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Gambling Regulations for Online Casinos in Australia

If you know anything about Australia's history, you know that it used to be a dumping ground for prisoners, criminals, and other “undesirables” from England and other parts of the British Empire. These days, Australia is a thoroughly modern country with tons of attractions, including gambling. 

However, while sports betting and casino games are all well and good for land-based operations, online gaming is much more restricted. Technically speaking, it's not illegal for Aussies to play online. Instead, the government is more concerned with prohibiting casino operators from offering internet gambling to residents. 

Overall, Australia's gambling regulations are a bit complex, so we're going to dive in deep and see what's up in the Land Down Under. 

A Brief History of Online Gambling in Australia

As a penal colony, Australia didn't really grow into an independent country until 1901, when the British Parliament gave the six colonies autonomy. Before then, it was under British rule and citizens abided by those laws. The first gambling event was a horse race back in 1810, held in Sydney. Australia had its first state lottery in 1880, and lotteries are still popular today. 

In 1913, an Australian inventor named George Julius created the first automatic totalisator (horse betting machine). From there, Aussies started betting on races more frequently, now that it was easier to do so. By the 1950s, slot machines came to the country with the Clubman Poker Machine in 1956. Australians call these devices “pokies” since they primarily play video poker. Pokies quickly spread throughout the country as a fun and easy way to gamble. 

The first casino popped up in 1973 in Hobart, Tasmania. Over the decades, a dozen more casinos would appear in the eight territories, along with thousands of pokies and other slot machines. By 1998, all territories had legalized pokies. Around that time, online gambling was starting to appear, thanks to the newfangled “internet.” 

While Australians seem to like gambling, the government was much less enthusiastic about online casinos. In 2001, the feds passed the Interactive Gambling Act, which prohibited “any game of chance, including games of mixed chance and skill, played over the internet.” 

What this law effectively did was ban any online casino operators from setting up in the country. In fact, the law explicitly states that individual Australians are not prohibited from betting at offshore or unlicensed sites. However, the law does recommend against doing so since citizens have no legal recourse to recoup any losses due to fraud or criminal behavior. 

So, since 2001, online gambling has never “officially” taken hold in Australia, although many residents choose to play anyway. When it comes to land-based gambling and casino operations, each territory sets its own laws, which we'll discuss later on. Here is a rundown of important dates related to gambling in Australia: 

  • 1810 – The first horse racing event occurs in Sydney. 
  • 1880 – The first state-run lottery is introduced. 
  • 1901 – Australia becomes a sovereign nation and is no longer bound by British rule. 
  • 1913 – George Julius invents the first automatic totalisator (horse betting) machine. 
  • 1956 – Poker machines, aka pokies, first arrive in the country. 
  • 1973 – The first land-based casino opens in Tasmania. 
  • 1998 – The Northern Territory is the last to approve poker machines. 
  • 2001 – The Interactive Gambling Act is passed, effectively banning all online casinos from the country. 

Is Online Gambling Legal in Australia?

Technically speaking, it is for individuals. While the Gambling Act of 2001 does spell out specific fines and punishments for Aussies who gamble online, the government hasn't really enforced the rule. Instead, it goes after casino operators. Under the law, anyone operating an online casino will have to pay an $8.3 million fine. 

Because of how the law is worded, Australia is technically a gray market for players while a black market for operators. Since the government doesn't prosecute players, the law effectively doesn't apply to individuals betting at offshore sites. 

That said, the law only applies to “interactive games of chance and skill.” Sports betting is highly regulated and legal within the country, although each territory sets its own rules. Live betting (when a player places wagers on an event as it happens) is prohibited because it's considered interactive play. So, as long as all betting closes before the start of a race or match, it's perfectly legal. Online bingo and lotteries are also permitted in Australia and managed by the respective territories.

Overall, online gambling is partially legal in Australia, depending on the type of betting going on. Even though online casinos are forbidden within the country, many Australians choose to play at offshore sites, and quite a few casinos openly accept Australian players. 

Gambling Regulations for Online Casinos Australia

There is really only one regulation for online casinos, the Interactive Gambling Act of 2001. Here is a more detailed overview of what this law entails and its enforcement within the country. 

Interactive Gambling Act of 2001

The Gambling Act explicitly mentions “online casinos” as forbidden and names multiple table games, including blackjack, poker, roulette, and craps. Video poker machines are fine in person, but internet-based pokies are illegal. 

Since this law targets providers, it has three primary stipulations: 

  • First, no one is allowed to offer prohibited gaming activities to anyone in Australia. 
  • Second, no one can provide an unlicensed interactive gaming service to anyone in Australia. This section mainly refers to horse racing and sports betting, as providers have to be licensed to operate online. 
  • Finally, any licensed gaming provider cannot offer interactive gambling services to anyone within prohibited areas outside Australia. This section means that Australian-based operators can't advertise or accept players from countries where online gambling is illegal. 

The Gambling Act also mentions that these provisions are designed to prevent the harmful effects of online gambling on the population and that they apply to both Australian and offshore sites. To help prevent foreign operators from working with Australian citizens, internet service providers (ISPs) are supposed to monitor and block any illegal activity.

All advertisements related to prohibited interactive gaming are also banned under the law, so operators cannot market themselves to anyone in Australia. 

Regulatory Authorities for Online Gambling in Australia

The Gambling Act refers to interactive gaming and applies to any website that can cross territory borders. All other forms of gambling rules and regulations fall to the eight Australian states. Each state has its own regulatory body that oversees all activity. Here is a rundown of each state and its current gambling regulations

Australian Capital Territory – ACT Gambling and Racing Commission

There is one casino in the ACT, Casino Canberra. All poker and table games outside the casino are prohibited, although charitable gambling is allowed. The territory has about 500,000 residents and 5,000 poker machines. The Gaming Machine Act of 2004 put strict limits on these devices. Players can't insert bills higher than $20, and they can't bet more than $10 per round. Pokies are also only allowed in approved facilities, which include hotels, taverns, and clubs. 

Sports betting is legal, both online and in-person, thanks to the Race and Sports Bookmaking Act of 2001. The ACT Commission oversees all bets, and as we mentioned, live betting is prohibited under the Interactive Gambling Act. 

New South Wales – Office of Liquor, Gaming, and Racing

This territory has three casinos, with two in Sydney and one in Terrigal. Overall, there are more than 100,000 slot machines in the state, making New South Wales the country's gambling capital. Pokies within the casinos have no betting limit, but those installed elsewhere have a strict $10 cap. 

Sports betting is also hugely popular here, with over 1,100 land-based bookmakers. The Betting and Racing Act of 1998 made all sports betting legal, both in-person and online. However, a 2018 update prohibited the use of “inducements,” aka starting bonuses for new players. The Office for Liquor, Gaming, and Racing issues hefty fines for violators and pays close attention to all online operators. 

Northern Territory – Northern Territory Racing Commission (NTRC)

This state is well-known for providing most of the online sports betting licenses within the country. Even though these licenses are hard to get, they provide confidence for players since they know that operators are held to strict standards. The Northern Territory is the only state that has a dedicated online gaming division. 

Land-based gambling is restricted to two casinos in Alice Springs and Darwin, although there are about 2,000 pokies throughout the territory. Poker machines have a $5 bet limit, and winnings over $500 are paid via check, not cash. 

Queensland – Office of Liquor and Gaming Regulation

This state has the most casinos, with four of them spread between Cairns, Broadbeach, Brisbane, and Townsville. Sports betting is not as popular here as in other parts of the country, but Queensland does have around 47,000 poker machines, mainly within the casinos. 

Pokies have a $5 bet limit, as well as a $50 bill limit. Players in hotels or casinos can also only win up to $25,000. Any more than that, and you'll have to stop playing. 

The Office of Liquor and Gaming Regulation does offer online gaming licenses, but primarily to nonprofit charities. 

South Australia – Consumer and Business Department

This state offers quite a few gaming licenses for bookmakers and sports betting sites. The Consumer and Business department has strict regulations, but these licenses are easier to get than in the Northern Territory. 

There is only one casino in South Australia and just over 13,000 poker machines. Oddly enough, these machines only accept coins, not bills. Bets are capped at $10 at clubs, and total winnings are capped at $10,000. 

Tasmania – Liquor and Gaming Commission

Tasmania is home to the oldest casino in Australia, the Wrest Point Hotel and Casino. However, it's not the only place to gamble in the state, as the Launceston Country Club Casino opened in 1982. Online sports betting is not prominent in this state, although the Tasmanian Liquor and Gaming Commission oversees all licensing and gambling regulations. 

When it comes to poker machines, they don't accept bills, and they have a strict $5 bet limit. Winnings over $1,000 are paid by check, not cash. There are around 3,500 machines for roughly half a million residents. 

Victoria – Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation

Victoria is a bit different from the other Australian states because it offers unique forms of gambling outside of horse racing, sports betting, and poker machines. Residents can bet on specific foot and bicycle races, play amusement park and carnival games, participate in the Calcutta sweepstakes and play Two-Up on ANZAC Day. If you're unfamiliar with Two-Up, the game is played as follows: 

  • A group of bettors forms a circle, with a “spinner” in the middle. 
  • The spinner holds a wooden paddle (Kip) with two pennies on it. 
  • Bettors wager whether both pennies will land face up, face down, or opposite each other. 
  • If both pennies are heads, the spinner wins. If both are tails, the spinner loses, and another person takes their place. 
  • Pennies have to go at least three meters into the air and land within the circle. 

Two-Up is illegal every other day of the year. A special provision allows people to play on ANZAC Day due to the game's historical significance. 

Victoria has one casino and around 30,000 poker machines. Each machine has a $5 bet limit and a $50 bill limit. Payouts over $1,000 are paid by check. 

Western Australia – Gaming and Wagering Commission

As one of the least-populated states in the country, all gambling takes place at the Crown Perth Casino. The casino also houses all of the poker machines within the territory. Bet limits are much higher, capping at $225—no win limits on betting either. 

Gambling Addiction Resources in Australia

Although online gambling is illegal, land-based gaming is prevalent throughout Australia. The country has several resources for problem gambling, including: 

  • Gambling Help Online – This website offers tons of information on gambling addiction and provides online and in-person therapy options. 
  • Gambling Helpline – 1800 858 858. Players can call this number 24/7 to talk to someone about their addiction. 
  • Gambler's Help Victoria – This website also offers information about problem gambling and allows residents to talk to someone over the phone or meet in person. 

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