aniel Sebag, the CFO of Amaya, owner of PokerStars’ parent company Rational Group, confirmed last week that the world’s poker site will pull out of the Aussie market entirely if the government goes through with its plans.
Currently, Australian online players in the “grey” market account for about 2.5 percent of PokerStars’ business.
However, the company has been keen to play it safe with its regulators abroad. And if online poker and casinos are totally outlawed with the 2016 IGA bill, it could be the end of the road.
PokerStars’ Move Into Casino A Huge Sticking Point
The federal government has been under pressure to act over “illegal” overseas gambling sites. The current legislation is now 15 years old and vague, to say the least. There is no specific ban on gambling sites based overseas, just a ban on advertising in Australia.
However, major offshore sportsbetting sites like William Hill and Ladbrokes have been able to run sportsbooks via licenses in NT and (until recently) Norfolk Island.
The amended bill will be much clearer on the legality of online gambling games. The bill states:
“Prohibited services under the IGA include online casino-style gaming services of chance or mixed skill and chance, such as blackjack, roulette and poker, which are played for money or anything else of value. Wagering and lotteries are permitted under limited circumstances.”
It’s been difficult, though not impossible, to offer online casino games and poker to Aussies since 2001. It has been up to the sites’ individual licensing bodies to decide whether they have broken any rules by continuing to offer business Down Under. Of biggest concern to lawmakers, however, is the way overseas sportsbooks have exploited restrictions on ‘in-play’ betting.
Major bookies like William Hill and bet365 have angered the industry in Oz by offering in-play bets online, a violation of current law. The Aussie racing industry has also complained that most of the money made by overseas firms never finds its way to the grassroots. NT, which issues sportsbetting licenses, offers a favourable tax rate to offshore firms wanting to operate online.
Since being taken over by Canadian firm, Amaya, PokerStars has diversified into casino games and sportsbetting. The move hasn’t been popular with all the site’s players, and has even led to the departure of one or two high-profile sponsored poker pros.
More Changes To Come For PokerStars
But keen to stick to the rules, Amaya has said it won’t mess about with the new amendments if they get confirmed.
“In Australia, we currently offer poker and are reviewing the applicability of proposed legislation to player versus player games of skill,” said Sebag in an earnings call last week.
“At this time, it would appear likely that if the legislation passes, we would block players from Australia.”
PokerStars has already gone through several big changes for its customers. The PokerStars-sponsored APPT (Asia-Pacific Poker Tour) and ANZPT (Australia & New Zealand Poker Tour) are a thing of the past following a live events revamp. And in January, the company proceeds with a totally revamped rewards program.
A new, combined VIP program will incorporate poker, casino and sportsbetting, much to the disappointment of some poker pros. It seems that Australian VIPs will have something else to complain about if the Amendment Bill goes through.