Monday, 11 November 2019 10:35

ACMA gets tougher powers to block illegal offshore gambling websites Featured

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Australian Internet Service Providers are set to begin blocking illegal offshore gambling websites under tough new powers mandated for the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) by the Federal Government.

The ACMA will use its powers to work in cooperation with Australian Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to block illegal offshore gambling websites which are prohibited services under the Interactive Gambling Act 2001.

The strengthening of the powers to block the activities of illegal gambling websites in the Australian market comes as the websites target Australians who often end up being cheated or defrauded - and follows reports that Australians have experienced difficulties in withdrawing winnings and deposits from these illegal websites.

ACMA Chair Nerida O’Loughlin said that the ACMA will ask ISPs to block gambling sites it has found to be in breach of the Interactive Gambling Act 2001 but that continue to offer services to Australians.

“We have been targeting illegal gambling services we know are active in the Australian market through complaints received and monitoring. But we expect that list of sites will grow as we investigate more,” O’Loughlin warned.

“The ability to have ISPs block illegal websites will be a valuable additional weapon in the ACMA’s arsenal in the fight against illegal online gambling.

“In many cases these sites refuse to pay significant winnings, or only a small portion. Customers had also experienced illegal operators continuing to withdraw funds from their bank account without authorisation.

“There is little to no recourse for consumers engaging with these unscrupulous operators.

“If you have funds deposited with an illegal gambling site, you should withdraw those funds now,”O’Loughlin cautioned.

O’Loughlin said that more than 65 illegal companies have pulled out of the Australian market since 2017 when the ACMA started enforcing new illegal offshore gambling rules.

“We have achieved this through working with other regulatory agencies, placing directors of these gambling sites on the Department of Home Affairs Movement Alert List and notifying regulators in the home countries of the sites.

“Public education is also crucial in deterring Australians from using these sites, given many illegal offshore gambling websites target Australians by using Australian themes and images, such as the Australian flag and native animals,” O’Loughlin noted.

The measures to block illegal websites is the third and final component of the Australian Government’s online gambling reforms introduced in response to the O’Farrell Review into Illegal Offshore Wagering.

The Government took action in responding to the O’Farrell Review to help protect Australians through a safe regulated environment by:

  • Empowering ACMA to impose civil penalties on offending companies, complementing existing Australian Federal Police criminal penalties.
  • Introducing other disruption measures to curb illegal offshore gambling activity, such as placing offending company directors on the Movement Alert List so any travel to Australia can be disrupted.
  • Announcing the National Consumer Protection Framework for Online Wagering on 30 November 2018, providing strong and nationally consistent protections for interactive wagering customers.
  • Prohibiting lines of credit being offered by wagering companies.

“Illegal overseas gambling companies are preying on Australians by targeting them with misleading incentives. Consumers have no recourse to retrieve their money,” the Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts, Paul Fletcher said.

“Up to $400 million is spent annually by Australians on illegal gambling websites, accounting for around $100 million in lost tax revenue each year. Too often these offshore operators are defrauding Australians - and their websites typically provide very few – if any – harm minimisation controls.

“While ACMA has a range of powers to protect Australians from illegal gambling services – including issuing formal warnings and seeking civil penalty orders – it can be difficult to take direct action against faceless companies with no legal presence on our shores.

“This is an important partnership with the Communications Alliance, and I want to acknowledge industry’s support. Working with ACMA, these additional measures give ISPs the ability to block illegal websites, protecting Australians and contributing to a safer online gambling environment,” Minister Fletcher said.

The Minister said that under the new measures, ACMA will investigate suspect sites and where ACMA’s other enforcement actions are not feasible, refer those in breach of the Interactive Gambling Act 2001 to ISPs to be blocked under section 313(3) of the Telecommunications Act 1997.

The ACMA publishes a Register of licensed interactive wagering services so that consumers can be sure services are legal in Australia.

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Peter Dinham is a co-founder of iTWire and a 35-year veteran journalist and corporate communications consultant. He has worked as a journalist in all forms of media – newspapers/magazines, radio, television, press agency and now, online – including with the Canberra Times, The Examiner (Tasmania), the ABC and AAP-Reuters. As a freelance journalist he also had articles published in Australian and overseas magazines. He worked in the corporate communications/public relations sector, in-house with an airline, and as a senior executive in Australia of the world’s largest communications consultancy, Burson-Marsteller. He also ran his own communications consultancy and was a co-founder in Australia of the global photographic agency, the Image Bank (now Getty Images).

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