Australia Seeks Stricter Online Gambling Age Controls

New measures to implement automatic age-verification into gambling websites across Australia has become a priority for the government. The mounting pressure comes in light of the February 2020 report coined, “Protecting the Age of Innocence”, which outlined the potentially damaging effects of exposing people to gambling at a young age. Australian authorities are currently deliberating a number of technological solutions where obligatory age verification can be implemented across the online gambling industry.

he Australian parliament building in Canberra.

The Australian government will be deliberating over new proposals to change the age-verification process of online gambling sites. The increased pressure comes from interest groups concerned with the detrimental impact on children. ©helen35/Pixabay

The report has been particularly scathing in its assessment of the current protections in place for young people. The recommendations ascertain that the government must implement an obligatory age-verification system across all potentially harmful sites. The scope of what is considered damaging is another topic of the debate entirely, but thus far has largely been focused upon pornographic content and gambling websites.

There is a growing consensus in Australia that children have far too much exposure to gambling – highlighted in the crackdown against gambling in video games – and accentuated by this recent report issued to the Federal Government in February 2020. The report – which relies on survey data of parents and childcare-workers – will present the findings to the Digital Transformation Agency and the eSafety Commissioner, in an attempt to use the combined resources to work out a technical solution.

By the latest assessment of search and web-traffic data, a large proportion is considered damaging to children. Legislation aimed at restricting access to this content has for a long time been touted and, proof of age is required. But the system has been criticized for its lack of rigor, being too easy to bypass and out-of-date with the modern digital age. Recent estimates suggest that children are first exposed to these sites from the ages of 8 – 10 years on average.

Current Restrictions Too Easy to Bypass

One of the primary causes of concern around this issue is the lack of quality and the effectiveness that the current restriction mechanisms have. This is why several government agencies have begun to take the matter much more seriously, and address it with the degree of urgency that it requires.

In theory, it shouldn’t be practically difficult to circumvent age restrictions on websites that are deemed harmful to children. Despite this, the massive scale of the problem, even coming up with a list of harmful websites to impose the restrictions on is a daunting task. Without this list, it is impossible to block access to the websites, as internet service providers will continue to serve the HTTP requests of their customers as they always have.

To make the situation even more difficult to manage, there are many potentially harmful websites that are hosted outside of Australia, and therefore the local authorities have no jurisdiction on how these sites are managed. It is implausible and impractical to believe that these website owners will voluntarily conduct a major overhaul of their platforms, at a great cost and inconvenience to themselves, simply to serve the interests of the Australian government.

It goes without saying that a certain level of innovation is required to combat and resolve this very damaging problem. One of the more popular suggestions being considered is credit card verification. Unfortunately, this solution is smattered with vulnerabilities, children can easily get their hands on the credit card of a parent, or in some cases fraudulently obtain their own. The same issues of identity fraud are prevalent in potential solutions being discussed around using driving licenses as an age verification measure.

A House of Representatives committee met in the Australian government last week, with the intention of applying more pressure on the e-safety commissioner to develop a roadmap of deliverables that could implement significant change in mandatory age verification in the next 12 months.

Committee chair Andrew Wallace had this to say:

A clear message in evidence to the inquiry is that an effective response to the exposure of children and young people to online pornography [and gambling] will be broader than age verification. Other technical solutions, education, and a broader focus on e-safety will all contribute to minimizing harms from online pornography [and gambling] and bringing about a safer online environment for our children.Andrew Wallace, Spokesperson, House of Representatives Committee

It is clear to the industry experts that such matters pose a lot of challenges. The logistics of forcing every visitor of off-shore gambling websites to provide photocopies of driving licenses seems in-practical to many. But given the catastrophic consequences underage gambling is causing, it may be time to pursue more extreme options.

Even if the Australian authorities are able to nail down a working technical solution to this problem, it remains unclear whether the measure would be effective. Internet users around the world are increasingly using IP masking, and Virtual Private Networks to gain access to geo-location restricted content and bypass firewalls. It will be a difficult challenge to implement, and with an ambitious 12-month roadmap already in motion, gambling industry stakeholders around the world look on with concern.

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