Australia’s communications watchdog has warned gamblers in the country to withdraw their funds from illegal gambling sites before websites get blocked
Taking action against illegal offshore betting companies
The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) announced that internet service providers will be asked to stop the functioning of gambling sites that are failing to comply with the Interactive Gaming Act 2001.
This measure is the third and final piece of the online gambling reforms carried out by the Morrison Government as a follow up to the O’Farrell Review into Illegal Offshore Wagering (the O’Farrell Review).
Australians end up spending $400million annually on the dubious sites, while facing serious challenges with receiving their earnings. Around $100 million worth of tax revenue is lost each year.
The online gambling scams and new mechanisms to fight them
ACMA Chair Nerida O’Loughlin said the watchdog has managed to identify and put various websites in the scope due to customer complaints and is expecting the number to increase while the investigation lasts. O’Loughlin also says that “the ability to have internet service providers block illegal websites will be a valuable additional weapon in the ACMA’s arsenal in the fight against illegal online gambling.”
Ms O’Loughlin added that illegal websites are often deliberately branded in a way that is appealing to local customer and public education might be a tool for providing guidance and protection to people.
Some of the troubles that users have come across are:
- Betting operators withdraw funds from players’ bank accounts without the holder’s permission
- Customers being unable to receive their earnings
- Lack of mechanism to engage with fraudulent firms
The first target of the new ban will be FairGo Casino and Emu Casino that are run under a Curacao operating licenses and have reportedly defrauded multiple Australian users. The ACMA warns customers that illegal operators might let a player deposit money into their account on the website, but then refuse to pay out the earnings. Such operators often cease their services or change their location, hence players losing their money.
In an interview for the Sydney Morning Herald, Federal Communications Minister Paul Fletcher said that Australians are often scammed by offshore betting companies with websites that have very few or no “minimization controls”. Fletcher also added that despite the regulator was granted more power to issue formal warnings and seek civil penalty orders, a company with no legal presence in the country could be hard to chase.
The ACMA also lists online casino-style games, slot machines, scratchies and in-play betting on sports events as prohibited and urges Australians to report any frauds. The Australian authority initiated a reform of the offshore gambling rules in 2017, which has caused more than 65 illegal companies to leave the domestic market.
Australia has one of the highest gambling rates globally with over 80% of the population engaging in some gambling activity. Live gambling is legal across the whole Australian territory, while the country was among the first ones to address the legality of online gambling. Within the context of the rapidly changing technologies and gambling companies quickly finding loopholes, more changes are needed.