The Australian general election is 23 days away, which begs the question of what will happen to Aussie gaming laws if the Labor Party wins the election. Labor and the Coalition have two quite different approaches to pokies laws, so the vote could be a key moment for Aussie punters.
The Coalition passed sweeping changes to the gambling laws in 2017, so a Scott Morrison wins supports the status quo. Bill Shorten is not tied to IGA 2016 the way the Coalition is, but gaming laws are not a big part of his program.
Because he leads a different party, Bill Shorten at first glance appears to be the most likely to make changes to Australian gambling laws. That might not be the case, though.
A closer look at Shorten’s past 6 years as the Labor Party’s leader suggest he is not likely to be a force of change. Aussie punters might not have much of a choice in the upcoming election, but let’s take a closer look.
2019 Australian Federal Election
The 2019 Australian federal election takes place on Saturday 18. All 151 seats in the House of Representatives will be contested, while 40 of the 76 seats in the Senate will be contested. Prime Minister Scott Morrison leads the Coalition Government against the Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, who leads the Labor Party. Minor parties and independents also will stand for office, with the Greens and One Nation as the most prominent among those. The Greens, Katter’s Australian Party, and the Centre Alliance each will defend one seat apiece in the House of Representatives.
16,424,248 registered voters take to the polls on May 18th. Compulsory voting and full-preference instant-runoff voting are in effect for single-member seats. Also, optional preferential single transferable voting are in effect for proportionally-representated Senate seats.
Polls for 2019 Australian Federation Election
Polls show the Australian Labor Party holds an edge which hovers between 51% to 54% over the past year, though the polls narrowed in recent weeks. Currently, the Roy Morgan poll shows Labor sitting around 51%, while the Newspoll and Essential Poll has Labor at 52%. The latest Ipsos poll, which is a bit older, shows Labor at 53%.
Meanwhile, the pollsters at Roy Morgan have the Coalition sitting at 49%. Newspoll and Essential each last polled the Coalition at 48%, while Ipsos last showed the Coalition at 47%. Therefore, the Labor Party has a clear but small advantage of the polls of somewhere between 2% and 5%.
The polls show the race tightening in the final weeks, with a 1% to 2% shift towards the Coalition. As a general rule, voting is a zero-sum game, so a 1% shift up for the Coalition would be a 1% shift down for Labor, meaning it would be a dead heat. Still, unless the pollsters are wrong or some issue shifts the vote 1% to 2% in the Coalition’s favor, Bill Shorten should be the next prime minister of Australia.
Australian Prime Minsters in the 2010s
The question therefore becomes what kind of laws Bill Shorten and the Labor Party would devise for Australia. Would Bill Shorten repeal IGA 2016? Would the Labor Party make online casinos legal again? A look at the past might be a glimpse of the future, so let’s take a look at what the Labor Party did the last time it was in power.
For that, a quick review of Australian national politics in the past decade is required. Julia Gillard served as Australian Prime Minister from 2010 to 2013. During the Labor Party’s time in charge on national policy, the Gillard government passed gambling reforms. Kevin Rudd served Labor’s Prime Minister from June to September 2013 — less than three months. Kevin Rudd replaced Julia Gillard as PM and head of the Australian Labor Party, due to Gillard’s low poll numbers.
Tony Abbott was leader of the Liberal Party from 2009 to 2015. He lead the Coalition in the 2010 and 2013, becoming the 28th Prime Minister of Australia in September 2013 after the Coalition won a general election against Labor. Malcolm Turnbull served as Prime Minster from 2015 to 2018. He challenged Tony Abbott based on Abbott’s low poll numbers and beat him in a party vote in September 2015.
Scott Morrison resigned as prime minsiter when a Minister of Home Affairs Peter Dutton called a second spill motion in three days. Dutton stood against Treasurer Scott Morrison, who now serves as Australia’s 30th Prime Minister. Turnbull’s fall triggered a by-election the Liberal Party lost, which cost the Coalition its majority in parliament.
Julia Gillard and Malcolm Turnbull
Of the two prime ministers who’ve served in the past 9 years, Julia Gillard and Malcolm Turnbull made the most impact on Australian gambling laws. Julia Gillard passed the pre-commitment scheme, while Malcolm Turnbull passed IGA 2016.
Of the two, Turnbull’s changes to the gambling laws were far bolder and more profound. Let’s review both.
Julia Gillard Gambling Reforms
In September 2010, Julia Gillard agreed with Tasmanian MHR Andrew Wilkie to make major reforms to Australia’s gambling laws. As Gillard bargained with Wilkie, the Commission recommended a $1 bet limit on pokies, which would have brought average losses to $120 an hour. Gillard balked at that option, leaving the potential losses in an hour at $1500.
Instead, Gillard-Wilkie compromised on the pre-commitment scheme. It appeared Gillard would keep this watered-down deal until November 2011, when Peter Slipper took the Speaker’s chair and Gillard picked up another vote. This meant she did not need Wilkie’s vote and was free to break the agreement — which is what she did.
The Labor Party at the time was indifferent to gambling reform. Thus, Gillard passed laws that required pre-commitment tech be installed in all poker machines going forward from 2013. Also, she started a mandatory pre-commitment scheme in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT).
Pokies Voluntary Pre-Commitment Technology
The 2012-2013 pre-commitment scheme allowed pokies punters to set max losses and time limits on their time spent playing pokies. Casinos, clubs, pubs, and pokies manufacturers complained the scheme would hurt profits. Reform minded voters said the laws did not go far enough.
For instance, the Productivity Commission noted that the Achilles heel of pre-commitment was “that gamblers who have exceeded self-imposed limits can remove their card, still play and break their commitment.”
Since an estimated 60% of all losses were lost by problem gamblers, critics pointed out Gillard’s reforms would not work.
Malcolm Turnbull Gambling Reforms
Julia Gillard’s government passed some reforms, but the Interactive Gambling Law of 2001 (IGA 2001) remained the ruling statutes for Australian gambling. Since IGA 2001 was before mobile gambling, Aussie laws did not address smartphone gaming or live in-play betting at all. Many critics demanded changes to the law, while the Tom Waterhouse-NRL scandal of 2013 left many calling for gambling advert reforms.
Those became the Internet Gambling Amendment of 2016, also known as the Interactive Gambling Amendment or IGA 2016. Alan Tudge, a minister in the Malcolm Turnbull government, sponsored IGA 2016 in the parliament in November 2016. The IGA 2016 bill didn’t passed until August 2017, which caused a sea change in how Australia governed gambling at the federal level.
Malcolm Turnbull got an early start on the reforms. In May 2017, the Aussie PM announced reforms on gambling adverts. Televised gaming ads stopped before 8:30pm on live sporting events, so underage sport fans did not view the ads. Also, Turnbull banned ads anytime for 5 minutes before and after a game.
Internet Gambling Amendment (IGA) 2016
IGA 2016 banned offshore online casinos and poker sites, which signed up punters at a higher rate than local companies. Aussie agencies coordinated with the United Kingdom, Canada (Kahnawake), and New Jersey, which gave the ban more impact than prior bans.
Sites like 888casino, Ladbrokes, William Hill, and Paddy Power left the online casino market. (Licensed bookmaker sites remain legal.) Major online card rooms like PokerStars, partypoker, Bwin.Party, and 888poker also left the Aussie market.
IGA 2016 did not prove to be the boon for online casinos and poker sites the way leaders expected. Private online casinos and card sites moved into the void. Australian punters mostly either quite playing online slots and poker games or signed up for non-licensed sites that didn’t follow Aussie laws. Non-licensed poker rooms and casinos didn’t pay Aussie taxes, so their house edge and poke rake could beat Aussie gaming sites.
Meanwhile, three Aussie states passed Point-of-Consumption taxes (POCTs) on the legal gaming groups. This meant Aussia gaming sites and legal foreign sportsbooks had to pay higher taxes, which hurt their bottom lines.
2019 Federal Election Impact on Australian Gambling Laws
That brings us to the current moment. Gambling laws have not been a big part of the 2019 election campaign. Emissions policies are bigger issues. Bill Shorten made few statements on gambling over the years, though his actions show he’s not likely to repeal IGA 2016 or pass Wilkie’s reforms.
Bill Shorten, once he became Labor’s leader, signaled in December 2013 he would support the Coalition’s gambling law changes. Then-Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews told The Australian, “Their interest in gambling was a political one [paywall]. It was obviously to ensure that Julia Gillard remained in the Lodge because of the deal with Andrew Wilkie.
“As soon as Andrew Wilkie was no longer needed, then the deal was essentially falling apart.”
While those are the words of a political opponent, they largely stand. The same can be said of Bill Shorten. He backed IGA 2016 while opposing carbon and mining tax repeals. With the Labor Party poised to win control of the federal parliament without the need of independents like Wilkie, Aussies should not expect to see pokies reforms in the near future.
The question of an IGA 2016 repeal is another matter. IGA 2016 drove away foreign site owners that paid licensing fees and tax revenues to state governments. Even worse, the law did not replace those funds. The policy of banning PokerStars, 888, William Hill, and Ladbrokes has failed. The law was passed by an unpopular prime minister from another party. Repeal might happen, but once again, it is not likely to be high on Bill Shorten’s list of priorities.
Therefore, Aussie online punters might not have many reasons to vote on the gambling issue. From our point of view, they are free to decide their vote based on other factors.