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Wednesday, June 30, 1999 Published at 12:40 GMT 13:40 UK

Business: Your Money

Cyber-gambling takes off down under

Australia wants to cash in on Internet gambling

Setting up sites to allow gambling over the Internet may have been banned in countries like Britain.

But Australia is determined to become the cyber casino capital of the world and has already set up its first fully regulated, government backed gambling Website.

It is likely to prove popular - Australia already has the world's worst gambling habit.

[ image: A new kind of computer chip]
A new kind of computer chip
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Australians lost more than A$11bn (US$7.3bn) gambling last year.

Two-up - betting on the toss of two coins - is practically a national pastime.

The Australians hope to convert that vice into a global business virture and cash in on the new Internet gambling trend which is estimated to be worth billions.

David Ohlson of Lassiters Casino said: "There are 100 million people on the Internet, only 4% of those are from Australia.

"We are not focused on the Australian market. The Internet is a global market and we are really looking at the international market."

Virtual reality gambling

Traditional games like roulette and blackjack are already online.

But for a generation more at home with a mouse or a keyboard, the future is in virtual reality gaming, that is fully interactive and can generate huge funds.

[ image: Opponents fear young people will become hooked on gambling]
Opponents fear young people will become hooked on gambling
Steve Tonoguzzon, of Global Gaming Services said: "Let's cast our minds into the future - to enter the game you will pay $200 or a $1,000 or whatever it might be.

"You might have a team mate in Victoria, one in New Zealand, one in Liechtenstein and another one in England

"The challenge is to kill the monsters, to find the clues and ultimately wipe out the other parties and get the treasure chest.

"If we are talking of a global network and a global market then obviously the size of the prizes can be absolutely phenomenal," he added.

Government first

Other gambling sites on the Web are mainly operated out of islands in the Caribbean.

What sets the Australian site apart is that it is being sanctioned and regulated by the Northern Territory government.

It believes banning cyber-betting will simply not work - and it is far better to profit from it instead.

Peter Adamson, Government Minister said "It allows us to put in a framework of regulatory measures that will hopefully protect the interests of Territorians and also help to potentially shape the industry."

The Government insists its involvement will mean greater safeguards for gamblers.

It will introduce checks to ensure people are not losing too much and curbs on how much can be bet. Opponents however are not convinced.

The Salvation Army says it has already seen a 20% increase in the number of people seeking help for gambling addiction in the past year.

Salvation Army spokesman Pat Daley said: "With the invention of on-line betting, we are gravely concerned about the proliferation of gambling across Australia."

"Alcoholism, family breakdown and crime are all associated with this," he added.

Fear of effect on young people

The particular fear is the effect on young people. Research in America has shown teenagers become hooked on gambling at twice the adult rate.

Nick Xenophon, anti-gaming MP said: "Once they can expand the market we will see a massive increase in problem gambling particularly amongst the very young and the very old.

"There is a huge challenge there for politicians to nip this industry in the bud before it takes off."

The industry. however, insists it not targeting young people.

Mr Tonoguzzon said: "Our main market is 20 to 40-year-olds, predominantly male, predominantly educated, at least to a tertiary level and reasonable income."

Mr Ohlson added: "We believe that the Internet casino is more controlled than any other phycial casino property. "We will be able to prevent access to people banned from gaming."

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