Lobbyists accused of abusing ‘mental health of elderly’ to pursue agenda on bingo funds

Taoiseach and Minister insist ‘vast majority’ of community events will not be affected

 Jackie Duffy and Peggy O’Connell from Dublin playing bingo during a protest outside the Dáil to stop the Government affecting  bingo on Tuesday. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónail

Jackie Duffy and Peggy O’Connell from Dublin playing bingo during a protest outside the Dáil to stop the Government affecting bingo on Tuesday. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónail

 

A “major professional lobbying campaign” has attempted to derail legislation obliging large bingo operators to obey existing laws requiring them to donate funds to charity, the Dáil has been told.

Minister of State for Justice David Stanton said the legislation has been “kicking around for over two years and it is only at a minute to midnight that this issue had been raised”.

“I would ask colleagues not to fall for that and to be wise” to this “major professional, lobbying campaign”, he said.

Fianna Fáil TD Thomas Byrne also said “the mental health of the elderly was used to pursue an agenda” by lobbyists.

Both were echoing the comments of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar who earlier repeatedly insisted that there is no threat to bingo halls or bingo nights as a result of new gambling legislation.

Mr Varadkar said it is the bingo operators who should be “called out” for their claims to the contrary.

He said “there are some large, profitable and commercial bingo halls that have not been giving any money to charity at all or that have only been giving paltry sums”, even though they are required to do so.

Labour finance spokeswoman Joan Burton said it was “baffling that the Government is declaring war on bingo”.

Ms Burton handed the Taoiseach a folder which contained a petition signed by bingo players, mainly women, who protested with bingo operators outside the Dáil on Tuesday over fears that bingo halls could be shut down because of the Bill.

And over 14 TDs raised concerns about bingo nights operated by parish halls, GAA and soccer clubs and community organisations amid fears that the legislation would negatively impact their bingo operations for charity.

Prize winners

The Gaming and Lotteries (Amendment) Bill, currently before the Dáil, requires operators to give 25 per cent of the money generated in bingo to charity. A further 25 per cent goes to the operator and 50 per cent of the money goes to prize winners.

Mr Stanton said the attempt to derail the legislation is by “various lobbyists who are concerned that they are being asked to give money to charity” that they should already have been donating under the law as it stands.

He said under existing law a lottery with a prize fund of up to €5,000 requires a permit from An Garda Síochána.

He said “the vast majority of local bingo” is way under the €5,000. He said under the proposed legislation they were in fact alleviating the situation and a permit or licence will not be required if the total value of the prize is not more than €1,000.

For prizes of between €5,000 and €30,000 a licence is required from the District Court. Under current law it has to be for charity and no commercial bingo is allowed.

He said however that existing legislation applicants only have to name the charity they are fundraising for but do not have to say how much they are donating. The law will require 25 per cent to go to charity but he said operators are taking “up to 40 per cent into their back pocket and the charity is getting very little”.

The prize fund is being reduced from 60 per cent to 50 per cent but this is in cases where very little is going to charity. He said that operators can top up the prize fund themselves.