Lottery regulator urged to ‘step up to the plate’ on online gaming
Concern expressed about effect on problem gamblers of proliferation of games
RGData managing director Tara Buckley appearing before the Oireachtas joint committee on finance on Tuesday
Lottery regulator Liam Sloyan
Lottery regulator Liam Sloyan has been severely criticised by TDs and Senators, who have said he is not doing enough to protect the public from the problem of gambling addiction.
Mr Sloyan, who appeared before the joint committee on finance, public expenditure and reform on Tuesday, was urged to “step up to the plate” and demonstrate that he is investigating the impact of online gaming in Ireland.
A number of TDs and Senators questioned whether the regulator had any real oversight over Premier Lotteries Ireland (PLI), which was awarded a 20-year licence to operate the National Lottery in late 2014 after paying the State €405 million.
Under the new operator, there has been a proliferation of online games introduced amid concern about an increase in problem gambling.
Currently, there are at least 20 different so-called “instant games” that can be played online on the National Lottery website, as well as the traditional lottery and Euromillions draws.
The office of the National Lottery regulator was established by the National Lottery Act 2013, which also paved the way for the privatisation of the franchise in 2015.
While Mr Sloyan, whose job is to protect consumers and enforce compliance in the sector, said he was “very focused” on monitoring online gaming, he said that it was relatively easy for users to register multiple accounts online to play games.
Mr Sloyan was taken to task for his reluctance to discuss what he called “commercially sensitive information” about what is effectively a monopoly.
He also said he couldn’t describe in detail means by which users could register different online gaming accounts on the National Lottery website because he didn’t wish to publicise the ways by which the operator seeks to close such loopholes.
David Cullinane (SF) said there seemed to be a real lack of supervision of how PLI was pushing its products. He questioned how the regulator could approve of changes to the National Lottery that had made it more expensive but less easy to win.
He also queried why Mr Sloyan had approved a scratch card that costs €20, to which the regulator admitted that while he had sanctioned the game, the operator had set the price for it.
Michael McGrath (FF) noted how there had been a multiplicity of games, platforms and distribution channels that have grown in recent years.
“There are consequences of this. Gambling can and does destroy lives,” he said.
The regulator said he was satisfied with the additional online games that had been introduced by PLI. He said his office used a number of methods for establishing whether an individual game was suitable, including consulting academic research and checking with in-house experts.
Earlier, Tara Buckley, director general of RGData, a representative association for more than 4,000 independent retailers, said her organisation was highly concerned about the increase of online games available to play on the National Lottery website.
She added that her organisation has had little contact with the regulator since his appointment despite RGData members being affected by the technical outages that led to a National Lottery draw being postponed for the first time in late 2015.
RGData, voiced its concern about the growth in online gaming and its possible impact on individuals with gambling addictions, who can now play games anywhere, any time.
Ms Buckley said her members would like to see the regulator do more to show that he is safeguarding the interests of the community.
“The regulator should outline the measures he has taken to protect vulnerable players and to replicate the types of controls on purchases in traditional shops,” she said.
Ms Buckley said retailers also wanted to know if the regulator was monitoring the huge growth in online lotto sites with no links to licensed national lotteries and no obligation to contribute towards good causes. She said there was concern that consumers were buying tickets thinking they were officially sanctioned.
Ms Buckley added that since it took over the franchise, PLI had “ramped up its expansion of the National Lottery” and was intent on becoming a €1 billion business, making it critical that Mr Sloyan be seen to be active in regulating the sector.