While online casinos are illegal in Australia, it’s not illegal to use them, making Australia one of the biggest consumers of illegal offshore sites.
Online casinos are prohibited in Australia under the 2001 Interactive Gambling Act, meaning it is illegal for local and offshore online casino operators to offer their services to consumers in Australian territory.
But playing at online casinos in Australia is not illegal, so operators still offer services to Australian gamblers despite the fact that they’re breaking Australian law, and Australian customers use them in high numbers.
In fact, Australians spend up to $400m each year on online casinos. According to the country’s communications minister, Paul Fletcher, that equates to around $100m in lost annual tax revenue.
As a result, while the Interactive Gambling Act was designed to protect Australians from the harms of online gambling, customer are somtime actually exposed to more problems because they end up using unregulated sites.
The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) reports that players often face difficulties recouping winnings or deposits on the illegal sites.
Will Australia legalise online casinos?
Analysts have been saying for years that the next logical step for Australia’s gambling industry would be to legalise online casinos in order to curb the use of illegal operators and benefit from tax revenues.
GamePlan Consultants founder Sudhir Kalé has said he believes lawmakers will soon rethink Australia’s Interactive Gambling Act.
He says: “That’s the logical step to avoid losing valuable tax revenue to offshore operators and it’s what the Productivity Commission has recommended.”
Likewise, Executive director of the Office of Liquor and Gaming Regulation in Queensland, Michael Sarquis, believes legal online gambling will eventually become a reality in Australia.
He says: “If you prohibit something you create a black market and that has been one of the concerns in Australia – that the offshore provision of online gambling has been a problem. The Commonwealth is moving to address that.”
Illegal sites thrive during the Covid-19 pandemic
Moving towards legalisation seems even more logical after the Covid-19 pandemic, as online gambling activity significantly increased during lockdown periods.
SEMrush’s data shows that the number of internet searches in Australia for “online pokies” jumped from 12,100 in February 2020 to 40,500 in April 2020, as the pandemic forced pubs, clubs and legal casinos to close their doors.
But so far ACMA has instead increased its monitoring activities and the use of enforcement to block illegal sites, as well as running educational campaigns warning about the risks of illegal gambling.
Only time will tell if Australian lawmakers decide to take the steps towards creating a regulated online gambling market.