Politicians are demanding tough sanctions for bookies that break proposed new gambling regulations. The Government is due this year to publish the Gambling Regulation Bill, which will establish a commission to oversee betting businesses and set new licensing and other rules.
Members of the Oireachtas committee on justice want bookmakers' licences revoked where they breach measures meant to protect problem gamblers.
A committee report demands that bookies and casinos should lose their licence, preventing them from trading, where they take bets from anybody who has “self-excluded”, that is asked that these businesses not allow them to gamble.
The Irish Bookmakers’ Association (IBA) already operates a voluntary self-exclusion system, where gamblers who fear they have a problem ask bookies not to take their bets. The new legislation is likely to formalise this with a self-exclusion register. The committee wants this backed by tough sanctions. It members also demand that a “scheme of escalating fines be introduced to deter harmful behaviour by the gambling industry and to better protect vulnerable individuals”.
Alan Heuston, partner at solicitors McCann FitzGerald, says the sanctions the committee proposes go significantly further than those found in other jurisdictions. He adds that some of the committee's recommendations require further fleshing out to establish how they might work if the new law includes them.
The committee, chaired by Fianna Fáil TD James Lawless, wants bookmakers to carry out background checks on new clients to establish if they are financially vulnerable.
Mr Heuston notes that the recommendation does not give any specific detail on how businesses would do this.
"The devil is going to be in the detail in terms of what checks, and what data are operators going to be able to access," he says. The lawyer notes that the recommendation comes with the caveat that this measure should comply with General Data Protection Regulations.
“A lot of detail is going to come when the regulator is established,” he says.
The committee also wants limits imposed on the sums that people can wager and win, but does not set out the actual amounts.
At a broader level, it says internet providers should block any online betting business that is not licensed to operate in the Republic. Other recommendations include a possible ban on betting businesses advertising on TV before the watershed (9pm) and ending their involvement in sports sponsorship.
The group, comprised of TDs and senators, wants the new regulator to gather data on Irish betting behaviour. There is no comprehensive information on the level of problem gambling in the Republic.
The committee published its recommendations this week following a series of pre-legislative hearings earlier in the year. Businesses that gave evidence included Paddy Power owner Flutter Entertainment, and Ladbrokes parent, Entain.
Industry body, the IBA, Extern Problem Gambling and the Institute of Public Health also appeared.