The situation with Australian online gambling is interesting from a legal perspective. While it is not lawful to offer gambling to Australians inside the country, it is legal for Australian casino operators to offer gambling to players outside the country and it is not illegal for Australians to access gambling services.
Overview of online gambling law
The pertinent law in this respect is The Interactive Gambling Act of 2001. This makes it an offence for casino operators to make real money gambling available to people who are resident in Australia. It is also not legal to advertise these services in the country. That's the first important aspect of the law.
The second – and seemingly contradictory - aspect means that it is not an offence for Australians to access real money gambling services. This means that Australians cannot be prosecuted or punished for gambling online.
The third aspect is that Australian online gambling casinos are allowed to offer gambling services to people situated in outside countries, as long as these countries are not what are termed "designated" countries.
Online sports betting and lotteries in Australia
As is the case with many territories where online casino gambling is not permitted, Australians are still allowed to access sports betting services. The sports betting operators have to be fully licensed, and have to be the online operations of physical land-based betting institutions. There is a specific stipulation that bets may only be placed before a particular sports event starts – otherwise the betting is characterised as interactive wagering, which is not legal as per the other elements of the law.
Because the other forms of interactive gambling are not legal, many casino sites will, using geo targeting only show their sports betting offerings, or specifically redirect Australians to mini sites that only show sports betting.
Another class of online gambling that is allowed is the lottery. Licensed providers are allowed to offer lottery services over the Internet, with the exception of instant scratch and win scratch card games.
The current online gambling law situation for players
So Australians who wish to gamble at online casinos are in a strange position, it would seem. One could say that the short answer about whether or not it is legal to indulge in online gambling in Australia is "yes". But it's also clear that the law really doesn't want this to happen. So what is the reality on the ground?
Theoretically it is legal for Australians to play real money casino games at online casinos that are situated outside Australia. There are plenty of overseas casinos that do offer online gambling to Australians. Strictly speaking these operators are themselves in contravention of the Interactive Gambling Act of 2001, but there haven't to date been any attempts to stop them from within Australia itself. There have been expressions of intent, primarily to protect players from illegal operators, but very little actual action. And of course due to the foreign nature of these operators, pursuing them is difficult and complex.
Possible future scenario for online gambling laws in Australia
The Australian government has recognised the need for a review of the current online gambling laws, following on from a discussion paper for the review of the Interactive Gambling Act of 2001, released by Senator Stephen Conroy.
It was agreed that this review will be undertaken, in the light of factors and developments in the online gambling industry, including: the growth of regulated and unregulated gambling services across the world, and the risks these pose for problem gambling; the effect that new mobile technologies are likely to have on the number of people to access online gambling services; the operational and enforcement problems with the current Act; and the effectiveness and cost of these kinds of enforcement requirements.
Perhaps most promising for Australian players is an aspect of the review that covers the taxation and social implications of the regulation of online gambling, as well as ways to minimise any harm caused by interactive gambling - which could perhaps hint at the possibility of full legalisation in the sense that online gambling providers may be allowed to operate legally. Of course this may just be speculation and reading between the lines a bit too much.