ACMA to use s313 to block illegal offshore gambling sites

If you have funds with those sites, withdraw them, the regulator warns.

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Image: Juan R Velasco, Getty Images/iStockphoto

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has warned it is set to get the nation's ISPs to block offshore gambling sites that are in violation of the Interactive Gambling Act 2001.

"The ability to have ISPs block illegal websites will be a valuable additional weapon in the ACMA's arsenal in the fight against illegal online gambling," ACMA chair Nerida O'Loughlin said.

"If you have funds deposited with an illegal gambling site, you should withdraw those funds now."

ACMA added that offshore gambling sites often do not pay out significant wins, with customers left with little recourse.  

Over 65 companies have exited the Australian market since 2017, when it began to enforce the rules, ACMA said, with the directors of those sites also being added onto the Department of Home Affairs Movement Alert List. ACMA has also reached out to regulators in those sites' home countries.

"Public education is also crucial in deterring Australians from using these sites, given many illegal offshore gambling websites target Australians by using Australian themes and images, such as the Australian flag and native animals," O'Loughlin said.

The blocks will occur under section 313 of the Telecommunications Act, the same powers that allowed the Australian Securities and Investments Commission to accidentally block 250,000 sites in April 2013. In its guidelines for blocking, each block needs to be signed off by the chair, deputy chair, or a senior executive within the ACMA, with each request to expire after a "specified time".

"The ACMA will monitor at regular intervals the disruption of access to the website to ensure that it remains appropriate (that is, it is effective, responsible, as targeted as possible and is executed appropriately)," the guidelines states.

For most of the 21st century, the Australian government has sought to clamp down on online gambling.

Communications Minister Paul Fletcher said up to AU$400 million each year is spent on illegal gambling sites, amounting to AU$100 million in lost taxation.

"While ACMA has a range of powers to protect Australians from illegal gambling services -- including issuing formal warnings and seeking civil penalty orders -- it can be difficult to take direct action against faceless companies with no legal presence on our shores," Fletcher said.

"This is an important partnership with the Communications Alliance, and I want to acknowledge industry's support. Working with ACMA, these additional measures give ISPs the ability to block illegal websites, protecting Australians and contributing to a safer online gambling environment."

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