the development and implementation of a national standard for harm minimisation and consumer protection that would cover all licensed online gambling activities.
The Government will also examine the recommendations with respect to enforcement and deterrence, advertising, education and awareness and social media, in consultation with states and territories.
DLA Piper will closely monitor these developments.
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