Crypto, Covid a challenge to ACMA’s illegal online gambling crackdown


Australia’s online gambling watchdog, ACMA, says it has stepped up its war against illegal online gambling, but says Covid-19 and the rise of the cryptocurrency are changing the battlefield.

We recently interviewed Fiona Cameron, a member of the authority from the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) and asked about the challenges authorities face in rooting out illegal online gambling operators in Australia. Cameron will also speak next month at Regulating the Game 2022, a five-day educational program to be held at the International Convention Center in Sydney from March 7-11, 2022.

For the uninitiated, the ACMA’s primary role in Australian gambling regulation is the enforcement of the Interactive Gambling Act 2001 (IGA) – a federal law that prohibits the offering or advertising of a range of interactive gambling services to Australians. This includes online casinos, slots, poker, in-game sports betting and betting services that do not hold an Australian license.

The authority is also responsible for the National Self-Exclusion Register, which allows consumers to self-exclude themselves from all licensed online and telephone operators in a single nationally administered process. It also regulates all gambling advertisements on broadcast platforms and the internet.

Cameron says the Covid-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on gambling behavior over the past two years.

“The 2021 ACMA Annual Consumer Survey showed that in June 2021, 11% of Australians said they had participated in online gambling at some point in the previous 6 months, compared to 8 % in 2020. Additionally, 16% of Australians who gamble online reported an increase in their frequency of gambling compared to before the pandemic.

Fiona Cameron, illegal, online gambling, ACMA, cryptocurrency
Fiona Cameron

Despite enforcement efforts by the ACMA, which has seen up to 150 illegal gambling websites withdraw from the Australian market since 2017, and more than 375 blocked by ISPs since November 2019, many locals continue to fall prey to unlicensed offshore gambling operators – many of whom present themselves under Australian licence.

According to H2 Gambling Capital, the size of the Australian unlicensed gambling market is around AU$1.63 billion, up from AU$1.71 billion in 2016.

“Many illegal operators continue to use Australian images on their web pages to convince consumers that they are based here and offered legally… It is also common for illegal operators to align themselves with affiliated services that seem to provide independent reviews of the services, with direct links to the sites.

More recently, we have seen the use of social media and streaming services such as Twitch become popular ways for affiliates to target gamers.

Although many operators stop providing services when contacted by the ACMA, there are recalcitrant operators who are taking steps to continue providing services to Australians, Cameron noted.

“We see this most clearly when carriers launch mirror sites in an effort to circumvent blocks placed on their website…We have also seen some carriers remove company and license information from service websites, in an effort to hide the details of the legal entity behind the service. and others seem to have moved away from credit card deposits for Australian players in favor of encouraging deposits through vouchers or cryptocurrencies. “

Cameron says jurisdictional challenges, the internet’s inherent anonymity and the rise of cryptocurrency have changed the rules of the game and made it harder for the authority to stamp out the activity.

“We regulate in a dynamic digital market which, by nature, crosses international borders. This environment creates a number of challenges. For example, services are able to operate under conditions of high anonymity and change their digital footprint quickly and often.

There are jurisdictional challenges as many of the illegal services we investigate are based in jurisdictions with minimal or no regulatory oversight, and more recently there has been an increase in the use of cryptocurrency across many illegal sites, which creates additional challenges in our investigations. »

The ACMA says that based on the complaints it receives, online casino operators pose the highest risk to Australian consumers.

“Consumers constantly raise issues of abuse; including foul play, non-payout of winnings, inability to contact the operator and little or no regulatory oversight.

“In particular, we have seen an increase in the provision of these services through apps and new platforms used to market them.”

Looking ahead, Cameron said the watchdog will focus on cracking down on gambling affiliate services.

“These are services that advertise or promote online gambling services as part of affiliate programs most often run by or for online casinos. We focus investigations on affiliates who promote illegal gambling services targeting Australia as another means of disrupting major illegal gambling services in the Australian market.

Fiona Cameron will speak at Regulating the Game at 11 a.m. on March 7, 2022. In her presentation, Cameron will discuss public policy issues and the ACMA’s regulatory approach, including its priorities and where she sees policy challenges and emerging regulations.

Regulating the Game is a must-have educational program for gambling regulators, operators and providers. The caliber of speakers and discussion topics cannot be viewed anywhere else.

With Australia’s international borders open, international regulators and industry are encouraged to attend. There is already high demand and limited places.

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