Australians are the world’s biggest gamblers, losing more per adult than the residents of any other country in the world, and these days more and more of that gambling is being done online.
That’s a fact that may be behind the government’s decision to take a look at Australia’s online gambling laws, a move that could also result in major changes to the nation’s sports betting industry.
The Abbott government is now expected to review the 2001 Interactive Gambling Act, the law that currently governs online gambling in the country, sometime later this year.
The review will be led by former New South Wales Premier Barry O’Farrell under the purview of Social Services Minister Scott Morrison.
Australian Gaming Laws Seen as Outdated
The review has long been seen as necessary due to how much the landscape of online gambling has changed in the 14 years since the Interactive Gambling Act was first passed.
In particular, the heavy influence of overseas sports betting sites has come up as a major issue for many in Australia, from regulated local bookmakers who see these sites as unfairly stealing their business, to politicians who both want to keep revenue in the country and have more effective oversight of the industry.
News of the review caused some immediate worry among some in the sports betting world.
Speculation immediately rose that the government might be looking to ban gambling advertisements during sporting events and might try for restrictions or a ban on “in-play” betting, in which gamblers can make bets on contests that are already in progress.
But Morrison quickly responded to these concerns by saying that the review had not even begun yet, and that the government had no particular reforms in mind going into the process.
“People are reacting to something that hasn’t even been announced,” Morrison told The Australian. “The government has no preconceived ideas in this area. We undertook to look at it, and we will engage in good faith.”
Gambling is a major player in television advertising in Australia, particularly when it comes to sporting events.
If sportsbooks weren’t able to continue advertising during games for sports such as Australian rules football and rugby, broadcasters would struggle to find ways to recoup that revenue, and the bookmakers themselves would have a much harder time attracting new customers.
Anti-Gambling Advocates Hope for Major Changes
But a total ban on such advertising is favored by some, including South Australian senator Nick Xenophon, a long-time anti-gambling advocate.
Xenophon sees the review as a chance to overhaul a system that he thinks is out of control: he has pushed for bans on all in-play betting and the ability for online bookmakers to offer credit to customers.
“This review gives us an opportunity to take stock of the explosion of online gambling, including illegal overseas gambling, and the pernicious impact that online betting has had on sporting culture,” Xenophon said.
Xenophon and others have been critical of the terms of reference for the review, which were altered after the announcement to suggest that the focus would be mostly on overseas bookmakers, ignoring what they see as issues with the domestic sports betting industry as well.
But Morrison said that O’Farrell’s review wouldn’t be limited in what he can consider in the review.
“I have not sought to restrain him, nor have I sought to restrain the submissions that will be presented,” Morrison said.