PokerStars Readies Australian Exit

PokerStars has confirmed that it will leave the Australian market in the face of new gambling laws in the country. The company said it will close down operations in mid-September, but did not name an exact date. New laws in Australia do not make online poker legal in the country or provide a way for poker operators to be licensed. The country’s Senate passed the new gambling bill earlier this month.

PokerStars says it will finally exit the Australian market by mid-September in the face of new gaming regulations in the country that did not legalize online poker.

The new gambling laws—called the Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill and passed by the country’s Senate earlier this month—essentially ban online poker as well as in-play sports betting. Legislators say the new laws essentially closes a “grey” market in the country for both types of betting.

While the law allows online sportsbooks to be licensed, by not recognizing online poker and casino games as legal, it essentially bans both types of online play as those operators cannot secure licenses. Unlicensed sites accepting Australian players would face steep fines.

The law also includes a number of consumer protections such as regulations against operators offering lines of credit to gamblers.

PokerStars has said repeatedly that it would probably leave the market if the rules went into effect. The company, part of the now-called Stars Group, did not name an exit date, but said in an e-mail to Australian players it would likely leave the market by the middle of September as the new rules go into effect.

“We’ve been aware of this day coming. We’re proud to have seen the Australian poker community grow so strong over the last decade,” the email said.

The Australian Online Poker Alliance has been fighting the new laws, saying that by not licensing reputable online poker and casino games operators, Australian players will move to less secure unlicensed offshore sites.

“The overwhelming majority of online poker websites used by Australians are run by legitimate companies that are licensed elsewhere in the world,” the alliance said in a press statement. “There are no poker operators licensed domestically in Australia and current legislation does not provide any way for these overseas operators to be licensed and provide secure services to Australian players. The risk therefore is that these major players will withdraw leaving smaller offshore, unlicensed operators, creating an “unsafe poker environment.”

In another matter, PokerStars has announced it is releasing a new social gaming app designed to help it retain a brand presence in regulated international markets such as Australia.

The app, titled Play, is scheduled to be released in Australia and the U.S. PokerStars does have an online presence in New Jersey, but nowhere else in the U.S. The company says the app will eventually be rolled out worldwide.

Players will be able to enjoy a range of free-play poker games, including Hold ‘em and Omaha ring games as well as Spin & Go tournaments. Additionally, players will also be able to access a range of slots, similar to those currently found inside PokerStars’ real money platform, the company said in a press release.