Australia Bans Credit, Digital Currencies For Most Online Gambling

December 7, 2023
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The Australian parliament has passed a bill that will ban the use of credit cards and digital currencies for gambling, while an exemption for lotteries has raised hackles among activists and at the corporate bookmaker lobby.
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The Australian parliament has passed a bill that will ban the use of credit cards and digital currencies for gambling, while an exemption for lotteries has raised hackles among activists and at the corporate bookmaker lobby.

After several delays and with one day left before the summer recess, the Senate on Wednesday (December 6) bypassed debate and passed the lower house bill on a voice vote, after voting down opposition and cross-bench amendments.

The Interactive Gambling Amendment (Credit and Other Measures) Bill 2023 prohibits credit cards and related credit products, including informal credit arrangements, as well as banning digital payment mechanisms such as cryptocurrencies and digital wallets, from being used in transactions for interactive wagering services.

The amended Interactive Gambling Act 2001 also “enhances” the Australian Communications and Media Authority's (ACMA) powers to enforce criminal and civil penalties relating to the amendments and the legislation overall, including extra-territoriality in the case of civil penalties.

The national online gambling regulator will now be able to issue remedial directions to offending individuals or companies and prosecute them if they are not followed.

However, the ACMA’s new remedial powers will come into force immediately for all other provisions of the Interactive Gambling Act 2001, signalling further pressure on an industry that is recalibrating after years of scandals, inquiries, heavy fines and tough new legislation.

A grace period of six months will allow financial institutions and corporate bookmakers to adapt to the credit and digital payments restrictions, while a review of the amendments will be required two years after the amendments come into force.

Responsible Wagering Australia (RWA), the corporate bookmaker lobby, welcomed the passage of the legislation and said its members are “strong supporters of this measure”.

However, CEO Kai Cantwell said it is “disappointing” that lotteries and keno are exempt from the ban, “especially when lotteries are the most prevalent form of gambling in Australia and are commonly accessed by people in low-socioeconomic communities".

“Lotteries were also exempt from the national self-exclusion register, BetStop, meaning that Australians who have self-excluded from online gambling are not precluded from gambling up to A$10,000 [$6,550] online at a time through lotteries.”

Cantwell added that uneven application of consumer protection measures will lead to “those at risk of harm [moving] from one form of gambling to another less regulated type”.

Formally flagged in April, the credit card and digital currency plan is the latest federal or state reform to attack problem gambling and extends the in-principle prohibition of industry-sourced credit in the National Consumer Protection Framework to any lender.

Anti-gambling forces also welcomed the bill’s passage but joined RWA and Greens senators in railing against the lotteries and keno exemption.

Alliance for Gambling Reform CEO Carol Bennett on Thursday attacked the ruling Labor party and the Liberal-National opposition for combining to block Senator David Pocock’s amendment that would push back against the industry’s formidable lobbying power.

The rejected amendment “commits [the Senate] to diminishing the political influence of the online wagering industry” and “calls on all politicians and all political parties to stop accepting political donations from the online wagering industry” and prevent their members and agents from entering Parliament House.

Bennett cited a report released by the alliance on Wednesday that industry-hired lobbying firms had “provided the gambling industry access to up to 280 individual lobbyists”, and that the lobbyists are not subject to binding professional standards.

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