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Australian gaming giants await verdict as Austrac’s money-laundering probe nears conclusion

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Australia’s gaming industry giants are bracing themselves for a potential shake-up as the country’s financial crime watchdog, Austrac, nears the conclusion of its investigation into suspected breaches of money-laundering laws.

The investigation, initiated in late 2022, targets major players including Sportsbet, Ladbrokes, and Bet365, and holds significant implications for the federal government’s regulatory agenda amidst mounting pressure for stricter controls on gambling advertising.

An Austrac spokesperson disclosed that independent audits of suspected non-compliance have been received and are currently under evaluation to determine the necessity of further regulatory actions. The probe, stemming from an exhaustive supervisory campaign, underscores the gravity of the situation.

As reported by The Guardian, Dr. Jamie Ferrill, an authority on financial crimes at Charles Sturt University, stressed the profound implications, noting that money laundering poses a substantial risk within the online gambling sector. Companies, Ferrill emphasized, should brace themselves for potential regulatory repercussions and the associated costs of fortifying their anti-money-laundering and counter-terrorism financing programs.

The investigation is poised to illuminate potential weaknesses in the industry’s protocols and operational frameworks, suggesting an inevitable increase in compliance costs to combat illicit activities.

Anton Moiseienko, a money-laundering expert at the Australian National University, echoed concerns, highlighting systemic failures within the industry to meet fundamental obligations. He pointed out that basic lapses, rather than sophisticated tactics, often facilitate illicit activities, including the transformation of criminal proceeds into legitimate gains or the exploitation of stolen financial data.

Austrac’s proactive response to the escalating threat of money laundering in the gambling sector, evident in the establishment of a specialized unit, underscores the urgency of addressing these issues. The initiative reflects a recognition of the industry’s susceptibility to exploitation by criminal elements.

While the outcome of Austrac’s investigation remains uncertain, stakeholders hope it will catalyze a paradigm shift within the industry towards enhanced vigilance against money laundering. Nicole Rose, Austrac’s former chief executive, emphasized the imperative of enforcing compliance to safeguard the community from the deleterious effects of organized crime.

In response to inquiries, representatives of Sportsbet, Bet365, and Ladbrokes’ parent company, Entain, reiterated their commitment to cooperation with Austrac and underscored their adherence to anti-money-laundering laws. Past instances, such as the record $45 million fine imposed on Tabcorp in 2017, serve as a sobering reminder of the consequences of regulatory non-compliance within the industry.

As the investigation unfolds, the gaming industry braces for potential reforms, recognizing the imperative of bolstering safeguards against illicit financial activities to preserve its integrity and protect stakeholders.

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