The legislation, titled Making Gambling Businesses Accountable, is authored by Federal Independent MP Andrew Wilkie. If passed, it will amend Australia’s Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorism Financing Act.
Under the bill, if a gambler is found to be gambling with money they have obtained illegally, the Federal Court could order the gambling operator to compensate the victim of the original crime. The bill uses the same definition of “stolen property” as Australia’s Criminal Code.
Explaining the purpose of his bill, Mr. Wilkie said that people suffering from gambling addiction are often punished for stealing money to fuel their addiction. However, betting companies have never been found accountable for taking stolen money from their customers in the same way a pawnbroker is punished if they sell stolen goods.
Mr. Wilkie said that Australia-licensed gambling operators should no longer be allowed to profit from the proceeds of crime and that MPs should implement a legal mechanism that “ensures stolen money is returned to victims by gambling companies” if these are “ordered to do so by a court of law.”
Companies Will Be Obligated to Report to AUSTRAC
Under the newly introduced bill, gambling companies would be required to report to AUSTRAC, a government financial intelligence agency tasked with monitoring financial transactions and identifying suspicious ones, if they suspect a player is gambling with stolen money.
According to research published in the Journal of Gambling Studies, three out of five gambling addicts admitted to obtaining money illegally to fuel their habit at least once.
Mr. Wilkie said that he believes the largest portion of the crossbench supports his bill. He is yet to discuss the measure with the Coalition and Labor. The legislation was tabled into the Parliament on Monday, October 26.
Lauren Levin, Director of Policy and Campaigns at Financial Counselling Australia, said that the piece was extremely important and would bring Australia on par with other countries that already have laws to penalize gambling operators for accepting stolen money from their gamblers, including the UK.
She noted that gambling operators should no longer be allowed to “turn a blind eye to accepting criminally funded gambling” while victims keep being the ones that “really have no rights and suffer a lot of harm.”
She also applauded the fact that Mr. Wilkie’s bill, if passed, would be part of Australia’s anti-money laundering framework as this would send a strong message to gambling operators that can no longer ignore the issue.
However, she noted that the recently introduced legislation does not include cases where gamblers steal money from family members by using their credit cards to wager online. In most such cases the victims choose not to report the crime because they are also victims of domestic violence and are scared, or because they do not want to see their loved ones in court.
Ms. Levin further pointed out that rules should be put in place that require gambling operators to ensure the name on the credit card used for gambling matches that of the account holder. In addition, banks should be required to notify their customers if their card is used with a gambling website for the first time.
The business response
There are several practical issues with the plan for making venues pay back stolen money. Simple questions that spring to mind include:
How do we know the money is stolen in the first place?
How can we tell the difference between stolen cash and legitimate cash?
Do we get a list of known crooks from the police to help work it out?
A stolen credit card would be obvious, but we don’t allow credit gambling in Australia (only online sportsbetting).
When we clear out the stacker in the morning which $50 note was the stolen one?
Do any of these people who come up with these dumb ideas have even the vaguest clue how any business operates?