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Banning Online Gambling Not Technically Feasible, Gartner Report Says

18 June 2001

CANBERRA, Australia – As the Australian Senate prepares to act on the federal government's Interactive Gambling Bill 2001, the Internet Industry Association issued the following statement June 15:

The IIA today released an independent report from the Gartner Consulting Group which raised serious concerns about provisions in the Interactive Gambling Bill 2001 that may require Australian Internet Service Providers to block access to services located overseas.

In releasing the Gartner report into the feasibility of banning Internet gambling, IIA Chief Executive, Peter Coroneos, said "The report supports what we have been saying for some time. The legislation is technically inept and has no real prospects of protecting those whom it claims to protect. From a technical viewpoint, the Bill will damage industry participants who are forced to try to make it work while delivering no tangible benefit to end users.

"We believe that it is so fundamentally flawed that no amount of amendment on the floor of the Senate can salvage it. We therefore call upon the Senate to vote it down entirely when debate resumes next week."

Mr Coroneos added, "This legislation is utterly, utterly disappointing from a government which has in other areas tried hard to get people online. We credit them for that. But this message is confusing. Is the Internet good or bad? If you read this Bill, you would think it the most pernicious influence in our lives - why else would you subject Internet Service Providers to criminal sanctions for providing access to sites they have no knowledge of or control over, especially when the same services are legal offline?"

"It is not an answer for government to say: 'Well, the Internet is more accessible." If that is so, why are they not banning phone betting. There is a phone in every home. The have the power to do this, but they choose not to."

"Nor can the government say: 'It may be hard, but at least we must be seen to be trying.' This legislation will create a worse outcome than not trying at all. This is because the proposed law will remove any incentive for the tough State-based player protections under the new AUS Model to be made available those Australians who intend using the Internet for betting."

"Let's be quite clear about where we are coming from here," said Mr Coroneos. "No one supports problem gambling, and the government should not pretend to have the monopoly on caring."

"They are in denial despite a myriad of experts telling them that the Internet carries with it solutions that can more effectively limit what a person bets than any comparable service they can use offline. Poker machines can't yet say: 'You've bet enough - go take a break till next week.' Websites can.

"Our argument is that the Net should therefore be seen as part of the solution - not part of the problem. It is without doubt the single greatest force that exists to raise the bar for protecting all Australians from the excesses of gambling because it sets an example on how technology can be used to protect people."

"The innovations which are being put in place now on Australian sites are the same as putting seat belts and air bags into motor cars. The technology can lower the risk of harm. Instead, the government is attempting the equivalent of banning cars because some people have accidents," said Mr Coroneos.

"The Internet industry in Australia - and we are emphatically NOT the gambling lobby - is deeply troubled by this move, because we are working so hard in other areas such as privacy and child protection to improve end-user welfare and make the Internet a safer place.

"Regrettably, the government's legislation is marred by compromise, inconsistency and the pressures of an impending election. These are not ideal forces under which to shape laws. The online industry will be left to sort through the wreckage, with Australian Internet users the ultimate losers. We are confident in saying that no one will be better off as a result of this law."

"Rhetoric about the Internet putting a poker machine in every household - even if it were true - will not be addressed by this law. If you read the Bill carefully, it may actually still allow unregulated foreign poker machines in every household while banning the local, well-controlled ones."

"In spite of this, we understand that the government will move its own amendments to permit the continued use of telecommunications services to link jackpots for poker machines in traditional casinos. Those who share our concerns about problem gambling should watch closely to see if this happens. If it does, it will be the best sign that this law was just a showpiece. If interactive gambling is so bad as to warrant this law, then the government should (have) gone straight to this area where they have the power to act, instead of attacking theoretical problems that don't yet exist."

"We can't help feeling that the government is playing on people's ignorance and to some extent fear of technology to win political points. That is not good leadership - it is predatory leadership. As custodians of the technology, we feel duty bound to report the real situation."

"Our assessment is impartial. The Gartner report says that filters are not perfect, and we agree. But where they are used voluntarily in homes to augment family supervision they can still be useful, so we support filtering in those circumstances. Indeed our Content Codes of Practice rely on them in part. However, the main finding of the Gartner report is far more severe. It says that where filters are used compulsorily, as this law seems to propose, they will have severe unintended consequences with negligible public benefit to show for it."

"This report therefore serves as a warning that banning cannot succeed and that the alternative path of tough regulation via AUS Model is a far preferable route to take. We hope that the Senate, in its wisdom, arrives at the same conclusion in the days ahead."

The Gartner Report can be downloaded from www.iia.net.au/gartner.pdf.

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