Cohen: There’s no appetite to lift the ban on online casino games in Australia

Lifting the ban on online casino-style games in Australia has a non-existent chance of happening, according to Peter Cohen, director of The Agenda Group, as he spoke at the SBC Summit Barcelona – Digital

Speaking on the Australia – pushing back on restrictions panel, Cohen explained that due to a combination of a saturated gambling market coupled with a lack of incentive for the federal government to lift such a ban, the block on online casinos is ‘not necessarily that noticeable’.

He explained: “I think it’s important to understand that the ban on online casinos is in a country which has access to so much gambling already. It’s not necessarily that noticeable that the ban exists. Everyone in Australia has access to either a casino because they live in the big cities or to the slot venues which are distributed right across the country – except in the state of Western Australia. This state has a population of 1.5 million people in a landmass which accounts for approximately a third of Australia. 

“But the rest of the country has access to gambling when and where they want. So I don’t really think there’s a huge push from the wider community for online casino-style games. They’ve got plenty of access to gambling already. 

“I think that the brick and mortar industry that houses those slot machines are probably not pushing for a lift on the ban – most probably because they would rather people walked through the doors. So I don’t really think that there is an appetite for that change. 

“The federal government also isn’t going to amend its Interactive Gambling Act to allow online casino games – largely because they won’t get any of the revenue from lifting the ban. The tax revenue is directed towards the state, so there is no incentive for the federal government to have a fight with anti-gambling people to allow online casino games. 

“I can’t see it happening. I actually think that getting rid of the ban on in-play betting has a miniscule chance of happening – but lifting the ban on online casinos has no chance.”

On the panel, Cohen was joined by Paul Newson, Head of Advisory Practice at Senet, and Jake Henson, COO of BetMakers Technology Group. The discussion was moderated by Nathan Rothschild, Founder of Genius Group.

Agreeing with Cohen’s point, Newson highlighted that the ban of online casino games should not be ‘sensationalised’ nor anchored to rates of problem gambling – pointing out his belief that it is a ‘policy oddity’ that the federal government draws the line at online casino. 

He added: “The access to gambling, certainly land-based as well as online, is everywhere. It’s ubiquitous. To give an example, we say that in New South Wales we technically have one casino – two if you ignore the technicalities. But we have gaming and slot machines distributed throughout the state – some 90,000+ through our clubs and hotels. 

“Accessibility to gambling, whether it’s on your phone or at a land-based venue, is really easy for the majority of the population. I say this to address the question that it is slightly odd that you draw the line at online casino games. But I don’t think that there is a momentum nor advocacy – especially not one with any weight which argues for the ban to be lifted. 

“If you want to anchor it to problem gambling, I think you put yourself in a spot of difficulty because – as serious as the issue is – we shouldn’t sensationalise it. Certainly in NSW, problem gambling has been at a stable rate for the last 15 years. There is plenty of gambling available, but it is a bit of a policy oddity that when there is such a market saturation available and you have choice, we still hold a ban on online casinos.”

Echoing a similar sentiment, Henson turned the discussion towards the potential for revenue losses as a result of ‘offshore leakage’ – implying that online casino players could be more likely to bet via unlicensed sites. 

“I also think that there would be a lot more offshore leakage in online casinos than there would be for in-play wagering on sports,” he explained. 

“I do feel that there is enough saturation of other products in the market which has been absorbed in pre-match, same-game multis. But the times when in-play wagering would be appealing here in Australia, it would be in the evening times on our Australian sports where often there isn’t a wider interest from the rest of the world, online casino would present much more of an issue when it comes to lost revenue for the gambling operators.”

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