The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) is to enforce its powers so that internet service providers (ISPs) in the country can begin blocking illegal offshore gambling websites.
The authority will instruct ISPs to target sites which continue to target consumers in the country, despite offering products such as online casino and poker, or operating without a gambling licence, in breach of the 2001 Interactive Gambling Act.
The ACMA was granted the site-blocking powers in 2017, following the O’Farrell Review into Illegal Offshore Wagering. This was conducted by former New South Wales Premier Barry O'Farrell, and has seen the ACMA's enforcement powers significantly improved, with the authority now able to impose civil penalties against offenders, and the National Consumer Protection Framework for Online Wagering launched in November 2018.
In addition, bookmakers are now prohibited from offering lines of credit to customers, and a loophole allowing in-play bets to be placed over the telephone closed.
“The ability to have ISPs block illegal websites will be a valuable additional weapon in the ACMA’s arsenal in the fight against illegal online gambling,” ACMA chair Nerida O’Loughlin commented.
“In many cases these sites refuse to pay significant winnings, or only a small portion,” O'Loughlin explained. “Customers had also experienced illegal operators continuing to withdraw funds from their bank account without authorisation.
“There is little to no recourse for consumers engaging with these unscrupulous operators.”
The ACMA publishes a register of licensed interactive betting services so players can be sure services are legal in Australia. For consumers that have an account with an operator not on the register, the ACMA said that they should withdraw any funds before their ISP blocks the site.
The blocking initiative will build on previous efforts by the ACMA to clamp down on illegal online gambling in Australia. Since the authority begin to enforce new offshore gaming rules in 2017, it said more than 65 illegal operators have pulled out of the country.
“We have achieved this through working with other regulatory agencies, placing directors of these gambling sites on the Department of Home Affairs Movement Alert List and notifying regulators in the home countries of the sites,” O’Loughlin said.
“Public education is also crucial in deterring Australians from using these sites, given many illegal offshore gambling websites target Australians by using Australian themes and images, such as the Australian flag and native animals.”
Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts Paul Fletcher said that Australians wagerign up to $400m via illegal sites each year, resulting in around $100m in lost tax revenue.
“Too often these offshore operators are defrauding Australians – and their websites typically provide very few – if any – harm minimisation controls,” Fletcher said. “While ACMA has a range of powers to protect Australians from illegal gambling services – including issuing formal warnings and seeking civil penalty orders – it can be difficult to take direct action against faceless companies with no legal presence on our shores.”
“This is an important partnership with the Communications Alliance, and I want to acknowledge industry’s support. Working with ACMA, these additional measures give ISPs the ability to block illegal websites, protecting Australians and contributing to a safer online gambling environment.”
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