Interview with Melinda James, ABC Illawarra

MELINDA JAMES, HOST: Some of the big news coming out this morning is that the Federal Government plans to ban the use of credit cards for online gambling. What sort of technology would this involve? How would it work? And would it protect vulnerable people from the harms of gambling? I'm joined now by the Federal Communications Minister, Michelle Rowland. Minister, good morning.


JAMES: How would this work? Firstly, what's being proposed here exactly? This is just for online gambling, is that right?

ROWLAND: That is correct. This is about banning the use of credit cards for online wagering and in fact it will bring the online wagering world into line with land-based gambling. The proposal here is as simple as this: people should not bet with money they don't have – and that includes in the online environment. That's why today we're announcing that we will legislate to ban the use of credit cards for online gambling in Australia.

JAMES: Is this relatively easy to do technologically or is it complicated?

ROWLAND: Payment systems are complicated, but it is certainly not beyond the remit of the industry – both in terms of banking and wagering – to be able to get this done. We will be consulting shortly with stakeholders on the draft legislation and the technical implementation of the ban. And what we are able to do is utilise what's called a ‘Bank Identification Number’ or a BIN, and that can be used to identify and block credit card payments. I should stress that this is about blocking payments by credit cards, not by debit cards. Again, coming back to the principle that people should not bet with money they don't have. And we know that blocking these BINs has been successfully used in casinos and poker machine venues to stop credit card withdrawals from ATMs. It's also been used in other jurisdictions to similarly implement credit card bans for online gambling.

JAMES: But do you need the cooperation of the, I don't even know what to call them, gambling providers? Whatever sort of particular service or websites offering the opportunity to gamble online. Do you need their cooperation to implement a ban like this?

ROWLAND: This is why it's important to consult, because payment systems, as I said, have many elements and that includes the wagering sector. But we do know that banks are capable of implementing these solutions. And I think that's the most important point: we want all of the industry here to be properly consulted so that this works. We also are going to give additional powers to the regulator –the ACMA – to be able to conduct this work and ensure that it is capable of not only implementation, but also enforcement. I think there is an important role here for consultation, to ensure that we legislate for a ban that it is capable of actually being implemented and being effective.

JAMES: Yeah, interestingly, this texter says "Hi Mel, Citibank already banned using credit cards for gambling. Easily done. It's a simple transaction type that can be coded as not allowed. It bans the merchant type" says this texter. So, it sounds like with the help of financial institutions, it might not be too difficult. I'm wondering if you have much information about how much online gambling occurs via credit, as opposed to money people actually have. I mean, how much would this protect people? Is it a large part of the market?

ROWLAND: Our understanding is that there's between some 15 to 20 per cent utilisation of credit card for online gambling, so that's around one in five. And whilst the number might not seem large, we do know that these are the types of consumers who are most at-risk. These are the types of consumers who are more likely to be utilising money that they don't have, and hence we consider this to be an important element of harm minimisation.

JAMES: So, you said you were about to embark on a pretty widespread consultation with industry groups, stakeholders, financial institutions, et cetera. When would you look to introduce some sort of legislation or when would this come into effect?

ROWLAND: We are confident of being able to introduce legislation later this year, and that will be to amend the Interactive Gambling Act to give effect to the ban. I should point out that these issues were widely canvassed in a 2021 report to the Parliament which examined the financial services implications. That has already been widely consulted on in terms of the need and its capacity to be implemented. We are taking this one step forward and announcing today that we will implement this ban. Of course, we want to get it right and we do need to consult on the legislation, but we do not believe it will take an undue amount of time. And it is our intention to introduce legislation before the end of the year and I look forward to the fulsome support of the whole Parliament for this change.

JAMES: I appreciate your time this morning. Thank you very much for joining us.

ROWLAND: Pleasure.