Aussie gamblers risking their cash online during crisis
THE closure of casinos and pubs because of coronavirus has seen a 300 per cent jump in Aussie gamblers trying their luck online in dodgy offshore casinos.
But gamblers who use the illegal sites have been warned they risk losing not only their winnings when the overseas casinos shut down but also having their bank accounts emptied.
Data shows traffic to the offshore casinos, many based out of the Caribbean island of Curacao, Malta and Cyprus, has soared - and could be costing State governments up to $400 million in lost taxes.
NSW Office of Responsible Gambling director Natalie Wright said: "Overseas gambling websites are illegal in Australia, and people who use them face additional risks than when they gamble with a licensed Australian operator.
"Some of these sites look legitimate, and they even look like they are Australian by using images such as the Australian flag and native animals."
She said punters risk being unable to access winnings when operators shut down or move and from operators withdrawing additional funds from bank accounts without approval.
The Alliance for Gambling Reform said Australians had saved $1.5 billion since casinos, pubs and clubs were closed down on March 23. However Google Trends has seen searches for "online casinos Australia" and "online poker" quadruple in the same time.
The Star CEO Matt Bekier said: "There was anecdotal evidence of growth in overseas online casino activity and we sought material confirmation."
He said a data snapshot taken from more than a dozen sites showed traffic to some offshore casinos had jumped by up to 300 per cent. "The reality is these sites are illegal in Australia, yet they're easily accessible.
"They're unregulated and there is no shortage of stories about people who bet and win only to find they can't withdraw the money.
"They also create no jobs for Australians, accept credit card deposits and pay no taxes.
"No land-based casinos in this country have ever operated in such an unfettered manner," he said.
In late 2019, the Australian Communications and Media Authority launched an initiative to investigate and block suspect sites.
While some sites have been closed down, the project has been largely ineffective as technology makes it easy for operators to quickly open new alternatives to address the demand.
Other countries such as Sweden have chosen to licence sites in a bid to control and tax them.
Originally published as Aussie gamblers risking their cash online during COVID crisis