Gambling has been deeply ingrained in Australian culture’s fabric since the 18th century. Games of chance in the country started when the First Fleet arrived in 1788 and brought guards from Britain who was fond of wagering games such as cards and dice. However, it was the first horse racing event in 1810 at Hyde Park Sydney that marked Australia’s official onset of gambling.
Today, Australia is recognised as a ‘nation of gamblers’. Surveys show that 73% of Australian adults gambled at least once in the past year, while about 38% engage in games of chance weekly. Moreover, the government actively supports this cultural tendency, fostering diverse legal gambling opportunities nationwide.
Overview of Gambling in Australia Today
As the years unfolded, different forms of gambling continued to evolve Down Under. The Australians’ fondness and the government’s support for betting paved the way for the rise of organised gambling by the turn of the 19th century.
For instance, albeit illegally, online pokies for real money have been a part of the country’s gambling landscape since the 1900s. The game lured many Australians, and in 1956, the Australian government approved the legalisation and operation of poker machines in New South Wales.
The 1970s was another pivotal era in Australia’s gambling history with the full legalisation of poker. These significant changes mirror the country’s continuing shift towards games of change, with poker gaining recognition as an integral part of Australia’s gambling spectrum.
Legal Framework of Gambling in Australia
Historically, the Australian government entrusted gambling regulation to state and territory regulators. The oversight and administration of gambling in Australia fall under the following state and territory bodies:
- The ACT Gambling and Racing Commission- the regulatory body for gambling in the Australian Capital Territory.
- The Office for Liquor, Gaming and Racing- tasks with regulating gambling in New South Wales.
- The Racing Commission of the Department of Industry, Tourism and Trade- administers gambling in the Northern Territory
- The Office of Liquor and Gaming Regulation- oversees gambling activities in Queensland.
- The Independent Gambling Authority- regulates gambling in South Australia.
- The Department of Treasury and Finance- directs gambling regulation in Tasmania.
- The Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation- in charge of regulating gambling in Victoria.
- The Department of Racing, Gaming and Liquor- supervises gambling activities in Western Australia.
The decentralised regulation of gambling in Australia ensures that gambling laws are tailored to the specific conditions and requirements unique to each state or territory.
Online Gambling and the Legal Landscape of Gambling in Australia
In contrast to its relatively small population, Australians hold a significant share of the international gambling scene, accounting for about 5% of the market. Moreover, Australia’s growing use of internet technology promotes a robust internet gambling scene, strengthened by the historical acceptance of gambling.
In response to the cross-boundary nature of online gambling, the Australian government enacted the Interactive Gambling Act of 2001 (IGA). This legislative act is a necessary framework for effectively regulating the evolving form of gambling in Australia.
Below are ways in which the Interactive Gambling Act of 2001 altered the legal landscape of online gambling Down Under:
- The IGA introduced a regulatory framework tailored to online or interactive gambling
- It prohibited certain online casinos, such as slot machines and other online games.
- Allowed online sports betting and lottery sales while the operator secures the necessary licensing.
- The IGA made it illegal for offshore gambling websites to offer gambling services to Australians.
- The Act gave the public an active role in its enforcement through the complaint-based system managed by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA).
The IGA impacts on Australian gambling have enhanced consumer protection. It ensures a safer gambling environment through the restrictions that prohibit the advertisement of online gambling services to Australian residents.
How the Interactive Act of 2001 affects individual poker players, and the Industry
The Interactive Gambling Act 2001 (IGA) made it illegal for unlicensed domestic and offshore online casino-style game operators to provide their services to Australians.
How did the prohibition affect gambling in Australia?
With the IGA in place, many online gambling enthusiasts, including poker players, turned to licensed forms of gambling. Moreover, the IGA preserves the operation of traditional casinos and prevents the complete transition of poker and similar games to online platforms.
Conversely, IGA motivated online gambling fans to find ways to access unregulated and riskier offshore gambling platforms. While this legislative framework aims to protect Australians from the ill-effect of online gambling, it inadvertently pushed avid poker players to continue playing via unregulated channels.
Taxation of Gambling in General
In Australia, gambling operators generally bear the brunt of taxation. These entities pay taxes computed based on factors like gross profits or betting revenue.
The scenario is marked differently for individual players. Recreational gamblers who bet for fun can breathe easy. They do not have to pay taxes on their winnings regardless of the amount of their winnings. The rationale is that the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) perceives winnings from gambling as outcomes of sheer luck.
Taxation laws in Australia work differently for professional gamblers. For them, gambling isn’t just a hobby; it’s a career. It’s essential to understand the distinction between recreational and professional gambling, as the difference can directly impact tax obligations in Australia.
Recreational gamblers place bets for entertainment or other social reasons. According to the Australian Taxation Office (ATO), winnings from recreational gambling are not income but products of luck. Therefore, recreational gamblers may enjoy their entire prize without paying taxes.
In stark contrast, professional gamblers must pay taxes on their winnings. The ATO considers the following factors when assessing whether someone is a professional gambler:
- Business-like approach
- Specialist knowledge
- Scale of operations
Taxation for Professional Poker Players
The story of Joe Hachem, an Australian poker player inducted into the Australian Poker Hall of Fame in 2009, exemplifies the importance of understanding the intricacies of taxation for poker players.
After his 2005 groundbreaking win in Las Vegas, Hachem found himself having to face two tax authorities. He had to part with 30% of his winnings in favour of the US Inland Revenue Service, and his lawyers had to argue to protect him from yet losing $1.3 million to the taxman back home.
The courts ruled in favour of Hachem. His legal team argued that he was a mortgage broker and was merely engaged in a hobby during his big win in Las Vegas.
Hachem’s narrative underscores the importance of understanding the intricacies of taxation. The distinctions between hobbyists and professionals can have significant monetary consequences for poker players.
As a professional player today, Hachem may need to pay income taxes for his winnings. His poker winnings are considered regular income and will be taxed at the standard personal income rate.
So, Can you manage your poker career as a business in Australia?
A professional poker player in Australia can approach their career like a business. They must meticulously document their income and expenses related to their gambling activities. With these detailed records, they can claim legitimate deductions and ensure tax compliance.
Australia’s gambling regulatory and taxation framework has transformed in response to the changes in both traditional and online gaming platforms. However, there is still potential for the Australian government to improve its policies on gambling.
While the gambling sector pours significant contributions to the country’s economy, these economic benefits must not obscure policies to protect the well-being of Australians.
It might help to consider taxing winnings from poker and gambling in general. Imposing these taxes could generate revenue for the economy and may help in potentially determining excessive betting. This measure will allow the Australian government to capitalise on the economic contribution of gambling while ensuring its citizens develop a healthy approach towards gambling.