Is any bet a sure thing under Irish gambling law?

Rules reflect concern that string of disputed bets could end up before courts, sources say

Irish law states very clearly that gambling debts cannot be enforced. The rule applies not just to gamblers seeking payment, but also to casinos, bookies and online gambling services seeking to collect debts.

This was reinforced in a judgment at the Circuit Civil Court on Monday in which a casino was not compelled to pay some €11,000 to a man who won while playing on an electronic roulette machine.

While the exemption of gambling arrangements from normal contract law is set out in the 1956 Gaming and Lotteries Act, the prohibition on the enforcement of gambling debts is understood to go back many years prior to that.

Legal sources say the thinking is not just a moral objection to gambling, but also reflects a concern that a series of disputed bets might end up in the courts.


One obvious advantage of the prohibition is that people who, so to speak, bet the house on a particular outcome while in the pub on a Saturday night, cannot find themselves up before the courts on the Monday morning defending a failure to pay.

“Every contract by way of gaming or wagering is void,” states section 36 of the 1956 act. “No action shall lie for the recovery of any money or thing which is alleged to be won or to have been paid upon a wager or which has been deposited to abide the event on which a wager is made.”

In June 2015, Mr Justice Colm Mac Eochaidh of the High Court ruled that a UK gaming company could not collect on a €118,058 judgment order issued by the County Court in London because the basis of the judgment was a gambling debt.

Rugby bet

Sport spread betting operators Sporting Index Ltd was trying to collect on the judgment order from Irish resident John O’Shea, who owed the money arising from a losing bet on a Heineken Cup rugby match.

While the company’s lawyers argued that what was before the court was a court judgment order, rather than a gambling debt, the judge found the debt and the order were as inseparable as “the dancer from the dance”. He found in favour of Mr O’Shea.

In a note published in the wake of that judgment, Arthur Cox solicitors pointed out that remote or online gambling operators who refuse to pay out gambling debts could find it affects their ability to gain a licence under the Betting (Amendment) Act 2015.

The licencing process involves consideration of whether an operator has unreasonably refused to pay sums due to persons who made bets with it. The consideration can form part of the fit and proper person assessment process, even though our legislature, elsewhere, makes gambling debts unenforceable.