Gambling has always been a popular pastime in Australia and in the past few years, reports suggest that Australians gamble more than anyone else in the world. Betting on sports and horse races is legal and regulated, as are lotteries, gaming machines, and casinos. Moreover, poker machines, as they are known locally, can be seen in pubs, sports clubs, hotels and even shopping malls where they are as common as ATMs.
According to official statistics from the Queensland Government, total gambling losses in 2017-2018 increased nationally 5% from the previous period to AU$24.89 billion. More than 80% of adults in the country admit they gamble, while the average loss per capita is estimated at AU$1,292, the highest in the world. Betting and slot machines (known as poker machines or simply pokies in Australia) are the most popular forms of gambling, while casino gaming still lags behind them, despite the huge number of Asian tourists who visit the country’s largest casino establishments.
Currently, there are more than full-scale 20 casinos in the country where gaming machines and traditional table games such as roulette and blackjack are allowed. Since gambling policy and laws have always been the responsibility of states, rather than the federal government, casinos are regulated locally. The legislation is considered to be quite liberal, with one notable exception – online gambling. There are no online casinos in Australia although residents are free to access offshore casino sites if they wish to.
Commonwealth Gambling Policy and Legislation
Australia, officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a federal parliamentary constitutional monarchy and governmental authority is exercised in three levels, namely federal, states/territories, and local governments. The country is comprised of six states – New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia, and Tasmania, and two internal territories that function almost as states.
These are the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory. Additionally, there are seven external territories, which have little to no autonomy from the Commonwealth and have no legislative or regulatory power with regards to gambling.
Historically, states and territories have always had full authority over the gambling policies within their jurisdiction. However, the Federal Government is empowered by the Australian Constitution to partially control and govern finances, telecommunications, and trade within the states. In the past couple of decades, it has been more actively involved in the regulation of certain types and aspects of gambling, including interactive gambling.
Over the past 20 years, the Commonwealth has banned online casinos and passed complex legislation to introduce comprehensive anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing measures. It has also enacted laws to promote competition and provide consumer protections.
State and Territory Regulatory Authorities and Key Legislation
Each of the eight Australian states and territories has independent gambling legislation in place thanks to their relative autonomy from the Commonwealth. They have their own constitution, legislature (parliament), judiciary and executive, which means they have the authority to pass and enforce laws, and to prosecute offenders.
This partial independence from the federal government also indicates that the states and territories have their local licensing and regulatory authorities. Every state can determine the licensing requirements for casinos and decide how it will monitor and tax gambling establishments.
Winnings generated from gambling are not taxed in Australia mainly because gambling is not considered a profession. Even the so-called “professional gamblers” who play poker for a living do not have to pay taxes. Instead, casino operators are taxed based on the particular products they offer and the State or Territory they are located in. In fact, the tax rate is usually determined during negotiations between the local government and the operator. In addition, license fees and other surcharges must also be paid.
This means that the taxes for gambling operators vary significantly across Australia. There are monthly taxes on the non-commission-based profits, on quarterly player loss, and others. Additionally, casinos pay different federal taxes, including GST (10%) and the tax on corporate income (30% or reduced tax rate of 27.5% for small businesses). It is nearly impossible to compare the tax rates for different states and gambling products, so below, we will simply display the tax on table games offered in casinos:
|New South Wales||The tax rate ranges between 16.41% and 38.91% of gross revenue, depending on the gross revenue.|
|Northern Territory||The only tax casino operators must pay on their profits from table games is the goods and services tax (GST), which is 10%.|
|Queensland||The tax is 20% of monthly gross revenue for Gold Coast and Brisbane casinos and 10% of gross revenue for Townsville and Cairns casinos.|
|South Australia||Casinos pay 3.41% of the net gambling revenue (table games), as well as 10.91% of their net gambling revenue (fully automated table games).|
|Tasmania||The tax rate is 0.88% of the annual gross profit.|
|Victoria||Casino operators pay 21.25-41.25% of gross revenue, depending on gross revenue, plus 1% Community Benefit Levy.|
|Western Australia||Table games are taxed at 9.37% (domestic) or 12.92% (fully automated table games).|
Interactive Gambling Act 2001
With the development of online casinos and poker websites in the late 1990s, online gambling grew rapidly in Australia. Hundreds of sites started to emerge but this new, quickly growing industry raised concerns among politicians and gambling opponents in the country – while the websites were becoming more and more accessible, Australia had no regulation in place to prevent and reduce the harmful effects from gambling.
In December 1999 the Prime Minister, the Honourable John Howard MP, announced the Commonwealth support for a national approach to problem gambling. It would include the establishment of a special council of ministers who would focus on Internet gambling, among other things. In August 2000 the Government introduced the Interactive Gambling (Moratorium) Bill 2000, which was later passed and paved the way for the more comprehensive Interactive Gambling Act 2001.
The Act is still in effect and it prohibits the gambling services from being provided to customers in Australia. It also prohibits Australian-based gambling operators to offer their services in the so-called “designated countries”. Advertising of online gambling is also banned. However, the law targets online gambling operators rather than customers – it makes it illegal for both domestic and foreign companies to offer online casino games and poker to customers in Australia. Due to a loophole, though, it does not prohibit Australians from accessing offshore casino sites.
The law makes an exception for online betting, bingo, and lottery products, which are legal under certain circumstances such as mandatory license from a local regulator. Another important thing to note is that the Interactive Gambling Act and the authorities responsible for enacting and administering it have no jurisdiction over foreign operators. This means that while offshore casino websites may be blocked following a complaint, Australia cannot prosecute foreign companies.
Australian Communications and Media Authority
Since online casinos are illegal in Australia, there is no need to regulate such operations. Despite the ban, dozens of foreign operators are still offering their services to customers in the country. This has prompted more active monitoring of the sector and the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) was mandated to block illegal gambling sites.
The Authority does not do this on its own but works in partnership with Australian internet service providers. ACMA also publishes a Register of licensed interactive wagering services, which includes various licensed TABs, corporate bookmakers and betting exchanges.
In addition, ACMA is responsible for the regulation of gambling advertising in the country, whether ads appear on radio, TV, or online. The Authority bans ads if they are misleading or socially irresponsible – for instance, gambling ads during certain programs and periods of the day are not allowed to protect children from exposure to gambling-related content. Of course, any advertisements promoting illegal online gambling services are also prohibited.