In case you missed it, last week the federal government announced the first suite of measures to be introduced as a result of Barry O’Farrell’s review of the Interactive Gambling Act.

The measures are aimed at stopping any flow of gambling dollars to overseas bookmakers, to ‘protect’ Australians from dealing with unregulated foreign operators.

Sounds reasonable on face value.

The initial moves involve making the relevant laws clearer regarding the illegality of foreign bookmakers dealing with Australian customers, and discouraging those bookmakers from doing so.  Federal Minster for Human Services Alan Tudge made the announcements, and you can read the full release on his website.

But the message we get from punters is loud and clear: few bet with foreign operators by choice.  Rather, they’re forced to as a result of being banned by local operators.

So if foreign bookmakers are frozen out, as is the government’s stated aim, where does that leave the increasing number of punters being banned from betting locally?

Earlier this week, we put the following questions to Minister Tudge:

1. A large number of our readers and members find themselves constantly banned from betting by Australian-based bookmakers, who refuse to do business with them as individually they don’t lose enough money to meet bookmaker’s desired profit margins. This is certainly not limited to those betting large amounts, but seemingly anybody who doesn’t lose at the required rate.

In discussions with them, we would say the majority definitely don’t wish to bet with overseas bookmakers, however these practices by bookmakers leave them with no other option. Won’t these measures leave them with nowhere to bet? What would your advice to them be?

2. The effect of these practices is that many Australian-based bookmakers are free to simply ban any of their less profitable customers, and deal exclusively with losing and problem gamblers. Is it not a fundamental concern that we have an industry free to deal exclusively with losing gamblers, rather than more traditional bookmaking which requires managing risk across all customers in the market?

3. Racing Victoria and Racing NSW have moved to combat this by introducing minimum bet limits that all bookmakers must accept from all punters (generally to win up to $2,000). This measure has proved very successful in keeping racing betting where it belongs – locally – however it doesn’t apply to other sports, which is where our members turn to international bookmakers.

Is there any reason why blanket minimum bet limits should be not introduced as legislation to ensure all genuine gamblers can bet with Australian bookmakers as desired? If so, why? Would this not be an effective measure to ensure local betting remains in Australia?

Minister Tudge’s office were good enough to provide a prompt response.

Unfortunately, the response itself left a lot to be desired.

A member of the Minster’s staff outlined that they were simply implementing “consumer protection” measures as recommended by the O’Farrell review, and that Minister Tudge had no specific comment regarding any of our points, which “are questions for the bookmakers”. 

(When we pressed the real impact of the legislation – leaving punters in the cold and allowing bookmakers to simply dealing with losing gamblers – we were told that this would be passed onto the Minister).

It would appear troublesome that the government would press through any legislation with little regard for what the actual impact will be, let alone legislation designed to “protect” the very consumers that will be affected by it.

This legislation purports to stop Aussie punters losing their money overseas, whilst at the same time enshrining in law the ability and desire of local bookmakers to deal only with those who’ll lose their money anyway.

Bookmakers, left to their own devices, will focus solely on what’s best for their bottom line: and unfortunately for the rest of us, that’s losing punters.

It looks like there’s still plenty of battles left in the punters’ war for a fair market.

What they said…

Richard Irvine, Fair Wagering Australia:

One of the O’Farrell Review recommendations was to investigate if account closures is increasing offshore wagering. When will we see the results of this investigation? From my campaigning I’ve found that all politicians pass the buck as quickly as they can – which Minster Tudge has done here. The only politician who has acted has been Victorian racing minister Martin Pakula – he formed a position on behalf of the government and then left Racing Victoria to ultimately decide.

Minister Tudge needs to form an opinion on behalf of the Federal Government and then appoint an independent sports wagering regulator to decide if a minimum bet limit should be introduced. Gambling becoming a cornerstone of Australian sport warrants this type of action.

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