The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) is to use powers to force ISPs to block illegal gambling sites. ACMA will force Internet Service Providers to black sites in contravention of the Interactive Gambling Act 2001 (IGA).
Australia’s Government created the Interactive Gambling Act 2001 almost two decades ago, receiving assent on July 11, 2001. It targets online gambling operators and makes it an offence to offer real money online interactive gambling to Australian citizens. These activities include online poker and online casinos not to mention bingo and instant scratchies.
Accessing and using these interactive gambling services is not an offence. The law is aimed solely at Australian and offshore operators.
The IGA made it an offence to advertise any interactive gambling service or product electronically or in print. Breaking the rules carries a maximum fine of $220,000 per day for individuals and $1.1 million per day for companies.
Online casino and online poker operators took advantage of loopholes in the original IGA. This allowed them access to Australia’s highly lucrative iGaming market. Former Premier of New South Wales, Barry O’Farrel, updated the IGA in August 2017. The update effectively banned online casinos. All this did, however, was turn a thriving grey market into an even bigger black market. Australian online gamblers spend more than $400 million annually. The Government would receive $100 million in tax revenues if online casino gambling was fully legal.
O’Farrel put forward 19 measures in 2015, each designed to help stop illegal online gambling in Australia. One of those recommendations was forcing ISPs to block these sites and it looks set to go ahead.
ISPs are Internet Service Providers, including Telsta, Optus, and TPG. Everyone who uses the internet has an ISP, there is no other way to connect to the world wide web.
Internet Service Providers can see every website its customers visit. They also have the ability to block websites from receiving traffic. For example, ISPs can, if prompted, have full control over the websites Australians visit.
The ISPs block will not happen immediately as there are legal steps required by the ACMA. ACMA’s chair, deputy chair, or a senior executive have to sign off a block within a specific time frame.
It is section 313 of the Telecommunications Act that grants ISPs the power to block websites. You may recall back in 2013, 250,000 websites were accidentality blocked when the Australian Securities and Investment Commission tried to block websites associated with a cold calling investment scam. As a result, thousands of Aussie were unable to access websites online.
“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 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.”
Communications Minister Paul Fletcher is all for ISPs blocking illegal gambling sites.
“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,” Fletcher said.
“This is an important partnership with the Communications Alliance, and I want to acknowledge the 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.”
More than 60 online gambling operators have withdrawn from the Australian market since 2017. These include online poker giants PokerStars and partypoker. Aussie professional online poker players have either had to find a new job or relocate from Australia. Furthermore, dozens have taken the latter option and headed to Thailand, Mexico, and Canada.
Others choose to use a Virtual Private Network, or VPN. These make your ISP think you are accessing the internet from a different country. Most online poker sites and casino do not allow the use of VPNs. Sites can confiscate funds of VPN users. In other words, the website user assumes all the risk. Obviously, this is far from ideal.
There is no indication as to when ISPs will begin blocking websites contravening the IGA, but it is happening. As a result, it will be more difficult, if not impossible, to access some websites.