The Internet gaming division of the Packer family’s Publishing & Broadcasting empire is preparing to pack its bags for Vanuatu to escape the Australian Government’s ban on online gambling fulfil PBL’s ambition to broaden its earnings base.
The Packers’ corporate love affair with gambling, which began with Crown casino in the early 1990s is likely to extend to setting up a casino off the coast of Taiwan, now seems destined to embrace cyberspace through an online casino run out of the South Pacific isl State.
“The Internet gaming team has been looking at locations in Vanuatu for some time as we’ve watched the Australian Federal legislation on Internet gaming,” a senior PBL executive confirmed.
“There has been no final decision, but that is certainly the most likely destination.”
A ban on local companies offering online gaming to Australians seems inevitable, after a Senate committee report to Parliament recommended adopting the ban proposed by the Government’s Interactive Gambling Bill.
Although it already owns a Tasmanian online gaming licence – which would still allow it to offer online gambling to overseas customers under the Government’s proposed rules – Australia’s uncertain regulatory environment has prompted PBL to investigate each of the world’s 54 online gambling jurisdictions.
The Federal Government has been widely criticised for the bill, which prohibits local operators running gaming Web sites targeting Australians, but which cannot stop Australians from gambling at online casinos based overseas.
The bill will need the support of at least three Democrats to pass the Senate. In a split in the party’s ranks, two senators – John Woodley Lyn Allison – indicated in the report they would vote against the Democrats’ leader, Senator Natasha Stott Despoja, support the Government’s ban.
The fate of the Government’s proposed ban rests with those Democrats yet to indicate which way they will vote, including senators Andrew Murray, Aden Ridgeway the party’s former leader, Meg Lees.
Last week Senator Woodley was reported in The Age as saying at least one other Democrat had decided to join him Senator Allison in supporting the ban.
In their minority report on the bill, the pair said they believed that although Australians under the proposed law would be able to gain access to offshore Internet gambling sites, they would be less inclined to do so knowing there were likely to be fewer consumer safeguards in place.
Last night a spokeswoman for Senator Lees said she had not yet made up her mind.
“She [is] still canvassing all the different positions basically,” the spokeswoman said.
A spokeswoman for Senator Ridgeway said the deputy leader of the Democrats “feels it is something the party room still needs to discuss”.