The past year has seen several historic achievements in Irish sport. Rachael Blackmore achieved legendary status by winning both the Gold Cup and Grand National. The Irish rugby team bravely won a first test series in New Zealand. And Katie Taylor’s unbeaten record in boxing remains intact. Irish sporting fans who enjoy a bet will have undoubtedly done well from these incredible feats.
However, as the curtains draw on the year, the most significant development in our sector has been the appointment of a new gambling regulator and the publication of the Gambling Regulation Bill.
Flutter has long supported evidence-based gambling regulation in Ireland. We are a company with a deep Irish heritage through our Paddy Power roots and employ about 3,000 people between our global headquarters in Dublin and our betting shops in every county.
New effective controls should strengthen protections for those who may need it, but not impact the many thousands of recreational customers disproportionately
We fully recognise and accept that the industry has not always got things right with safer gambling, but our business has made significant strides in this area, investing more than €70 million in the past two years to better resource, support and promote safe play and create a more sustainable customer base.
Importantly, we also understand the benefits of having a well-resourced and dynamic regulator based on our extensive experience of operating in licensed markets across the world, where we have 18 million customers. Our experience suggests that a fit-for-purpose, properly enforced regulated market can accommodate the vast majority of customers who enjoy a bet safely, while protecting those for whom gambling can become harmful.
However, effective regulation comes at a cost. It requires a sophisticated approach that involves regular consultation with the industry, backed by a significant commitment in terms of resources and expertise. Implemented successfully, it would provide certainty that participants in our sector are operating to higher standards and on a level playing field. It will force those operators that don’t adhere to high standards to significantly up their game to the benefit of consumers.
However, regulation must also enable responsible operators to serve those for whom betting is an enjoyable leisure pastime. New effective controls should strengthen protections for those who may need it, but not impact the many thousands of recreational customers disproportionately.
Our industry is constantly evolving, so regulatory measures must also be dynamic and adaptable, rather than overly rigid. The introduction of the Gambling Regulatory Authority of Ireland (GRAI) has been a long time coming, but the real work for chief executive designate Anne Marie Caulfield starts now.
Investment in expertise, research and technology does not come cheap. While a larger market, the UK’s Gambling Commission has a team of 250 people, with expenditure of more than £45 million (€51.5m). Countries such as Greece, Spain and the Netherlands spend €10 million-€20 million annually regulating gambling.
It is critical that the authority’s chief executive designate has access to comparable budgets to ensure that the GRAI is optimally effective in achieving its mandate. There is no reason why it can’t be a global leader in this area. If Ireland is home to the largest listed gambling operator in the world, as well as thousands of highly-skilled people working in the industry, it should have a world-class regulator to match.
As it becomes established, the GRAI should have access to more funding each year, providing it with the ability to attract the talent required to regulate a vibrant and evolving sector that is a significant contributor to the Irish economy.
James Browne, the Minister of State with responsibility for law reform, who has been responsible for implementing gambling legislation, outlined three objectives for the GRAI to ensure gambling is conducted in a fair and open way. These include allowing companies to make decisions with certainty, requiring safeguards to address problem gambling, and preventing gambling from being a source of crime. Flutter fully supports these objectives, but to deliver them the new body needs to be well-resourced. Anything less would be a missed opportunity.
So, while there are many Irish-trained horses fancied at Cheltenham and Irish rugby fans dreaming of a World Cup in 2023, a more certain outcome is that an adequately-resourced regulator will deliver a safer and fairer gambling environment for consumers in Ireland.
Peter Jackson is chief executive of Flutter Entertainment