The Federal Government has launched a review into the provision of illegal offshore gambling and betting services to Australians under the Interactive Gambling Act 2001 (Cth).
According to the Sydney Morning Herald, the review will be conducted by former NSW premier Barry O’Farrell, and is due to report back to Social Services Minister Scott Morrison and Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull by 18 December 2015. The terms of reference issued by the Department of Social Services note:
“It is estimated that offshore wagering is a $1 billion annual illegal business in Australia…
Evidence suggests a significant number of illegitimate offshore operators are targeting Australian customers of racing and sports. Australian headquartered organisations are attempting to avoid legal obligations by basing their operations in unregulated international regions…
A number of wagering operators are now moving offshore, leading to operators being able to avoid paying the product and other fees that assist with funding racing and sporting facilities, integrity measures, prize money and participant payments and other operational costs.”
The Committee has been tasked to examine:
“1. the economic impacts of illegal offshore wagering and associated financial transactions on legitimate Australian wagering businesses, including size of the illegal industry, growth, organisation and interrelationships with other criminal industries and networks;
2. international regulatory regimes or other measures that could be applied in the Australian context;
3. what other technological and legislative options are available to mitigate the costs of illegal offshore wagering; and
4. the efficacy of approaches to protect the consumer – including warnings, information resources, public information campaigns and any other measures, regulatory or otherwise, that could mitigate the risk of negative social impacts on consumers.”
A number of critics have expressed their opinion that the inquiry’s terms of reference are too narrow, and will not have a significant effect on reducing problem gambling. An opinion article in The Guardian by Michael Safi notes that “around 64% of people who seek treatment for gambling are addicted to poker machines”. While he agrees “a closer look at sports betting is welcome” as “gambling treatment clinics are already reporting a doubling and tripling in the number of people – particularly young men – losing vast sums, quickly”, the review will not focus on the legal betting operators and their practices. He quotes Sally Gainsbury, a gambling researcher at Southern Cross University, who says “there’s not a lot” of difference between the legal and illegal sites.
In an article on The Conversation, Monash University Senior Lecturer Charles Livingstone raises similar concerns, noting that only one of the terms of reference of the review is concerned with increasing consumer protection. He also argues that the most recent review of the Act in 2012 suggested a number of harm-minimisation measures that have not been implemented.
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