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Australia Debates Legalizing Internet Poker

June 25, 2010 (CAP News Wire) – As Australia endures a political upheaval and an upcoming election — not to mention loads of World Cup drama — a new twist on its ongoing Internet poker debate hit the media this week.

The Australian Productivity Commission, an advisory body serving the government on economic issues, released a report in support of liberalization of Internet poker in the antipodean nation. Currently, Internet poker cannot be offered by Australian-based companies, which means all the money spent on online poker Down Under — about a quarter of a billion Australian dollars — goes to companies in other nations. (A problem all too familiar for American online gambling business interests.)

But the administration of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd immediately rejected the idea.

The report: “Consequently, a gradual approach to managed liberalisation that commenced with the likely safest form of online gambling — poker card games — would seem to be an affective way forward,” the report states, per “The effects of this partial liberalisation could then be evaluated, as could the harm minimisation measures in place, before any further liberalisation was considered.”

The response, from Communications Minister Stephen Conroy, reads in part: “The Australian Government does not support the liberalisation of online gaming, including online poker, as recommended by the Productivity Commission.

“The Government is not convinced that liberalising online gaming would have benefits for the Australian community which would outweigh the risks of an increased incidence of problem gambling, particularly with the rapid changes in technology.”

And the twist: A day after this release was issued, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd resigned his position, with his deputy, Julia Gillard, taking over.

Of course, this doesn’t mean the administration will change its stance, and Conroy remains in his position. The date of the next election hasn’t been announced yet, and it could come late this year (most likely) or early next year. 

Despite the rejection of the idea by Rudd’s ministers, the Australian Age news site declated that liberalization of online poker would probably take place, anyway. “Betting on poker machines or casino games from your lounge room or study could soon be much easier, with the federal government positioning to ease restrictions on ‘’interactive gambling’,” writes Jason Dowling in the article. Dowling goes on to describe the Productivity Commission report’s possible effects without mentioning the government’s dismissal of it. (Dowling’s article was likely written before Conroy’s press release was issued.)

Another angle: “Despite the federal government’s announcement, it is the states and territories who have primary control of gambling law,” according to Australia’s Special Broadcasting Service.

Finally, the article calls the Productivity Commission report timely, “with increasing pressure on Australia’s Federal Police, from prominent parliamentarians, to investigate the legality of various .net advertisements, which have been advertised in recent times.” That may be true, but it also comes at a time of great political upheaval, so it’s far too soon to judge its effects. One thing is certain, though: If the government changes and a new administration takes power, the report’s recommendations will remain the same. And that’s good for prospects of new Internet poker business in Australia. 

Interestingly, the report favors online poker liberalization, but restricting video poker machines, which are in heavy use in Australia. An interesting commentary on that aspect can be found here.