Last week, the Australian government decided to ban online gambling in order to save its citizens from themselves. Australia has had a gambling problem for years, and the government decided to ban online gambling to prevent the problem from getting any worse.
But the fact is this ban won’t do anything for the gambling addicts because it is ill conceived and poorly executed. As an opponent of the bill put it, it’s like telling an alcoholic he can’t have whiskey but giving him all the beer he wants.
The 2001 Interactive Gaming Bill was introduced by Australian prime minister John Howard’s government to curb the country’s gambling problem. The idea sounds good in principle, until you hear a little more about the problem.
The major thrust of the bill prohibits Australian online casinos from offering interactive gambling services to Australian citizens, and therein lies the problem. There are two specific reasons why the bill will fail in its objective.
The first reason why the bill is doomed is because it completely ignores the real problem – land-based video poker machines referred to as pokies.
Pokies can be found in virtually every pub, bar, and casino across Australia. At last count, there were more than 185,000 pokies in a country of 20 million people. And these machines, which take bets up to AU$100, turned Australia into a nation of gamblers long before online Situs Judi Bola gambling ever showed up.
According to the Australian Productivity Commission’s report on gambling, 2.1% of Australians – about 293,000 people – are problem gamblers. They lose around $12,000 each a year, compared to average gambling losses of $650.
Rather than dealing with the problems caused by the pokies, however, Howard decided to strike at the new ‘enemy’ – online gambling. His philosophy? “You can’t roll back what’s there but you can stop it spreading and that’s the rationale behind what we’re doing.” Sounds good, but people addicted to pokies aren’t going to be gambling online.
The second reason why the ban will fail is because it is weak. It still allows Aussies to gamble at offshore casinos, meaning they can log on to any other casino in the world and bet to their heart’s content.
The Australian government has said that its citizens can’t gamble at safe, regulated Australian casinos but they are free to play at unregulated offshore operators. And that’s protecting them from the (alleged) evils of online gambling? I wish someone could explain that one to me, because it doesn’t make much sense.
The ironic thing about all of this is that most Australians don’t even play at Australian online casinos. The overwhelming majority of traffic to these sites comes from overseas players. So how again does the ban protect Australians?
Why introduce legislation that effectively does nothing, then? Why not attack the problem at the source and pull the plug on the pokies? The answer is money.
Gambling in Australia brings in billions (yes, with a ‘b’) of dollars in tax revenue every year. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that that money will have to come from somewhere else if the pokies are put out of commission. What’s more, it would be tantamount to political suicide for any government that tried to do that.
In the end, the decision to ban online gambling was little more than a politically safe but ill-conceived band-aid solution to a much larger problem that the prime minister is currently unwilling or unable to deal with.
So, I tip my hat to the Australian government for their upstanding efforts to protect the average Australian from the scourge of online gambling – by suggesting they go back to the pub for a beer instead of a whiskey.