Banks and internet service providers will be asked to reduce Australian punters' access to overseas online gambling sites under recommendations made in a government report.
The interim report (PDF), commissioned in May last year by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) Select Council on Gambling Reform, was published by the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy yesterday. It estimated that there are 2200 online gambling services in breach of the Interactive Gaming Act, reaping around $1 billion a year from Australians.
To combat this, the department has recommended the establishment of a national standard for interactive gambling providers, which would establish harm minimisation measures around responsible gambling, lines of credit and a pre-commitment on the amount a gambler intends to spend in one session. There would also be a consumer protection framework with protections of customer funds, customer information, identity and age verification and spend-tracking facilities. Providers that don't sign up to this standard would be banned under the Act, and penalties for breaching the Act would be administered by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA).
The banned gambling websites will be added to the ACMA's blacklist website, to be blocked by voluntary software-based filters. The department also suggested that internet service providers (ISPs) could have a warning page pop up whenever such a site was visited, but stopped short of calling for the pages to be blocked, as part of the government's controversial mandatory internet filtering proposal.
"This approach places ISPs in a position where they would be enforcing prohibitions on gambling with overseas providers, where there is no law that currently prevents Australian citizens from gambling on these sites. Implementing such blocking tools would be strongly opposed by ISPs and other key stakeholders," the report stated.
"The Australian Government has clearly stated its position, that [the] blocking of websites by ISPs should target child sexual abuse material."
The department said that banks could also voluntarily block payments to recognised illegal websites. But, in order to do that, the banks would need to be given safe harbour under the Act so as to be protected against potential unintended consequences from the blocking of those transactions — such as, accidentally blocking a legitimate transaction. The report noted that, while this method may deter some gamblers, others would just find alternative methods of transferring money, such as using third-party payment companies like PayPal or Western Union.
Communications Minister Stephen Conroy said that the government had not yet made any decisions on whether to act on the recommendations and called on interested parties to make a comment on the interim report by 25 June.
"This is an interim report only. The government has made no decisions about possible changes to the [Act] and will not do so until we have had further public consultation with interested parties."