Australia’s leading regional licensor of corporate bookmakers has signed an intelligence-sharing deal with the national online gambling regulator, signalling tighter scrutiny of industry operations.
The Northern Territory government’s memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) paves the way for voluntary information sharing on “compliance monitoring, enforcement and education” that could facilitate prosecutions.
Signed on February 10, and in force from that date, the MoU seeks to “build a strategic relationship between the agencies and assist each agency in the performance of its regulatory responsibilities”, according to the document, which was released on Wednesday (March 1).
The MoU establishes a voluntary, non-binding “framework for mutual assistance” to “facilitate strategic engagement, collaboration, and the exchange of information … while recognising legal, policy and administrative limits on the powers … to exchange such information”, it says.
Subjects of “priority concern” are complaints against interactive wagering providers, investigations and prosecutions of licensees, due diligence and information sharing on non-compliant licensees, and mutual alerts if other regulators investigate Northern Territory-based bookmakers.
Both the Northern Territory government and the ACMA must request any information in writing and provide a purpose and substantial detail on the suspected or alleged conduct of a licensee and punitive provisions that apply.
However, the document also allows for a verbal request for information in “urgent cases”, provided a written request follows within seven days.
The MoU is open-ended and subject to periodic review, and permits unsolicited document sharing.
Details of any shared information are likely to be kept from the public and industry, with wide-ranging confidentiality provisions preventing third-party scrutiny of correspondence without the consent of both the territory government and the ACMA.
When asked by VIXIO GamblingCompliance what triggered the MoU, an ACMA spokesperson said on Friday (March 3) that the ACMA and the Northern Territory’s Department of Industry, Tourism and Trade “have a history of collaboration on interactive gambling regulatory matters and the MoU is a formalisation of this collaborative relationship”.
“There are multiple points of contact between the agencies, with most contact generally at an operational level,” they said.
The spokesperson added that the ACMA is seeking more information-sharing deals with state governments, which host a minority of the nation’s licensees.
“We work closely with other state and territory regulators and actively seek to formalise these arrangements as opportunities present,” she said.
The MoU reflects not only a further tightening of general regulatory activity for gambling companies, but also increasing sensitivity within the Northern Territory government, whose preferential tax scheme for the industry led it to become Australia’s licensing mecca for corporate bookmakers.
In more recent times, maximum fines issued to higher-profile licensees, including Entain Group, and multiple warnings to all companies over targeting of self-excluding gamblers and other breaches of the online gaming code of practice, point to heightened exasperation among regulators and politicians.
Northern Territory Racing Commission chair Alastair Shields told the federal parliament’s lower house inquiry into online gambling damage in a February 21 submission that “the drafting of more modern legislation” in the territory “is a priority”.
He said a bill carrying increased regulatory powers will be introduced this parliamentary term, including higher regulatory costs and much tougher penalties for licensees.
A revised code of practice for the industry will also be in place by mid-2023, he said.
The ACMA has, meanwhile, become more aggressive in punishing corporate bookmakers, handing out fines and compelling governance reform for licensees, as well as prosecuting online poker operators in Federal Court.
It billed Flutter subsidiary and market leader Sportsbet A$3.7m ($2.5m) in penalties and refunds in early 2022 for spamming customers and fined local operator BetDeluxe A$50,000 last month for similar breaches, while warning the industry in general against spamming tactics.
The ACMA last August also warned a Hong Kong-based software supplier and master licence holder for Realtime Gaming (RTG) brand software over supplying products to ACMA-blacklisted websites.