Gambling Laws – Differences between Australia vs. the Rest of the World

Now here’s a broad topic if ever there was one – the difference in gambling laws between Australia and the rest of the world. For starters, with 195 countries (or 193 depending on how you count), there are a lot of comparisons to make. If that wasn’t complicated enough there are different gambling laws in each country for online gambling, offline gambling, casino gambling, sports betting, lotteries, bingo, and more. In other words, a doctoral thesis might suffice to cover the full scope of the comparison. But since this is a popular question our readers have been asking, we’ll try to give you a basic understanding in far fewer words.

Offline gambling laws in Australia

The comparison of gambling laws needs to begin somewhere. So let’s begin here in Australia with an exploration of what’s officially allowed, and what’s not.

On one foot, gambling is allowed in Australia in pretty much all of its forms. This includes sports betting, horse betting, lotteries, and casinos of course. In fact, gambling you might say is a national pastime with some 80% of local adults engaging in gambling of one sort or another. Of all the types of gambling, pokies are by far the most popular making up around 62% of our annual spend. As for the casinos themselves, since gambling is legal and so well-loved, there are also many casinos to serve our tastes.  Many of them are found in resorts and hotels, though many are standalone joints as well, where you can find all the traditional casino games from blackjack to roulette wheels, craps tables, and pokies machines. In other words, land-based casinos are a booming business here in Australia. So who regulates all this?

While the Commonwealth takes an active role in gambling legislation, the industry’s also regulated by the various authorities on a State and Territorial level. So, for example, you have the New South Wales Office of Liquor, Gaming, and Racing regulating in New South Wales, the Independent Gambling Authority in South Australia, and the Tasmanian Gaming Commission in Tasmania to name but a few. Each authority has its own acts mandating specific areas of gambling such as lotteries, horse racing, pool betting and online gambling, which in the legislative language is usually referred to along the lines of interactive gambling.

As for laws regarding gambling taxation, if you win big, fear not, you will not be taxed on any level. Instead, taxes are collected on the state and territorial level from the gambling establishments themselves. In addition, each casino or gambling establishment needs a license, for which it pays fees.

Online gambling laws in Australia

In terms of online casinos, the legality here is a bit trickier. Technically, the Interactive Gambling Act of 2001, passed by the Australian Commonwealth, targets gambling operators as opposed to the players. Basically, it states that it is illegal for online gambling service providers to operate here in Australia, or more specifically to advertise real money online gambling, including both online pokers as well as casinos. This leads to the widely held interpretation that online gambling is indeed legal here, and the onus is on the operator. Or put another way, playing at an online casino is certainly not an offense in Australia. So much so that in 2010 alone, Australians are estimated to have spent a whopping $800 million gambling online. Based on the law, it’s assumed that these were online gambling sites hosted in places where online gambling operators are welcome like Malta and Gibraltar.

Gambling laws in the United States

Since the Mecca of casinos – Las Vegas – is found in the US this is perhaps the most interesting and relevant place with which to compare. So how do gambling laws in Australia differ from the US?

With 52 states across America, as you’d imagine, there is a lot of differentiation in terms of the legality of gambling there. Overall, gambling is technically legal according to federal law, with significant limitations in terms of interstate gambling and online gambling. Beyond that, each state is free to prohibit or regulate gambling within its own borders. For example, Louisiana and Nevada are the only states in which casino gambling is legal across the state. On the flip side, the states of Utah and Hawaii are the only states in which casinos are outlawed in their entirety. In many other states, there are specific areas where casinos are allowed, like Atlantic City in New Jersey. Often, casinos can be found in lands held by Native populations, i.e. Indian reserves, thanks to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act that came into effect in 1988. And in other states, casinos are found on what are called riverboats, which are basically multi-story barges, sometimes rolling down the river, but more often than not, moored to the shore.

So how big is gambling in the United States? Let’s just say that according to the American Gaming Association it’s a $240 billion industry that employs over 1.7 million people. And in 2016 alone, taxes collected from gaming contributed $8.85 billion to local and state tax revenues. All that legal gambling, in other words, is big business in the US.

As for online gambling, that’s once again a bit of a complicated matter. In the US, like in many other countries, the gambling laws are still evolving, as the government is slow in wrapping its head around ways to handle it and implement policies accordingly. For example, while the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 (UIGEA) outlawed financial transactions by online gambling operators, it did not outlaw online gambling per se. This is a technicality some service providers have been able to circumvent, hence there are some online gambling sites still available to citizens of the United States, operating in a rather grey area.

Bottom line, as people’s lives are lived out more and more on the internet, there is an ongoing debate to open up online gambling in the US as well, with some states taking measures to legalize it. Hence if you’re living in or visiting the United States, it’s worth looking up your local laws to find out if online gambling is legal (or not) in the jurisdiction in which you are residing.

Gambling laws in Europe

To lump all the European countries together would be a massive generalization. So we’ll break them down a bit.

For example, let’s look at a place like Monaco, which contrary to popular belief, actually has some surprises. While Monaco is famous for Monte Carlo and its posh casinos and luxurious casino life, the state’s citizens are not able to so much as set foot inside a casino (that is unless they work there), let alone gamble. Since about 80% of the local population aren’t actually citizens, rather foreign nationals living there, this isn’t as astonishing an issue as it may seem – though it’s certainly an interesting twist and a reflection of what the government actually thinks of gambling as a pastime.

How about the United Kingdom you ask? Legalized betting seems like a good bet there you’d think, and you’d be right. The British have long embraced gambling in its many forms – from bingo to sports betting, lotteries and more – as part of an overall lifestyle, that’s well regulated and accessible to most, with laws in place to make it safe and fun for all people over 18. In addition, in recent years, the UK has made a move to legalize online gambling as well. As such, the UK Gambling Commission now offers licenses to operators who meet the strictest criteria and enforce good gambling practices accordingly. This has been a well-received move by the British people who can now enjoy online gambling in a safer manner, knowing that all actions and transactions are being regulated.

Next, let’s look at Germany and the gambling laws there. Once again, the laws are a bit complicated. In fact, some have gone so far as to call it a “legal but not yet legal status”. Wow, that’s quite a mouthful, but more or less true. Casinos and gambling certainly do exist here, but there was a brief lapse between 2008 through 2012 where the feds declared it illegal, except for in the specific state of Schleswig-Holstein. Since then, things have loosened up a little, and the government has been giving licensing to online gambling establishments, much in the same regulated manner as done in the UK.

Overall, the trend towards the regulation of online casinos can be found in much of Europe including places like France and Italy as well. This could be an indication of the growing popularity of online gambling, or just as much, a reflection of what’s seen as the European Union’s (EU) pro-gambling stance. That is, the move to regulate online gambling so that it doesn’t become a source of disorder and crime, to stop underage gambling, and to keep the gambling environment safe.

Gambling laws in Asia

Much like Europe, this is too broad a field to generalize, so let’s take a look at a few specific places. For example, Macau is one of the hottest casino destinations in the world and home to many a high roller. Stylish and seductive, it’s been carving its place as the gambling capital of the world since gambling in Macau was legalized by the ruling Portuguese way back in 1850 (i.e. long before Las Vegas was even a dream).

So while land-based gambling is definitely allowed in Macau, you’d think online gambling was as well. But you wouldn’t be entirely right. Currently, the local government does not issue online gaming licenses. More precisely, there is no actual regulation regarding online gambling. This omission in Macau, due to the local culture, is interpreted as a ban, or at least not permitted. Overseas operators, however, don’t see things in quite the same way, and instead regard a lack of regulation as a form of permission, hence offer their services to the citizens of Macau.

Next, let’s have a look at Hong Kong. Unlike Macau, Hong Kong is not a gambling destination per se, though you can find casinos there – mostly on the cruise boats docked on its shores. Other forms of gambling are more prevalent, due to the government restrictions that have relegated them to several regulated outlets. For example, the Hong Kong Jockey Club has a monopoly on football, horse races, and lotteries that was granted to it by the government.

As for Mainland China, gambling is mostly frowned upon there, though lotteries are legal since the government somehow doesn’t see them as gambling. Also, while there aren’t legal casinos on the Mainland, Chinese citizens can gamble in nearby Hong Kong and Macau. And there is a lot of illegal gambling happening in China as well. So much so that China, even with its ban on online poker and casinos, has what many consider the highest rate of problem gambling in the world.

What about Canada?

Canada is part of the Commonwealth after all, so what about the gambling laws and legality there? Well, basically the answer is yes. That is gambling in its many forms is essentially permitted across the 10 provinces and three territories of Canada including casinos (like the amazing ones you find in places like Niagara Falls), as well as lotteries and racetracks. However, in order to operate, the establishment needs to follow the particular laws that have been laid out according to the local province or territory. In other words, the setup is fairly similar to what we have here in Australia, which makes sense since we’re so similar in so many other accords.

As for the legality of online gambling in Canada, once again some would say this is a grey area. That is, placing wagers or playing online is technically not forbidden by federal laws so long as the online casino servers (i.e. operations) are located outside of Canada, and not in the US. That being said, numerous offshore gaming servers are located in Kahnawake, just outside of the metropolis of Montreal, Quebec, Canada. The loophole here is that Kahnawake is a First Nations reserve where the gambling laws, and the region’s legal status, are a bit different.

Conclusion

As you can see, the exact gambling laws for each country have significant differences between them. Even when gambling is legal, it may have specific restrictions per jurisdiction or activity. Some countries allow for land-based casinos to be built, while others ban them. Some have regulated online poker, but freely permit lotteries. There are so many factors at play that it’s impossible to make a generalization about the differences in gambling laws between Australia vs. the rest of the world.

That being said, as a whole, we can safely say that here in Australia we have some of the most lenient laws towards gambling across the globe. With a plethora of land-based casinos, easy access to all sorts of gambling games, and legal play at online casinos, we are pretty much free to wager as we please. And that, at the end of the day, is what matters to us most.