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Wednesday, 28 March, 2001, 13:56 GMT 14:56 UK
Australia may ban online gambling
woman enjoying the Melbourne Cup
About 80% of Australians have a flutter each year
The Australian government is to push ahead with plans to ban online gambling.

The ban would cover betting via the internet, through interactive television and mobile phones.

Official figures show that 80% of Australians gamble once a year; 40% regularly.

lasseters online casino
Sites like Lassiters' could be blocked to Australians

Although locals would be prohibited from having a flutter online, Australian firms would still be able to take bets from offshore gamblers.

The government wants to bring in legislation following the expiry of the moratorium on the industry which ends on 19 May.

"Australia's status as one of the world's leading gambling nations demands that we take decisive action," said communications minister Richard Alston.

The gambling industry

Australia has one of the largest gambling industries in the world.

And the government is keen to point out (in a 72-page discussion document on the issue) that most experts expect interactive gambling to expand rapidly over the next few years.

Gambling in Australia
Accounts for 1.5% of GDP
Employs 100,000 people in 7,000 businesses
2% of Australians 'problem gamblers'
They lose about $12,000 annually
Source: Office for Information Economy

By August 2001, the number of Australian households hooked up to the net is predicted to pass 45%.

And the government is concerned that some - even children - could fall prey to the influence of cyber gaming, which it sees as a particular problem.

It claims the social costs for interactive gambling are 30% greater than those for traditional gambling.

Industry uproar

The nation's internet industry is furious over the proposed changes.

"We are not sure it serves much purpose. You will still be able to go to the newsagents and buy a lottery ticket or pick up the phone, but you can't use the internet," said Patrick Fair of the Internet Industry Association.

The opposition party is also opposing the proposal, saying the government was sending a message to the world that Australia is a backwater for information technology.

Enforcing the ban

The new legislation has also been criticised for being hugely difficult - if not impossible - to police.

Internet Service Providers (ISPs) for one have been breathing a huge sigh of relief that this task will not fall on their shoulders.

Instead, the onus will be on gaming operators to block Australians out.

The new law will still allow Australian companies to offer betting to offshore net users, which has been welcomed by one casino chief executive - Peter Bridge of Lasseters.

Non-Australians make up 99% of his company's client base.

In the UK most big bookmakers set up offshore online operations so gamblers could avoid paying tax on bets - a growth which proved so rapid that it has now led to UK betting tax being abolished.

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See also:

11 Jun 00 | UK
Odds on for online betting
06 Apr 00 | Business
Odds favour offshore betting
30 Jun 99 | Your Money
Cyber-gambling takes off down under
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