AUSTRALIANS who play poker online could be on borrowed time as federal agencies close the net on illegal gambling websites.
The Australian Crime Commission has urged the Federal Government and the Australian Federal Police to start charging poker websites blatantly getting around Australian legislation, by outlawing their services.
Sources close to the matter said the ACC had told the authorities to “pull their finger out”.
The move comes after US authorities last month indicted the founders of the three largest poker websites PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker and Absolute Poker.
The FBI co-ordinated with the ACC and AFP as part of the crackdown which also involved fallen Brisbane IT tycoon Daniel Tzvetkoff, who was allegedly processing online poker transactions in the US.
As The Courier-Mail reported last month, several young Queenslanders are making a mint playing poker online sometimes earning up to $750,000 a year tax-free.
Providing online poker, bingo and casino games to Australians can draw fines as high as $1.1 million a day under the Interactive Gambling Act but no organisation has been charged in the decade since the laws were enacted.
This is despite the PokerStars website owning a subsidiary, GP Information Services, in Sydney. The company promotes PokerStars and Australian banks are used to transfer funds overseas.
Digital Economy Minister Stephen Conroy said the Government was investigating whether GP Information Services had breached the IGA but admitted authorities had problems enforcing the laws.
“As the internet is a cross-jurisdictional medium, it is difficult for Australia to enforce our laws on companies not based in Australia,” a spokeswoman for Senator Conroy said.
“The Government continues to examine the regulatory approaches taken by other countries to online gambling to see what can be learnt about the best way to respond.”
An Australian Productivity Commission report on online gambling last year said the IGA had limited success reducing online poker and that its effectiveness was likely to “decrease over time”. The report said the industry could be better regulated if online poker was legalised. Several other Australian-based companies that deal with online poker transactions could also be charged under the IGA for “aiding and abetting” illegal websites.
Acting ACC chief executive Karen Harfield said she would not comment on specific cases. But she said: “Online gambling is a potential channel for money laundering and revenue and taxation fraud.
“The ACC works with a wide variety of Government and law enforcement agencies to combat serious and organised crime, including money laundering. This includes working with international law enforcement agencies.”
An AFP spokeswoman said referrals from other agencies were prioritised according to the resources available and it had received a request for assistance from the US to take action against PokerStars.
She would not comment further on the ongoing investigation.
The Australian-based director of GP Information Services Craig Meagher did not return emails or phone calls.
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