The exit of 888 poker comes after online casino company Vera&John abruptly closed all Australian customer accounts before the end of 2016, while other mobile poker rooms such as PokerStars and PartyPoker have foreshadowed similar departures in the near future.
The exodus of leading online gaming businesses comes after the Australian government introduced legislation in November last year that banned operators without a local license from serving local bettors. The amendments to the Interactive Gambling Act 2001 also included stringent policing of online in-play sports betting, with customers of Australian-licensed gaming operators no longer able to place live wagers through automated online services as a result.
The ban represents a major blow to many market leading offshore operators, many of which enjoy significant business from the Australian gaming sector, which is valued at A$20 billion. As much as 2.5% of PokerStars’ total revenue is derived from Australian bettors.
It has also angered the country’s online poker community and prompted the formation of the Australian Online Poker Alliance (AOPA). Created by local poker player Joseph Del Duca, a former communications adviser to Australian politicians, AOPA intends to lobby the federal government in order to ease restrictions and ensure the security of full-time players that earn their livelihoods from online poker.
While conceding that the tougher laws are designed to deny illegal offshore gambling operators access to Australian bettors, AOPA has expressed concern that publicly listed and reputable global businesses such as 888 Holdings are being unfairly frozen out as a result. Critics of the legislation also fear it will have unintended consequences on the market, by prompting the departure of legitimate businesses while black market operators continue to try and defy regulations.
Online gaming business that try and circumvent the legislation are faced with hefty punishment. The Australian government has signaled operators that defy the law will be hit with a A$6.75 million fine, while executives of offending businesses will face arrest if they are located in the country.
A change.org petition to gain public support for AOPA’s cause has been created, while the group is also urging poker players to lobby local parliamentarians into opposing the stricter regulations. AOPA has also called on politicians to permit creditable gaming operators with a license to host specific type of poker contests for skilled players. These moves have proven futile, and the departures of 888 Holdings and Vera&John signal an impending mass exodus of online gaming operators from Australian shores.
By contrast, the stricter regulations are being seen as an opportunity for Bitcoin gambling sites to make their mark in the Australian gaming sector. Bitcoin wagering is not banned under the revised legislation, paving the way for Bitcoin poker rooms to fill the void that will be left by departing operators.