Does online bingo count as gambling?

Does online bingo count as gambling in Australia? This is a question I get asked with surprising frequency, especially when I’m around a crowd of law-abiding bingo enthusiasts. And while the answer may initially sound negative to those wanting to comply with national legislation, the complexities of the law still leave lots of room to manoeuvre.

This question is especially important in Australia, as residents spend more than AUD $960 million on Internet gaming each year. Over AUD $600 million of this is being generated by licensed online bookmakers, but you can be certain that Internet bingo also contributes its fair share.

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Definition of a Gambling Service

In order to answer our question, we need to look at the definitions set forth by the Interactive Gambling Act of 2001. This landmark piece of legislation is the most important series of laws created in regards to online gaming in Oz. In Section 4 (Definitions), this document defines a “gambling service” as the following:

  • A service for the placing, making, receiving, or acceptance of bets.
  • A service the sole or dominant purpose of which is to introduce individuals who wish to make or place bets to individuals who are willing to receive or accept those bets.
  • A service for the conduct of a lottery.
  • A service for the supply of lottery tickets.
  • A service for the conduct of a game where: (a) the game is played for money or anything else of value (b) the game is a game of chance or of mixed chance and skill (c) a customer of the service gives or agrees to give consideration to play or enter the game.

The last entry is the most relevant to online bingo sites, as they are both games of chance and played for money. Now that we have a proper legal definition, we can make the following conclusion:

Online bingo counts as gambling in Australia.

Before you throw up your hands and start making plans to abandon your Internet bingo career, I suggest becoming even more familiar with the laws as they apply to Aussie online gaming.

The Interactive Gambling Act

Passed by the Australian Commonwealth Parliament in 2001, the Interactive Gambling Act is specifically designed to protect citizens from the more harmful effects of gambling. Whether that’s been successful remains to be seen, but it still remains entrenched as the current set of laws regarding Internet gaming.

Directed at online gambling operators, these laws make it a punishable offense to offer real-money gambling to residents of Australia. Advertising for such services is also prohibited, and this extends from electronic to print advertising.

There are some important exceptions:

  • It is not an offense for Aussie residents to access offshore interactive gambling sites. This means you can play all the Internet bingo you want and still remain in compliance with the law.
  • While gaming companies based in Australia can’t offer their services to local citizens, they are still allowed to serve customers from other nations unless they’re on the “designated countries” list. In order to be placed on this list, a nation must have similar legislation and make a formal request in writing.
  • Using an online bookmaker service is not considered “interactive” as long as the bet is placed with a licensed operator and takes place before the start of the event.
  • If the operator could not have reasonably known that they were offering their services to residents of Oz, then no offense was committed.
  • Online lotteries are legal, but instant-win scratch cards are excluded.

The penalty for breaking these laws is a maximum fine of $220,000 per day for the individuals involved with the gaming operation. The actual online company may also be fined up to $1.1 million per day.

What This Means

Now that we’ve answered the question “Does online bingo count as gambling,” let’s look at what the law means for the average Australian citizen. According to the Interactive Gambling Act, you cannot play online bingo at a site located within the country, but you are free to do business with any offshore operation. As of this writing, there are no online operations based in Australia, so the impact on Aussie residents is insignificant. You can play Internet housie wherever you want (I suggest True Blue Bingo) without fear of government agents kicking down your door.

The next time one of your mates asks “Does online bingo count as gambling,” you’ll be able to look them in the eye and give them a definitive answer. It may not be the response they want to hear, but it will save them the time of having to track it down on the Internet.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that the laws will always stay the same. Politicians come and go, and there are numerous individuals in the Austrian political landscape who’ve made anti-gambling legislation a cornerstone of their campaigns. Chief among them are Nick Xenophon and Andrew Wilkie. The former is an independent Senator for South Australia who called his 1997 ticket “No Pokies.” The latter is a former intelligence analyst and military officer, as well as a current independent politician and staunch opponent of pokies. While slots are their primary interest, both men have also mentioned the perceived dangers of online gaming.

Ultimately, the best advice I can give is to play bingo and don’t worry about things you can’t control. Politicians are always going to play their games, and there’s little you can do about it besides showing your support or displeasure at the polls. The odds that online gambling is ever banned in Australia are small, especially when you consider the overwhelming popularity with residents. Just be glad you weren’t born in North Korea, where reading this sentence would likely earn you and several generations of your family a lifetime sentence in a hellish labour camp. In other words: it could always be worse.

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