Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Online Poker, Pokkies, & Damn Stupid Aussie Pollies!

In August 2016, after being voted on multiple times in both chambers of the Australian legislature the Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill 2016 passed and became law at last. The bloody stupid law basically killed the thriving online poker community in Australia. I was one of them poker players.

Why those motherfucking pollies tried to kill our Aussie online poker community is completely understandable if one is living in Australia especially in Sydney as long as I do, more than thirty years. The Aussie pollies are in the deep pockets of Gambling Mafia (Casinos, Clubs, & Pubs Industry) which wants to kill fledgling online poker industry before it becomes their serious competitor.

I was once a pokkie addict and I managed to rid of my stupid addiction by switching to online poker and along the way making decent living playing online poker without having a permanent job. Four years ago I started on 888 Poker and then Full Tilt Poker and eventually ended with Poker Stars after they took over Full Tile Poker in 2015 or 2016. I was making decent income playing online poker tournaments and I was very happy.

Then came one day some stupid Aussie Senators who are in the deep pockets of Casino, Club, and Pub industry started raising the primitive idea of prohibiting online poker in Australia. They said they wanted to ban all forms of online gambling without admitting their real target was online poker.

Banning online gambling? These pollies let the gambling industry run massive 20% of all the fucking pokkies in the whole wide world here in Australia and now they are so worried about lousy online gambling? Give me break motherfuckers, you guys have already made at least 5% of poor Aussies the serious problem gamblers, and now you want to ban online poker. Fuck me dead, unbvelievable!

The explanation for their hidden target was quite simple. Casinos running live poker rooms definitely want the legitimate online poker sites like Poker Stars banned here. But casinos really do not have that political clouts and deep pockets like clubs and pubs here. So why do clubs and pubs want to ban online poker too?

The not widely known reasons for banning online poker are two popular Australian poker leagues NPL and APL, the National Poker League and Australian Poker League respectively. These two amateur poker leagues have been running daily and nightly live poker games in almost every clubs and pubs here for nearly 13 years now.

Quite deceptively NPL and APL are two big business owned privately by nobody knows who. 2005 WSOP Champ Joe Hachem was rumoured to be one of the wealthy owners of NPL. Both poker leagues compete against each other aggressively to control the live poker games held in the clubs and pubs.

Their game formats are in the form of Texax Holde’m Poker Tournament and their revenue structure is basically the SAME. Clubs and pubs have to pay them cash fees and also prize money for the tourney winners. Live poker tournaments are at least 4-5 hours long and the normally 50 odd players commonly spend on average 20 to 40 dollars per person on drink and food during the game.

Leagues also made cash out of the players by registration fees (at least a couple of bucks in APL games) for each tourney and additional RE-BUY and ADD-ON fees as high as 50 dollars each game on average. In addition the players have to a buy a so-called DRINK CARD worth at least two dollars and buy at least four drinks and get their card stamped by the club or pub so that he or she can redeem some five to ten thousands more tournament chips from the hosting league.

So to play a so-called FREEROLL APL tourney one has to pay the hosting league from 22 to 52 dollars to play decently. And another 20 to 40 dollars to the club or pub hosting the game. There goes nearly 100 dollars to play a tournament for one player for not more than just 500 dollar first prize one can get if one is reasonably skilled and also extremely lucky too.

Playing supposedly-cheap live poker tournaments even in a club or pub is not that cheap at all compare to the cheap online poker tournaments where the buy-ins are as cheap as a couple of bucks for 200 dollars guaranteed prize pool. And online poker games are available 24/7 and one do not even need to leave one's bedroom.

So banning or the prohibition of online poker is definitely for the financial advantage and survival of both poker leagues and the clubs and pubs hosting the games. And thus the relentless and intense pressure from the clubs and pubs industry on the Australian parliamentarians to ban the online poker.

(Following articles are from various news sources on the banning of online poker in Australia and also the recent development on the possible coming back of giant Poker Star to Australia after acquiring Australia’s CrownBet for nearly US$ 120 millions.)

Australia Loses Fight for Legal Online Poker

Online poker in Australia appears to be drawing its last breaths after the passage of a bill. It appears the last-ditch effort of Australians to fight for legal online poker has fallen short.

The Australian Senate passed the Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill 2016 on Wednesday, effectively fencing the country in from regulated operators of online poker. The bill was initially meant to close off loopholes that allowed in play sports betting but also has the side effect of making it impossible for regulated online poker to be offered.

The passage comes on the heels of a final push from online poker players and advocates, led by the Australian Online Poker Alliance and Australian Sen. David Leyonhjelm. After the bill's initial movement late in 2016, things looked grim for online poker Down Under. However, the AOPA formed in response to the bill and Leyonhjelm took up the cause, initiating an inquiry to highlight what he and others saw as a foolish and hypocritical law.

Poker players responded and the group presented their case before at an Aug. 1 hearing. Joseph Del Duca of the AOPA said the support was all he could have hoped for. "The Australian poker community should be very proud of how they have held themselves through the campaign," he said. "We have rallied together as a strong community. The inquiry has received so many submissions from people who want to save our game that they haven't been able to keep up with the work load."

The band also recruited a pair of expert witnesses who pushed the idea of regulation rather than prohibition. Dr. Sally Gainsbury, a university professor, pointed out that black market sides exist that will swoop into the vacuum in the market and cater to Australians.

"A lot of people will continue to play, and they will be forced to use sites that potentially have fewer consumer protection mechanisms and be exposed to risks related to developing gambling problems, as well as potentially being cheated or losing their funds," she said.

(Blogger’s notes: By banning online poker legally us Aussie players are basically forced to play poker on some dodgy sites like Ignition Poker ran out of Hong Kong by some unscrupulous Chinese groups who don't give a fuck about damn Aussie laws. I tried to play on Ignition Poker and they took my deposits so fast from the credit cards. But when I won a tourney and tried to withdraw my own winning they refused to let me. And when I complained on some internet poker forum that they are a SCAM they just shut down my account with US$ 400 still in it, motherfucking bastards!)

Longtime Australian online poker player Oliver Gill, a key voice in the AOPA, also called into the meeting to voice his support for a regulated market. "Prohibition has been tried in other countries with disastrous results, including the creation of black markets, with millions of dollars being stolen from players by illegal online poker operators like Lock Poker with no recourse for players who have been cheated or stolen from," he said.

"I do not believe it's in any party's best interest to subject Australian online poker players to the reality of black markets, if the online poker industry is banned in Australia."

In opposition, representatives of the Salvation Army voiced concerns about expansion of gambling in Australia. They argued the ease of access to online poker via credit cards and PayPal as "the preferred method" of gambling made it a haven for problem gamblers.

A number of highly placed government workers also took the stand. In their interview, they admitted that online poker was a different beast from other forms of internet gambling. "That would still be the department's view, that if any of the games under the IGA were allowed it probably would be online poker," said Andrew Verdon, assistant director of online gambling in the Department of Communications and the Arts.

"We do acknowledge that online poker is a mix of skill and chance. There is a lot of skill involved, but there is still that chance element. But it would not be in the same area as roulette and slot machines, which is pure chance."

However, the efforts of the pro-poker community appear to have done nothing to slow the guillotine from dropping. It took a merely a little over a week for the Australian Senate to come to a decision, and the decision means regulated online poker is likely finished in Australia. That means the 130,000 or so who play online Down Under face the undesirable choice between hanging up their mouse and keyboard or hopping into the murky waters that are home to black market operators.

While things are looking more grim than ever before for Australian poker players, Del Duca urged players and supporter to keep up the fight. "Whilst it was unfortunate that the government did not wait for the Senate Inquiry findings to come through, we urge Australian poker players to not give up hope," he said. "Our game is not dead and we will continue to campaign for safe, legal online poker when the Senate Inquiry is handed down.

"Our call for a safe, regulated online poker market in Australia is still the only option that provides freedom for players, revenue for the government and protection for those in need."

Once every few weeks, usually on a Saturday afternoon, Joseph Del Duca turns on his computer monitor and logs onto PokerStars.com, one of the most popular online poker sites in the country.

He used to play more often, and had once been a regular on web forums where he and other players – some recreational, some more serious – would get together to talk about the game. "We wouldn't talk about, 'I won this, I lost that'," says Mr Del Duca, who works in Sydney's finance industry. "What people would talk about is how they played a specific hand, what I could have done, the strategy. There was a great community."

When he logged back onto a forum in December last year, he was surprised to see the chatter had changed. It was not about tactics or tournaments anymore. It was about something else entirely. All people were talking about now was a raft of new federal laws that will more strictly enforce a ban on unlicensed online gambling operators, including poker providers, in Australia.

Soon to pass Parliament, the Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill is best known for closing loopholes that have allowed "in-play" live betting online during sports matches. But the bill will also tighten an existing prohibition of all internet gambling activities apart from sports betting and lotteries – the only forms of online gambling permitted under the law.

Online poker is illegal in Australia, but it barely existed when online gambling legislation was first written in 2001 and, according to gambling experts, it has been operating in something of a "grey area" ever since. Some of the more reputable global poker providers, including PokerStars, Poker Party and 888Poker, once sponsored by cricketer Shane Warne, have been freely providing accounts to many thousands of Australians for years. Overall it's estimated there are up to 130,000 Australian players.

Under the new laws, which have bipartisan support, any ambiguity will now be removed. While it is not an offence for Australians to gamble online, unlicensed operators providing an interactive gambling services to Australian customers will face massive new penalties – $1.35 million a day for individuals and $6.75 million a day for organisations

"Many of the companies that operate in Australia are publicly listed in Canada and the UK," Mr Del Duca says, "but they are now saying it's not in their interest to operate outside of the laws of Australia, and have indicated they will be leaving."

Poker service 888Poker told its Australian users earlier this year that their accounts would be closed and they should withdraw their funds. PokerStars is expected to withdraw from Australia once the new laws take effect.

Outraged, poker players across the country have banded together, and formed a lobby group, the Online Poker Players Alliance, to press the government to protect poker from the clamp-down and eventually allow poker providers to be legally licensed in Australia, which would increase tax revenue and consumer protections. Poker should be treated differently to other forms of gambling, the lobby group claims, because it incorporates elements of skill and strategy, and money is won and lost between players, not "the house".

A Senate committee last week launched a little-known inquiry into Australians' online poker participation, and is examining the impact the latest legislation will have. "I think Australia is rather silly to take a prohibitionist approach," says Liberal Democrat senator David Leyonhjelm, who initiated the inquiry. "Online poker is probably the most innocent of all gambling ... it's more of a game of skill, not just some sort of vacuous pull of a handle."

A number of submissions to the hearing, however, disagree. Representatives from the Salvation Army told Tuesday's hearing that online poker was one of the fastest-growing and most popular forms of gambling, and people who gambled online were at three to four times greater risk of problem gambling than those who played at venues.

"An increase in online gambling and in particular online poker naturally increases the rise of problem gamblers," its submission said. "This indicates that this is not merely a harmless activity but can become a compulsive dependency."

The Salvation Army said online poker sites deliberately emphasised the element of skill involved in poker, to encourage an "illusion of control, despite there being little evidence to support the idea that skill is involved in long-term success.

Another submission from the Australian Institute of Family Studies said poker players (online and offline) had seven times the rate of gambling-related health and financial problems than regular gamblers. "Regular poker players appear to be exceptionally vulnerable to problem gambling and associated harms," it said.

University of Sydney gambling expert Sally Gainsbury said proposed changes to the Interactive Gambling Act and exodus of the more reputable providers could put consumers at risk of using less-reputable sites with fewer consumer protection measures.

"This raises concerns about other practices of these sites which may have few consumer protection measures leaving players at risk of cheating, lost funds, and potentially victim of cybercrimes," Dr Gainsbury said.

Federal Communications Minister Mitch Fifield told Parliament this year that the intention of the Interactive Gambling Act had always been to prohibit services such as online poker. "That is why there are no Australian-licensed operators of online poker, but, because the law has been ambiguous, overseas operators have been freely offering these services to Australians," he said.

"With the law being clarified, it is evident that a number of these operators have begun withdrawing their services from Australians. Whilst I appreciate that this is not welcomed by those individuals who have been using these services, it is a fact that online poker has always been a prohibited service under the act. It is not something that this bill is enacting. Whether online poker should be legal in Australia or not is a separate debate."

Online Poker Could Come Back to Australia with PokerStars' Acquisition of CrownBet: Many were ready to pronounce online poker dead in Australia with last year’s passing of an anti-gambling bill, but things seem to have taken an unexpected turn for the better.

The Stars Group acquired the Aussie sports betting site CrownBet for over $100 million; and recently, under their new leadership CrownBet bought the Australian branch of William Hill.

After being voted on multiple times in both chambers of the Australian legislature  the Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill 2016 passed and became law at last in August 2016, much to the demise of the Australian poker community.

The new law meant that companies holding international gambling licenses cannot provide service to people in Australia - they need to apply for a specific Australian license for that, a procedure that is impossible for a foreign-based company under current circumstances. Major poker rooms such as PokerStars and 888 left the Australian market swiftly in return.

However, on February 27th this year a solution seems to have been found: the parent company of PokerStars, The Stars Group - formerly Amaya - has acquired 62% equity share in the Australian sports betting site CrownBet, an online sportsbook already operating with a local gambling license. Stars paid US$117.7 million for the deal.

CrownBet, founded in 2014 is exclusively offering sports betting for their users, no poker is available to play yet - but that may very well change at some point. Many sportsbooks launched their own poker clients before - such as Unibet, Bet365 and William Hill - and with The Stars Group being involved, it seems more likely the Aussie betting site might do the same.

Stars Group CEO Rafi Ashkenazi had this to say about the deal in the press release: “We are excited to enter the regulated Australian sportsbook market with CrownBet. CrownBet has become one of the fastest growing online sportsbooks in Australia through its strong management team, proprietary technology, mobile app, unique partnerships and market-leading loyalty program”. CrownBet is fast growing indeed - their unaudited yearly revenue went from A$76.5 million in 2015 to A$204 million in 2017.  

Matthew Tripp, the CEO of CrownBet since its founding in 2014 kept his position at the top after the Stars purchase. He was the one who was happy to announce CrownBet’s first new undertaking under the new ownership: they bought up William Hill’s Australian outpost for US$300 million.

"We made no secret about our plans to grow through the acquisition, and we're pleased to have prevailed here against stiff competition" - Tripp said about the bidding war that was ultimately won by his company against their Australian bookie competitors Sportsbet and Tabcorp.

William Hill representatives admitted that the recent new regulations necessitated the selling of their Australian branch, evidently. But The Stars Group isn't disheartened by the new Aussie online gambling restrictions anymore, it seems, since they are back in the Australian market with the new major deals - the two totaling US$417.7 million.

Related posts at following links:
Uncaring Society: Australia's Pokkies Hell