A LAW designed to protect Australia's problem gamblers is failing and may actually be increasing the risk of harm, a review has found.
The Federal Government's final report into the review of the Interactive Gambling Act 2001, released on Tuesday, contained 32 recommendations around issues of harm minimisation, consumer protection, deterrence and enforcement of the act, online gaming and gambling, education and advertising.
Since the release of an interim report in May last year it had become clear the act was making only a "very minor contribution" to its objective of reducing harm to problem gamblers and to those at risk of falling into this category.
"The IGA may, in fact, be exacerbating the risk of harm because of the high level of usage by Australians of prohibited services which may not have the same protections that Australian licensed online gambling providers could be required to have," the 180-page report read.
Submissions to the IGA review from academics indicated Australians were losing $1 billion annually on illegal gambling websites.
The review found there could be as many as 2200 such providers offering services in Australia.
It also found the number of Australian punters accessing these services was "significant and growing".
Accordingly, the report recommends these providers become licensed in Australia on the condition they offer lower risk forms of online gambling, like tournament poker, and agree to comply with harm minimisation measures.
It also calls for the providers to be offered "incentives" to become licensed in Australia.
To implement this strategy the report calls for the adoption of a national standard for harm minimisation, which the states and territories would be required to enshrine in law.
Online gambling providers in contravention of the IGA would be the subject of "targeted law enforcement" under the proposed changes.
This would include co-operation with international law enforcement and regulatory bodies, the report reads.
But anti-gambling campaigners Nick Xenophon and Andrew Wilkie described the final report as a "cop-out" and predicted the proposed changes could create a "new wave of gambling problems in Australia".
Senator Xenophon said that the Federal Government could tighten up on access to overseas sites immediately.
"If the current legislation was actually strengthened and enforced, the Federal Government would not need to be expanding online gambling and its associated harms," Senator Xenophon said.
The independent MPs were also particularly critical of the report's recommendation for the states to pass harm minimisation laws.
Senator Xenophon said this was a "recipe for delay and inaction."
Both MPs cited the recent passing of federal poker machine laws as a precedent for federal intervention on the issue of gambling.
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