Bid to legalise online casinos to fight suicide


WAR veterans and indigenous leaders are rolling the dice for the rights to legalise and own the nation's illicit $4 billion online casino gambling sector. 

Similar to the lucrative Native American Indian casino industry, indigenous Australians and returned servicemen believe money generated from online gaming could help prevent high suicide rates and alleviate poverty.

But experts warn young people, pensioners and remote indigenous communities are the highest-risk groups hooked on online gaming.

Five RSL (Returned and Services League) clubs in Queensland and the Aboriginal Development Benefit Trust in the state's far north, in a confidential briefing paper exclusively obtained by The Sunday Mail, are behind the bid.

Aboriginal Development Benefit Trust chairman Fred Pascoe.
Aboriginal Development Benefit Trust chairman Fred Pascoe.

Online casino gambling is banned in Australia, after changes to the Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill were made in 2017, which has led to illegal offshore websites targeting Aussie punters.

The document shows they have hired politically connected consultancy SAS Group to lobby on their behalf, including National Party president Larry Anthony and Ex-Labor Federal MP Bernie Ripoll.

Maverick MP Bob Katter and LNP senator James McGrath have both been briefed on the pitch.

Mr Katter said the pitch was a "bloody terrific" idea.

"I'm really really strongly backing this ... I don't see it as harmful, it can be for some people but I don't believe the argument exists," he said.

"The American Indian's have profited hugely and our people haven't profited anything".

Mr Katter said he has been attending meetings and would be working closely with the lobby team throughout the year to "make sure it gets through".

ADBT chairman Fred Pascoe said online casino gambling had been outlawed in Australia since the advent of the internet 25 years ago.

"When you mention gambling a lot of people run for the hills,'' Mr Pascoe, a traditional owner and former Gulf of Carpentaria mayor, said. "We want to do what Native American Indians are doing in casinos.

"Why not? It's a no-brainer.''

Latest figures show the global online gambling market is expected to hit $1 trillion by next year, growing at a rate of 18.8 per cent a year.

Every day an estimated 2233 offshore gambling websites target Australian punters who last year wagered about $4 billion in online casino games such as blackjack, baccarat and roulette.

"We could get rid of all the shonky operators overseas who are robbing our country, not paying taxes in an unregulated system,'' ADBT director Murrandoo Yanner said.

"And we could use that money to lift our indigenous people out of fifth-world conditions and look after the soldiers who come home from war, only to end up with PTSD and one of the highest rates of suicide after aboriginal people."

Greenbank RSL boss Tim Wright said the tribal Indian casinos in the US showed how social enterprise could work in the charity and not-for-profit sector. Up to $2 billion in potential taxes was not being captured in Australia, he said.

Gambling critics warn the danger of online betting was problem gamblers could hide their habit from family and friends and there was less control because of the use of digital money and access to credit.

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