Recent legal and political developments involving pokies in Australia may complicate matters for online gamblers and operators in 2014 and 2015. Meanwhile, the policy changes in Canberra is likely to make gambling easier for land-based players. The September 2013 election of Tony Abbott to the role of Australian prime minister brings to power national leaders who are generally hostile to online gambling. These right-of-centre politicians see Internet card rooms and casino operations as foreign intrusions which corrupt and sometimes bankrupt Australian citizens.
Tony Abbott and his Coalition allies have at times suggested they would do away with Internet casinos and poker rooms, if they could. At the same time, the Liberal Party and its political allies have allowed brick-and-mortar gambling interests to control the main regulatory agency in the country, so life is easier for native gaming operators. To those with a national outlook, the owners of casinos, clubs, and pubs are Australian business people who keep money in the country, so their activities should not only be allowed–but encouraged. Thus a policy which might seem to be contradictory at first glance has a certain logic all its own.
Political decisions regarding the gambling industry in New Zealand have been less dramatic, but recent events prove Kiwi casino gambling laws are complicated in their own right. While six casinos dominate the offline landscape, many charities operate small, independent games in New Zealand. The country’s online gaming laws are a little less complicated than Australia’s.
Over the course of this article, I will discuss the implications on the live pokies and online poker machine industries in both counties. Let’s begin with Australia.
Australian Legal Developments Regarding Poker Machines
In December 2013, the new Liberal Government under Tony Abbott decided to lessen the impact of the national poker machine reforms crossbench parliamentarians made under the Julia Gillard administration. Coalition MPs voted to support certain gambling-related portions of the bill, but watered down several other important stipulations. The voluntary pre-commitment technology aspect of the bill were not retained, while federal oversight of many gambling regulations was stripped away.
Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment Act 2014
The Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment Act 2014, also known as the SSOLA Act, was created by the Australian Parliament to reduce the redundant laws between the Commonwealth government and the various state and territorial governments. This act made several fundamental changes to the federal laws, as they regard gambling.
First, the National Gambling Regulator was abolished. The Coalition government believed the National Gambling Regulator duplicated many functions of the state gaming agencies, so they preferred to do away with the federal regulatory authority. The SSOLA Act of 2014 therefore gives back significant authority to regional governments. Any information you gave to the National Gambling Regulator is subject to the Australian Privacy Principles. These records will be stored according to provisions of the Archives Act 1983.
ATM and Gaming Machine Policy Changes
Various electronic gaming machine and ATM machine policies also were changed. First, the ATM withdrawal limit was changed. The Liberal Party had instituted laws which limited the proximity of ATM machines to clubs and pubs, as well as instituting a $250 withdrawal limit for gamblers. The idea was to make it less convenient for problem gamblers to keep feeding the pokies. The Coalition did away with these laws, so pokies players can hit the ATM machine up to their bank’s withdrawal limit, continuing to gamble as long as they would like. Any state or local laws regarding ATM machines remain in effect.
No Dynamic Warnings or Pre-Commitment Plans
Dynamic warnings on gaming machines were unsubtle reminders to gamblers that they were involved in dangerous levels of gambling. These were abolished, so gambling addicts and healthy punters alike will not have to deal with constant reminders that big money is on the line. Mandatory pre-commitment policies have been abolished, as well, along with state-wide pre-commitment plans.
The land-based gambling industry in particular was resistant to the reforms under the National Gambling Reform Act 2012, because this forced them to buy new electronic machines with the capability of providing dynamic warnings and pre-commitment capability. The other option was to buy software upgrades which would provide these capabilities. The clubs, pubs, and casinos of Australia believed this was a financial hardship on these businesses, and the Coalition agreed with their arguments. Once more, if the state or local governments have instituted similar policies, the local operators will need to comply with these laws.
In December 2013, when the Coalition MPs struck down the 2012 gambling reform law pushed through by then-Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Independent MP Andrew Wilkie, one of the Coalition MPs said it did not end their commitment to fighting “the scourge of poker machines around the country”. In the same debate, Andrew Wilkie asked parliamentarians what they thought Jesus Christ would think of pokies, then compared the campaign donations by the land-based gaming industry to Coalition candidates to “as much a corruption of good governance, as a bagful of cash being handed over at the back of the building in the dark of the night”.
Also in December 2013, another gambling reform bill was introduced to the Senate by Independent Senator Nick Xenophon, Democratic Liberal Party Senator John Madigan, and Greens Senator Richard DiNatale. This bill would make the max bet on pokies $1 per spin, permit machines to accept bills of $20 or less in value, and limit jackpots to $500. While political experts believe such a bill has little chance of being passed in the current climate, this is an indication of the kind of laws which might one day be considerate when the Australian public is in a different mood.
Online Pokies in Australia
The online pokies of Australia face a different set of circumstances. Despite some amendments to the laws over the years, the key legislation involving Australian online poker machines continues to be the Interactive Gaming Act 2001, usually known as IGA. The IGA law made it illegal for gambling operators to accept Australian players, whether they are based in Australia or another country. The federal gambling authorities have never enforced the international provisions of the Interactive Gaming Act, so long as the foreign casino operators have a gaming license with a state or territorial government.
Therefore, Australians who want to become online pokies players can sign up at dozens of legitimate foreign casino sites. These include the Wagershare sites like Ruby Palace Casino. An Australian real money gambler has never been prosecuted for betting on online pokies. While domestic Australian operators are punished, the players who gamble on the Internet are not punished. The worst that can happen, if you play at an illegal online casino, is to have your player account frozen during a criminal procedure against the operator. Play at the licensed casinos only, and your online pokies play should involve few legal troubles.
This might not always be the case, though. In the run-up to the Australian national elections in September 2013, Tony Abbott suggested he wanted to eliminate all legal online casino activity. While Abbott and his Coalition allies have not targeted online pokies yet, this is a Sword of Damocles that will hang over the collective industry in 2014 and 2015.
New Zealand Pokies Laws
In New Zealand, most poker machines are operated by charitable foundations. Poker machines became legal in 1991, and their prevalence has continued to grow in the 23 years since. These pokies are found in bars and hotels, and the maximum jackpots are strictly regulated.
Despite these limitations, New Zealand has roughly $10 billion in turnover (gaming action) per year. New Zealanders lose between $800 million to $900 million per year on the land-based pokies. Just under 20,000 gaming machines exist in New Zealand, spread throughout 1,500 or so gaming venues. At any given time, between 350 and 400 gaming operators hold licenses in New Zealand.
Mandatory Player Information Displays
Since 2009, pokies in New Zealand have been required to provide “player information displays”. These are electronic notifications which pop-up on the screen, telling a player personal information like the amount of time they’ve been playing in this session and how much money they’ve lost. Along with this player history, the Player Information Displays encourage gamblers to take a break from gaming.
Skycity Auckland is the largest land casino in New Zealand. When it was built in 1996, Skycity Auckland was the second casino built in the country. It has a Pacific Room for table games and a Platinum Room for pokies and high-stakes gamblers (known as “VIPs”). Skycity Aucklandattracts a large number of Asian gamblers. The casino caters to such tourists, and designs attractions to bring more to the site.
The game floor has over 1,600 pokies and video poker machines, along with 100 gaming tables, which include blackjack, roulette, and baccarat. In May of 2013, the government came to an arrangement with Skycity Auckland which allowed it to add 230 more pokie machines and 40 new gaming tables. In exchange for this concession, the casino agreed to build a $402 million convention centre. The convention centre will hold 3,500 guests, when it opens in 2017.
The Green Party took exception to deal, and in May 2013 threatened an amendment to nix the convention centre deal. At the heart of the controversy was a stipulation which allowed Skycity to collect compensation if the deal was altered over the next 35 years. Politicians felt this threatened the sovereignty of future parliaments, while the gaming company’s allies said it protected them from investing $400 million in a bargain that could be taken away at a politician’s whim.
New Zealand has 6 land-based casinos in all. The other five brick-and-mortar casino operations as of May 2014 are Dunedin Casino, Christchurch Casino, SKYCITY Hamilton, SKYCITY Queenstown, and SKYCITY Wharf Casino.
New Zealand Online Pokies Laws
New Zealand has extensive gambling laws which regulate online casinos. These laws are designed to shut down illegal (unlicensed) casino sites which face New Zealand, but allows for licensed online casinos. This means online pokie players have no fear of prosecution from playing online poker machines for real money. Instead, they can sign up and play online pokies for real money, secure they are using a licensed and legitimate service provider.
At present, 629 English language gaming sites accept gamblers from New Zealand. These include some of the most famous and trusted online casinos in the world, including Wagershare casinos like Spin Palace, Mummy’s Gold, Cabaret Club, and Ruby Fortune Casino. Remember to play only at licensed, legit online pokies websites.