Few would have bet back then that the business today would hold licences in 24 countries around the world and own the number one sports betting brand in the US in Fan Duel.
Flutter is incredibly proud of our Irish heritage and will retain its corporate HQ in Dublin as we continue to grow on the other side of the Atlantic, as well as other exciting markets.
We have been calling for regulation in Ireland for more than a decade and believe 99 per cent of the proposed legislation is spot on
It’s this global scale and extensive work with over 40 different regulators that gives us a unique insight when it comes to matters closer to home — such as the proposed Gambling Regulation Bill.
As I have told Minister of State at the Department of Justice James Browne, we are firm supporters of the Bill. We have been calling for regulation in Ireland for more than a decade and believe 99 per cent of the proposed legislation is spot on.
But we have serious concerns about the unintended consequences of certain areas.
I’ve talked before about the fairly catastrophic outcome for horse racing in Ireland from the proposed ban on TV advertising. For instance, the Bill outlines that “a person shall not knowingly advertise, or cause another person to advertise, a relevant gambling activity”.
To the letter of the law, this would mean popular race meetings such as the recent meeting at Cheltenham disappearing from Irish TV screens as broadcasters worry they may inadvertently show a gambling advert.
But there’s a deeper concern that the Bill in its current form will fail to deliver the very outcomes it sets out to achieve when it comes to tackling gambling disorder.
Take the proposed National Self-Exclusion Register. Under the Bill as drafted, a person will have the choice of self-excluding from “one or more” brands.
Our experience in other regulated markets shows that a much better idea is for those who want to self-exclude to sign up to a central database where they are then excluded from all licensed operators at the same time.
Just one tweak to the Bill could solve that.
We back the idea of a limit for online slots. We apply a €10 limit on such products because our data shows there is a raised risk of harm above that level
And then there is the real threat that the proposed blanket ban on free bets and limits on stakes and winnings will — as drafted — drive tens of thousands of people into the open arms of rogue, black-market operators who don’t invest in customer protection.
We back the idea of a limit for online slots. We apply a €10 limit on such products because our data shows there is a raised risk of harm above that level.
However, it’s easy to imagine what black market operators would choose to promote if the Bill proceeds as planned and introduces a €10 limit on regulated table games such as poker, and caps winnings at €3,000.
Nearly 90 per cent of our table game customers play with payouts above this level. And do the officials really want to ban people in Ireland from winning bingo jackpots?
The black market is a very real threat. In Italy, it accounts for 30 per cent of the market, and about 20 per cent in countries such as France and Spain.
The Department of Justice says a recent report by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) shows why it needs to act.
The ESRI claims the problem gambling rate in Ireland is actually 10 times higher than previously thought. These numbers are at odds with what we see day-to-day and are roughly 10 times higher than the UK level.
Putting aside our misgivings about the assumptions the ESRI makes, if the Minister is serious about wanting to grasp the issue, he now needs to clarify the language in the Bill or risk creating a bigger problem.
For instance, we agree with the stated intent that free bets should be banned for vulnerable people. But is it right that the half a million Irish people who enjoyed a free bet responsibly last year should miss out too?
If the Bill proceeds in its current form, the Department of Justice will fail to deliver the very outcome the Minister desires
Limits on inducements and stakes are matters best left to an empowered regulator who can look at the data, make evidence-based decisions, and evolve regulation over time as things change.
Yes, it’s true that I have a business interest in highlighting our concerns, but as a truly global business now, Ireland represents a very small proportion of Flutter’s revenues.
And I care much more passionately about protecting those at risk.
If the Bill proceeds in its current form, the Department of Justice will fail to deliver the very outcome the Minister desires. It is too important for all of us to not to get this exactly right.
Ian Brown is chief executive of Flutter UK and Ireland