The delusion of our elected officials and their buddies knows no limit it seems, and is surpassed only by their gall. Over the last few years our rights have been subjected to a steady procession of kicks to the teeth and cheap shots. Individual freedom copped another coward punch yesterday, dished out by the lump of coal that keeps on taking – Barry O’Farrell. Late last year the Grange enthusiast was inexplicably tasked with conducting a review into “illegal off shore gambling” and was compensated to the tune of fifty thousand dollars. Why on Earth this man continues to dine out on the public dollar is beyond all logic and reason. Either a lot of people have extremely short memories, or O’Farrell has quite the collection of compromising nudes. Whatever the reason, the fact that this man has any involvement with, well anything, is astounding and this latest attack on punters is the start of a very slippery slope. If you think this does not impact you, think again.
The Minister for Human Services, Alan Tudge and the Minister for Communications, Mitch Fifield yesterday released the Review of Illegal Offshore Wagering, the result of O’Farrell’s hard work. The review was always going to be a farce, setting out to “protect consumers” by regulating an industry well outside this governments jurisdiction. The report is indeed a joke from beginning to finish, with even the cover providing a line that would be hilarious were it not so unbelievable. For the review is credited to the Lead Reviewer, the Hon. Barry O’Farrell. Sorry???? Honourable? Is this not the same man who resigned in shame and disgrace after being caught out lying repeatedly about a bottle of Grange he received from Nick Di Girolamo??? Did this man not spend months ridiculing the concept and advocates of lockout laws before not having the spine to stand by his own remarks in the face of media driven hysteria? There is nothing remotely honourable about this man.
The main talking point from this review is the restriction of live betting options for local punters using local bookies. This is an utterly bizarre choice of action given the review was apparently looking at ways to protect consumers from unscrupulous overseas bookmakers. Of course the real reason for the review had nothing to do with the fact no revenue was being made from overseas wagering. No, the federal government definitely weren’t eyeing off how to get a big slice of that $400 million pie. Obviously they do not earn anywhere near as much as they deserve from pokies… Regardless of the true motives, in what parallel dimension would the logical means of preventing punters from betting offshore be placing draconian restrictions on local bookies?
The do-gooders and nanny state proponents of this country, led by the likes of Nick Xenophon and family associations constantly thinking of the children, will claim a big win with this move. But as these groups usually are with whatever they’re bleating about, they are well and truly off the mark. For this is not something anybody should be cheering about, no matter your stance on gambling and quite frankly it is concerning to witness ignorance yet again triumphing over common sense. For starters, their moral judgement does not have any relevance on the way other people should go about their lives so they have no right trying to force it upon anyone. The fact is, this measure does not achieve anything positive. Nobody benefits out of this, and the punters who it is apparently protecting have had the odds tipped further against them.
Click to call live betting is popular with punters, and rightly so. By getting a read for the game, wagers are able to be placed with a bit more knowledge and certainty than if they were placed pre-game. I’m a member of a number of punting groups, and the general consensus is this feature is something that works in our favour. Anti-gambling lobbyists claim it encourages further gambling and therefore contributes to gambling problems. Absolute bullshit. Punters are still going to punt, but now one of the very few advantages they had has been taken away. Yes, you can still call up to place a bet but that process is extremely cumbersome and by the time you’re confirming your wager the option is often no longer available. Can any of the church groups or personal freedom opponents explain to me how taking away the opportunity to place a wager confidently at the most opportune moment helps anyone?
Naturally, one would assume the way around this archaic decision would be to simply abandon local bookies and take their business offshore. A move that makes the decision to restrict competition even more ludicrous than it already is. In an effort to keep punters from betting offshore, the government is essentially leaving them with no choice but to.
But this is where the really concerning part about this whole thing comes in. Pre-empting this move, the report has made recommendations to “introduce other disruption measure to curb illegal offshore gambling activity”. Disruption measures. In case you’re confused about what is meant by that, don’t worry, that’s the point. Disruption is a euphemism of colossal proportions. What it actually means is censorship. The recommendation to prevent punters from wagering overseas is to implement an Internet filter to block overseas websites. This is a truly Orwellian solution and even if you have no interest in gambling, taking away the freedom of Australians to access overseas websites in any form is the beginning of a slippery and dangerous slope.
Censorship of this manner is a threat to the freedoms of all. In addition to blocking websites, the government is also apparently working with banks and credit card providers to stop payments. Even if you’re not one for punting yourself, if you believe in your right to go about your business as you please this should be just as concerning for you. Do you download the latest episode of Game of Thrones because you aren’t a subscriber to the one single, solitary provider? You too should be outraged by this. Enjoy purchasing electronics overseas to get around the exorbitant taxes and surcharges that result in Australians paying well above fair market price? Be prepared to tighten the purse strings or take a hit to the back pocket. Disgusted at the way the likes of China and North Korea treat their citizens? Well… that may be taking it a bit far, but you get the point. Once one innocent thing such as this is censored the floodgates are open, and it’s only a matter of time before your own innocuous online activities are under threat.
It does not take a fool to realise that if the goal is really to protect consumers from who ignorant Australian politicians with questionable motives deem dodgy operators, the best solution is to remove all incentive to use them. Instead what we are left with is not only an absurd measure that stifles competition, but an all out attack on basic freedom.
It’s worth noting here that not all local bookies are impacted by this measure. Some local bookies were well behind the eight ball and were yet to offer this service. The fact that more advanced and customer focussed bookies have been brought back to the field is a boon for some.
One of these local bookies includes Crownbet, who as the name suggests are a part of James Packer’s Crown empire. This is not the first time Packer has been the recipient of an inadvertent Barry O’Farrell favour, with the then premier changing the law to enable an unsolicited tender for Crown Sydney to be submitted. Even then, the proposal to build a second Sydney casino at Barangaroo did not meet the tender requirements. But that did not stop it from being approved by O’Farrell’s office. To this day, we don’t know all the details of this proposal. A number of pages of the agreement remain suppressed, despite legal arbiter Keith Mason QC’s recommendation to make all the details public. Mr Mason went even further with his recommendation, declaring to keep the documents hidden from public scrutiny would be “bad government”. Hardly a surprise given the involvement of the Honourable Barry O’Farrell.
Let’s not forget, O’Farrell was also given the plum role as Deputy Chairman of the Australia-India Council. Chairman is none other than Ashok Jacob, formerly a “key lieutenant of billionaire gambling mogul James Packer, who was awarded a casino licence in NSW while Mr O’Farrell was premier.”
Obviously nothing untoward is being suggested by highlighting the above. However upon reading Crownbet’s submission to the enquiry it was very troubling to read some of their key recommendations. Sportsbet and Bet 365 (who will be dramatically affected by these measures) included in their submissions a number of intelligent recommendations that while were obviously self-serving, were logical and fair. These included voluntary pre-commitment limits, exclusions and sharing information to identify problem gamblers. They supported a way of identifying local operators that are regulated and adhere to a standard and they recommended offshore operators to seek Australian licenses. Obviously they supported the removal of in play restrictions which would boost competition and keep that gambling revenue the government is constantly craving in Australia and in their coffers.
Crownbet, on the other hand, have gone much further with their submission and a number of their recommendations have unsurprisingly found their way into the Honourable Barry O’Farrell’s review. In their submission late last year they made the following recommendations (of which Sportsbet and Bet 365 strongly opposed) –
- Introduce website (or Internet Service Provider) blocking. As per the screenshot above, of particular concern here is they have recommended this be a compulsory measure for ISPs. What kind of gambling operator would have the audacity to propose measures that infringe on the basic freedoms of citizens? One owned by Packer who is used to getting his way, no doubt. In addition, they even acknowledge the fact that this measure is easily circumvented via use of a VPN. But they go on to say this is no valid reason to not implement the measures anyway, knowing full well that many are not savvy enough to use them and will still have their freedom restricted.
- Impose travel sanctions on individuals associated with illegal wagering operators. This is an incredible recommendation from Crownbet, even more audacious than their support of censorship. Given Packer has faced a great level of competition from overseas casino operators, it’s little wonder he wants to ban overseas gambling directors and associates from entering the country. This measure does nothing but enable him to build a monopoly on gaming in this country and eliminate competition. He even wants to restrict the movement of Australian citizens who are employees of overseas gambling operators. Given the clout this man has, this is a truly despicable move.
- Restrict payments bring processed to illegal wagering providers. As above, Crown agrees with the concept of restricting payments being made to offshore operators. This is in spite of the fact they know it is a measure that does not work. They even provide evidence of this. But regardless of this, they still want it to happen somehow. The US and Norway have made it an offence for financial institutions to facilitate payments of this nature. Given the amount of legislation we’ve seen over the last few years, does anybody put it past our lawmakers to introduce legislation that makes it an offence for an individual to make a payment of this nature? We already have laws in place preventing funds being sent overseas in certain circumstances as seen in the Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorism Financing Act 2006. It would not be difficult broaden the scope of those laws or establish amendments that cover gambling providers. Tabcorp are also making suggestions along this line.
Admittedly, Crownbet did recommend in play betting restrictions be lifted, but it’s noteworthy that they at no stage have tried to implement similar features to their competitors. Given these recommendations, one needs to scrutinise the relationship between Packer and O’Farrell, especially as they’re the sole operator whose recommendations are somewhat in line with those of the official report. I’m constantly in disbelief when I hear O’Farrell is involved with anything tied to the government. I think the only thing that would surprise me more would be an announcement that Eddie Obied was leading an investigation into donations and corruption.
One measure I will say I would support would be a crackdown on gambling advertising. I do believe it can influence problem gamblers as well as young, impressionable minds. For me personally it’s annoying. Yet this has been massively overlooked. As have unsolicited offers of credit by gambling providers. Instead of tackling issues that are actually a factor in the problems associated with punting, they have implemented measures that are anti-competition and attack our freedom.
As a punter who owns an account with 7 different operators, I will be closing my Crownbet account in light of their insidious conduct. They will not be getting another cent out of me while they try to take away my rights. As a responsible adult I will be vehemently opposing the measures outlined in this recommendation and I urge all to do the same. Contact your local member and tell them you will not stand for yet another one of your rights being attacked. Vote with your feet this July. I’m not going to tell anyone how to vote, but have a good look at what your local candidates views are.
This does not just impact punters so do not think for a second this is not relevant to you if you have no interest in sport. Make no mistake, if we allow the freedom of some to be restricted in this way it’s only a matter of time before the freedom of many is attacked in another.
I’m tired of our personal freedoms being shat on by people who have no fucking business poking their nose into our lives.
I’m sick to death of being told I can’t go out to the pub at whatever time I choose to enjoy a beer while I watch Liverpool surrender a two goal lead to some relegation battler in the premier league.
I think it’s an absolute joke that I now have to jump through hoops just to place an innocent bet.
I’m fed up with being told how to live my life.
Fuck having ignorant, sanctimonious moral judges interfering with all of our lives.
Fuck the #nannystate