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Report recommends liberalising Australian online betting

Online poker tournaments and live sports betting online could be legalised across Australia under new proposals before the federal government to liberalise the online gambling sector.

But an interim report on the issue has proposed a ban on so-called micro-betting - where people can punt on events such as individual balls in a cricket over.

A departmental report into the review of the interactive gambling act, labelled out-of-date by many, was issued yesterday and recommends liberalising the industry along with a set of harm minimisation standards. The review is welcomed by betting agencies including Tabcorp, Betfair and Sportsbet.com.au and major sports, cautiously welcomed by experts but dismissed by gambling critics. Sports, betting agencies and Communications Minister Stephen Conroy point out Australian punters already send $1 billion offshore via illegal sites, so regulating the domestic industry would protect local punters.

Harm minimisation standards could include self-exclusion from websites, pre-commitment, dynamic warnings and easily accessible data on how much a punter is spending.

Once this standard is finalised a trial of online poker is recommended, with sites already offering the games to be given a license on the condition they do not offer other casino style online games, which will remain illegal. In-play betting, that is punting on game while it is in progress, is currently legal via phone or in person and the report recommends extending this to the internet, something pushed by sports and agencies, arguing it will protect the integrity of sports. Online micro-bets will be banned, with states encouraged to ban them at physical outlets. Micro-bets are bets on frequently occurring events within a game, such as a tennis serve or a cricket ball in an over, and the time between placing a bet and knowing the outcome is very short.

The minister responsible for the new laws would have power to rule whether a bet is a micro-bet.

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Senator Conroy stressed it was interim report only and the government had made no decisions. Two years ago the government said it did not support the liberalisation of online gaming, including online poker, as recommended by the Productivity Commission. Popular apps and social media games that offer virtual gambling experiences - but offer no cash payout despite payment required to play - will continue, with developers asked to closely monitor user policies and ensure they reflect laws and community expectations.

Monash University's Charles Livingstone said this was a great opportunity to implement meaningful reform and introduce really effective harm minimisation. ''But it looks to me like they are trying to push it without first bedding down what good harm minimisation would actually look like,'' he said.

Independent senator Nick Xenophon said it was a ''thinly disguised sell-out to expose more Australians to online gambling''.

He said the underlying reasoning - that new forms of online gambling should be legalised because Australians are using illegal overseas sites - was ''deeply flawed''.