888Poker Withdraws from Australian Market at Short Notice

AustraliaIn a move likened to a limp-fold to a min-raise, 888Poker has announced it will no longer provide a service to Australian players from today (January 16).

The news of the withdrawal from the Australian market broke on Friday when players received emails advising them that, due to a “business reevaluation”, their accounts would be closed from today. Players were advised to unregister from any tournaments starting today or later, and withdraw their funds via the web cashier.

Although no official reason has been given for the withdrawal from the Australian market, players have speculated the move is related to a proposed amendment to the country´s 2001 Interactive Gambling Act. The proposed amendment would prohibit online casinos and online poker, and would allow sports betting operators to offer only “before-the-event” wagers.

Premature Reaction or Shrewd Business Move?

Players voicing their opinions about the short-notice withdrawal from the Australian market have expressed disappointment at the timing of the move. Neither house of the Australian legislature is due to meet until February 7, so it is unlikely the proposed amendment would be discussed and – if passed in its current form – enacted for another month.

888Poker is due to start its Super XL Series this coming Thursday, and many Australian players would have taken part in events timed to be convenient for players on the other side of the world. This fact has prompted several contributors to the 2+2 forum to suggest that there is more to the short-notice withdrawal than just forthcoming legislation.

Ever since the passage of the 2001 Interactive Gambling Act, online poker in Australia has been considered a “grey area”. A strict interpretation of the current law prohibits any online game with an element of chance that is played for money. The law was never enforced, but the new proposal threatens substantial fines and asset seizure.

Players Take Action to Preserve Online Poker

Players have taken action to seek a carve-out for online poker in the proposed amendment. An Australian Online Poker Alliance has been formed to channel opposition to the amendment, and a “Keep Online Poker Legal” petition has been started by the Australian Taxpayers Alliance. The petition also enables players to directly contact their parliamentary representatives by email.

An online advertising campaign has been running since before Christmas, and plans have been drawn up to gather support from live poker professionals during the Aussie Millions. 2005 WSOP Main Event winner Joe Hachem has joined the campaign, and members are having face-to-face meetings with their local politicians to raise awareness of their concerns.

Feedback from the various campaigns appears to be positive. At the time of writing, the Taxpayers Alliance petition has almost 1,500 signatures and the meetings with politicians have gained a favourable response. You can follow the progress of the campaign either through the Australian Online Poker Alliance Facebook page and also on a page the Alliance has started on Change.org.

Will Party Poker and PokerStars also Quit the Australian Market?

Should the proposed amendment become law without a carve-out for online poker, Party Poker and PokerStars will be forced to leave the Australian online poker market. Although Party Poker has a high tolerance for grey market risk, the substantial fines and asset seizure penalties contained within the amendment would be too great for the company to continue operating in Australia.

PokerStars has already indicated that, if the amendment was passed with its current language, it would quit Australia to preserve its UK operating license. In last year´s Q3 earnings call, Amaya´s Chief Financial Officer – Daniel Sebag – warned investors that PokerStars would be withdrawn from the Australian market if the legislation passed, potentially costing the company 2.5% of its revenue.