Overhaul of Gambling Regulations in Northern Territory: The National Implications

Mar 19, 2024

The Northern Territory government recently announced an upcoming overhaul of gambling laws that is expected to have profound national repercussions. This article will explore the reasons behind these reforms, the proposed changes, and the reactions from various stakeholders, particularly in Darwin, the capital of NT.

Why is NT a Favourite for Betting Companies?

NT has emerged as a preferred base for Wagering Service Providers (WSPs) due to its lenient tax and fee structure. A federal review conducted last year determined that the NT’s approach to regulating these companies is perceived as a “light touch”.

Roughly 32 sports bookmakers and two betting exchanges, responsible for generating approximately $50 billion annually, are regulated by the NT Racing Commission. The territory’s economy, valued at just $32 billion, offers these companies greater liberties than other jurisdictions.

One of these liberties is that betting companies are allowed to provide incentives such as vouchers and credit to attract customers.

The Proposed Reforms

The Racing and Wagering Bill 2024 will transform the NT Racing Commission into the Racing and Wagering Commission. The responsibilities of hearing complaints about the conduct of gambling companies from Australian customers, currently managed by the racing commission, will also transition to the new commission.

“The social cost of gambling to the Territory is estimated to be more than $190 million each year.”

The bill is set for debate in the NT parliament this week, and it’s highly likely to pass considering the government’s majority. The NT’s Labor government believes that these reforms will update “very out-of-date” laws.

The bill stipulates that WSPs must establish a physical presence, like an office, in the territory if they wish to be regulated by the NT. It also introduces potential offences for WSPs, including hefty fines of up to $440,000 for non-compliance with specific licence conditions.

Decisions made by the commission or its director can be appealed in the NT Civil and Administrative Tribunal. The bill also introduces a new Racing and Wagering Fund levy on bookmaker profits, although the NT government has not yet finalised the rate for this new tax.

Federal Level Developments

A federal review led by the late MP Peta Murphy suggested that the regulation of all gambling across Australia should be centralised under the commonwealth, instead of being managed by individual states and territories.

The review also recommended banning inducements, phasing out online gambling advertising, and limiting the use of credit cards for online gambling. The report, published in June 2023, suggested that the NT’s regulatory process had been “captured” by the industry and was “light-touch” in its handling of WSPs.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese stated that he was “examining” the review and highlighted some of the steps already taken, such as more stringent advertising rules and restrictions on the use of credit cards for online gambling. He added, “There’s more to do and we will be doing more.”

Stakeholder Reactions

Responsible Wagering Australia, the peak body for the online wagering industry, expressed its support for strong sanctions on providers who violate the rules.

However, the Alliance for Gambling Reform CEO, Carol Bennett, criticised the NT government for diluting its proposed reforms during the consultation process. She stated that 28 gambling companies and only one harm-minimisation organisation were consulted over the draft laws, leading to the penalties being weakened based on their feedback.

She called for the federal government to urgently step in and assume responsibility for regulating the industry.

The impending overhaul of NT’s gambling laws is a significant development that could reshape the Australian gambling industry. As we wait to see the outcomes of the proposed reforms, the nation watches and waits. The stakes are high, and the roll of the dice could change the game for many.

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