Gambling has become a hot topic in Canberra this week, culminating with the Department of Social Services announcing last night a raft of new measures combating illegal offshore betting.
With gambling increasingly tied to video games the question remained as to how the industry, particularly the growing segment of esports, would be affected. And the federal Greens candidate for La Trobe, Tom Cummings, has suggested that the existing laws need to be addressed.
According to Cummings (pictured left with Greens leader, Senator Di Natale), the current federal legislation — the Interactive Gambling Act (2001) — does not recognise video games like Dota 2, League of Legends or other popular titles as "sport". As a result, they currently fall outside legislative boundaries, but that's something that the Greens candidate believes should change.
"Gambling with virtual items is a grey area in Australian regulation and this would need to be carefully considered, especially with the existing precedent of in-app purchases in mobile games, many of which are gambling games," Cummings told Kotaku Australia.
The former IT professional and former problem gambler is no stranger to the growth of video games, nor esports. "I'm not surprised esports are such big business, I cut my teeth on StarCraft back in the [1990's] and my eldest daughter is a dab hand at League of Legends. So it shouldn't be that surprising that gambling on esports is also growing."
Ahead of the Government's publication of the review into illegal offshore wagering yesterday, The Greens launched a policy that would ban all gambling ads in sporting contests and mainstream advertising (which includes ads on billboards, in stadiums, radio and television).
Cummings said that this policy would not cover video games and third party websites, although "there would soon be a need to address this market".
The current categories of gambling in Australia as far as the Federal Government is concerned
"Where there is significant growth in betting volume, both in terms of the number of bets placed and the value of those bets, as appears to be the case with esports, then I agree that further investigation is warranted. Too often we are left playing catch-up as technology outpaces legislation; if we know that an unregulated market is growing quickly, we should take action sooner rather than later."
Cummings also commented on recent remarks from Unikrn CEO Rahul Sood, Tabcorp's esports betting partner, where the latter suggested that children were betting on esports.
"[Sood's] experience of his 13 year old son and his friends talking about skin betting is similar to my experience of hearing schoolboys discussing football in terms of gambling odds," the Greens candidate said. He added that betting on video games and video game tournaments were not covered in federal or state-based legislation anywhere in Australia.
"Outside of licensed bookmakers, there is nothing stopping teenagers and children from accessing unregulated sites to purchase and bet virtual items on esports. The fact that this scenario exists is further evidence that the existing regulations are inadequate and have not kept pace with technological advances."
"It's evidence of the growing normalisation of gambling for our youth. Our kids are growing up thinking gambling is normal, whether on the footy or on CS:GO, and they're taking those lessons with them into adulthood."
The federal government's review into illegal offshore wagering also did not recommend any extra measures against fantasy sports, console providers or online game developers:
Recommendation 30 Popular social media services, mobile content providers, console providers and online game developers closely monitor the impact of their user policies regarding the provision of online gambling services (both licensed and unlicensed) as well as gambling-style services that are popular with children to ensure the implementation of these policies aligns with Australian laws and community expectations. In particular, these providers should closely monitor gambling-style services to ensure that they are not inappropriately targeting younger children or that they possess simulated payout ratios that differ significantly from actual gambling services as a means of misleading children about their prospects for success with real gambling services. Recommendation 32 That the treatment of fantasy sports under the IGA be the subject of further consultation with the Coalition of Major Professional and Participation Sports (COMPPS), state and territory governments, and the promoters of fantasy sports competitions.
The report did, however, recommend the closure of legal loopholes allowing in-play betting (betting after an event has begun) through mobile services. In-play betting is currently only permitted online for racing events, if the punter is at an event in person, or speaking to an operator over the phone, but new apps have circumvented this through the use of voice-activation services.
An earlier department review recommended the legalisation of in-play betting, although the committee recommended that any changes to how in-play betting is legislated be deferred.
The Australian Wagering Council were also contacted for comment but did not reply by the time of publication.