4H Materials

The Australian gambling regulator is investigating payment agents acting on behalf of Curacao operators for the sake of accepting players’ payments

The latest news underlines that the Australian Communications and Media Authority ('ACMA') is keeping a close eye on the gambling market in Australia.

ACMA faces a significant challenge with online operators catering to Australians, many under Curacao Gambling licenses. ACMA works to curb illegal services and engages with Curacao on regulatory matters. Despite warnings, this effort responds to complaints of around 90 online casinos targeting Australians. The focus on Curacao-licensed operators underscores ACMA's push for stricter regulation and accountability in online gambling, as seen in recent inspections during events like the 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup (based on the report published on 18 April 2024).

One of the reasons for the changes in the regulation of Curacao's gambling license was that the ACMA has repeatedly asked the Curacao Gaming Control Board to prohibit these websites from targeting Australians and change rules in line with international standards. Regulation of gambling licences in Curacao already has real changes. By 30 April 2024, all sub-licensees must submit the required documents and applications to the Curacao Gaming Control Board portal to continue to be able to operate under a Curacao license. Also, the entire gambling industry is awaiting the adoption of LOK.

However, the regulator previously inspected operators in the context of local regulatory compliance. However, the latest news underlines that payment agents acting on behalf of Curacao operators to accept players’ payments («payment agents») may now be subject to inspections.

ACMA is investigating an Australian payment agents that Cypriot companies control. This company specialises in financial technology solutions. The national regulator started its investigation in February 2024. ACMA suspects the Melbourne-based company of connections with illegal online gambling services. The national regulator is demanding evidence relating to the operation of 17 illegal gambling services owned by its partner. The investigation strengthens ACMA's oversight of offshore online gambling, with potential legal penalties for the Melbourne company's debtors.

ACMA documents describe significant harm to Australians caused by offshore operators. ACMA's requests to the Melbourne-based company include data on financial transactions, officers and service contracts dating back to 2019.

It is important to note that such payment agent audits are exceptions to the general rule. Payment agents provide their services to gambling operators but do not provide gambling services to users/players. Their activities are subject to financial licensing conditions and are regulated by other authorities. Payment agents do not obtain a gaming license but have to comply with gambling legislation. On the one hand, providing prohibited interactive gambling services to customers in Australia that allow betting in gambling verticals is a breach of the Gambling Act, handling of payments from unlicensed operators may fall under the money laundering restrictions. Such decisions by the Australian regulator have raised doubts about the legality of such an investigation. However, the Australian regulator's first steps may also become a general trend for regulators from other countries.

From our point of view, payment agents provide services to gambling operators but are partly subject to the restrictions of the gambling laws. If the ACMA suspects that Melbourne-based company is working with offshore regulators, it probably should have approached the financial regulator (Australian Securities and Investments Commission). Australian Securities and Investments Commission is supposed to be the one to regulate payment agents. Such a decision could set a precedent for the sanctions of all gambling laws to payment agents on the one hand and the possibility of sanctions by the gambling (not financial) regulator on the other hand. Following this investigation, payment agents working in Australia will focus on internal audits to avoid further investigations. For other countries, the Australian regulator's investigation may open new opportunities for additional audits of payment agents.