PokerStars to Leave Australian Market Mid-September

AustraliaPokerStars has written to its Australian-registered players, advising them the site will stop providing real money poker in Australia from mid-September.

Last Wednesday, Australia´s Parliament passed the Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill (2016) – a bill that, amongst other things, prohibits offshore operators from providing online casino and poker games to Australian residents.

The passage of the bill was largely anticipated; although, up until a few weeks ago, there had been hope online poker would get a carve-out following a spirited campaign by the Australian Online Poker Alliance. Sadly, that was not to be.

The bill is scheduled to be enacted 28 days after receiving royal assent – meaning that an estimated 130,000 online poker players will have to find alternative options if they want to continue playing online poker, or give up the game altogether.

PokerStars Emails its Australian Database

Following the passage of the bill, PokerStars wasted little time in sending an email to its Australian database advising players it will be leaving the market in “mid-September”. The uncertainty over the departure date is likely due to PokerStars waiting to see the exact date the bill receives royal assent.

With the site´s WCOOP due to start on September 3rd, PokerStars will want to leave it until the last possible moment to withdraw from the Australian market, as the loss of Australian players will have an impact on the series schedule and possibly its tournament guarantees.

In the email, PokerStars has told Australian players they will be contacted again once a final date of departure is confirmed, at which point all tournament tickets and tournament cash will be converted into real money for withdrawal. The sites has also added the facility to exchange StarsCoin for cash in units of $1.00, and reminded players to open any unopened chests prior to converting their StarsCoin.

The Alternative Options for Australian Poker Players

Back in February, Liberal Democrat Senator David Leyonhjelm suggested if the Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill passed, players should “screw the government, get yourself a VPN and an offshore account”. Since then several offshore operators have made overtures towards Australian players.

Last month formerly a US-exclusive online poker site Ignition Poker started allowing Australian players to create an account in order to play on the PaiWangLuo (Bodog) Network, and Intertops Poker revised its online tournament schedule to create opportunities for players in the AEST time zone.

Although neither BetOnline Poker nor Americas Cardroom have officially announced plans to attract Australian players, the volume of off-peak cash game action has increased recently at both sites – implying that Australian poker players are not waiting until PokerStars departs the domestic market to investigate the alternative options available for them.

Regulated Online Poker a Possibility for the Future

Although unsuccessful in obtaining a carve-out for online poker in the Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill, campaigners are hopeful that a future bill could be introduced that would enable a regulated marketplace. Their optimism is the result of a Senate-commissioned inquiry into online poker in which it was acknowledged differences exist between online poker and other forms of interactive gambling.

Although the inquiry has come too late to prevent the passage of the Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill (the inquiry is due to make a report to the Senate on September 14th), spokesperson for the Australian Online Poker Alliance – Joey Del Duca – issued a statement encouraging players to continue contacting their Parliamentary Senators and Representatives and asking them to support online poker.

Whilst it was unfortunate that the government did not wait for the Senate Inquiry findings to come through, we urge Australian poker players to not give up hope. Our game is not dead and we will continue to campaign for safe, legal online poker when the Senate Inquiry is handed down. Our call for a safe, regulated online poker market in Australia is still the only option that provides freedom for players, revenue for the government and protection for those in need.