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Glenn Barry
 

Queensland Consumer Protection Can Put Consumers in Jail?

28 June 1998

Now that the Queensland government's Internet gambling bill has been around long enough for us to get over our initial enthusiasm, there is a thing or two buried in the details that throws a different light on some aspects of it.

Now we have covered some of the issues in our story, "Queensland Law Not What It Seems," but have also come across another little twist we would like to bring to your attention.

There is another section of the Bill which in fact appears to be quite draconian (Kylonian?). Again it revolves around the power of the Minister of Gambling to make an executive decision as to what is and what isn't an "authorized game" within the meaning of the law and what is a "participating jurisdiction". Have a little read of section 16 (2):

Section 16 (2)
A person in Queensland must not participate in, or encourage or facilitate participation by another in, an interactive game knowing that the game is not an authorized game. Maximum penalty for subsection (2)—40 penalty units.

This is the real sting: "a person in Queensland must not participate in… an interactive game... knowing that the game is not an authorized game." That 40 penalty units translates to a cash fine of AUD $4000 (about US$2,400). Now, that hurts! (And you can go to jail if you can't pay it, which is not recommended in Queensland.)

Now how on earth would your average Aussie, Queenslanders in particular (sorry, that's a local joke, namblers), know what was "approved" and what wasn't? This is the problem with the legal maxim "ignorance is no excuse." Some guy is surfing away on his PC and logs onto a site he didn't even know existed (let alone if it was "authorized"), and he is guilty of an offense!

Shades of the Kyl Bill with it's un-American penalties.

Now another catch (catch 22?) seem to exist in section 12.1, where an "authorized" game can only exist where there is a "participating jurisdiction":

12.(1)
An "authorized game" is an interactive game that—(a) a licensed provider is authorized to conduct under this division; or (b) an external provider is authorized to conduct under the corresponding law of the participating jurisdiction in which the provider is licensed.

This Bill is now almost law in Queensland. It has passed in the Parliament, but is not yet in effect. (It still needs a rubber stamp or two.) And to my knowledge there are no "approved" sites, so it seems to me that you could be taking a big risk.

As there are no "authorized games" in Queensland and no "participating jurisdictions," once the Bill passes, no Queenslander will be able to legally bet online with anyone! So despite all the huffing and puffing and claims to "player protection," the effect of this Act seems to be to criminalize online gaming in Queensland, at least until there are some "participating jurisdictions."

It seems to me that this "participating jurisdiction" refers to other states of Australia who pass complementary legislation. The likelihood of other countries around the world falling into this category seems a bit remote at the moment, thus, rather than making it legal for Queenslanders to gamble online, it does the exact opposite!

There was no law which would punish a Queenslander for online gambling before this "Player Protection" bill. Now there is!

Some player protection!

Even if the other jurisdiction is one of those that have been given "participatory jurisdiction status," the Queensland Minister still reserves the right to prohibit the conduct of any game "not in the public interest." How will Joe Surfer ever know until he hears that Bang! Bang! Bang! on the front door?

What is of some concern is that the Queensland Act is being considered as the template by some other Australian States and the ACT (the Australian Capital Territory), which has tabled a bill that is almost word-for-word the Qld Act. (Late News: The law is reported to have passed the ACT Parliament.) If so, all the residents of those States (and the ACT) who participate in online gaming where there is no authorized or "participating jurisdictions" will be committing an offense if they log on to your average Caribbean cybercasino.

So much for the Australian model in it's first incarnation!

This all started out looking like a well-thought-out national approach where a common set of laws would enable a number of states to come to grips with the borderless nature of the Internet, and where a broad and common set of laws would allow the cybergambling industry to comply with a high standard of supervision within the economic reality of the cybergambling industry (which I will say again is not that big and does not look like being so for the immediate future).

The discretion given to the minister probably has at its heart the objective of saving mug punters from themselves and the cybercriminals running fly-by-night sites. The wording of these clauses, however, does seem to leave the poor old punter at risk of breaking the law without ever knowing how or why.

The other main point here is that even with the pro-cybergaming attitude in Australia, particularly in Queensland , there is still a lot of heat for the new boys on the block when it comes to being "approved" in jurisdictions where cybergambling is allowed.

They say, "The devil is in the detail," and it’s been proven to be true with this Queensland legislation!

For information on the Queensland approach and to get an idea of what they’re thinking, go to http://users.eis.net.au/~qogr.

Queensland Consumer Protection Can Put Consumers in Jail? is republished from iGamingNews.com.
Glenn Barry
Glenn Barry