New law will not destroy bingo in Ireland, says Minister

David Stanton says ‘people do not play bingo based solely on the prize level’

A Bingo protest outside the Dáil to call on the Government to reconsider gambling legislation.  Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill / The Irish Times

A Bingo protest outside the Dáil to call on the Government to reconsider gambling legislation. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill / The Irish Times

 

A Government Minister has strongly rejected claims new gambling legislation will destroy bingo in Ireland.

Minister of State at the Department of Justice David Stanton has said the changes he is introducing in the Gaming and Lotteries (Amendment) Bill 2019 are modest and will have no impact on bingo games throughout the country.

The current legislation, the Gaming and Lotteries Act 1956 is deeply anomalous. For instance, it provides for a maximum payout from a gaming machine is about 70 cent. The 63-year-old Act have been openly flouted for many years.

Until now bingo games have operated in a slightly grey area, with operators employing a loophole in the law to function as clubs.

But under new legislation – which will reach its final stage in the Dáil on Wednesday – those who are running commercial bingo operations will have to hold a lottery licence. The increase in overall prizes is generous: €360,000 for a single lottery held annually; or € 30,000 cumulatively per week. However, the law will require that 25 per cent of the proceeds go to charity and the maximum prize will be no more than 50 per cent of the proceeds. That allows a 25 per cent margin to cover the marketing, overheads and other costs of the operator.

The big bone of contention between the Government and the lobby group focuses on the new requirement that 25 per cent of the proceeds will go to charity. The Department of Justice sources have said that agents or bingo operators were allowed to take up to 40 per cent of the proceeds and charities frequently ended up with very little. The new legislation addresses what the department saw as too small a slice going to charity by guaranteeing them 25 per cent.

Lottery

“I don’t accept that bingo halls would be forced to close as a result,” argued Mr Stanton. “It has always been the case under the 1956 Gaming and Lotteries Act that a bingo operator could act as an agent of a lottery licence holder but that licence holder must be a charitable or philanthropic cause.This is not changing.”

However, a new group set up comprising operators and players described the new law as “crazy”. Some 100 supporters of the ‘Save our Bingo’ campaign protested outside the Dáil on Tuesday, with two TDs, Michael Healy-Rae and Róisín Shortall, holding a mock game of bingo.

The campaign has claimed that limiting the pay-out to 50 per cent will have a detrimental impact on games. They also say that bingo should have a separate definition from a lottery.

The group claims that if the payout is confined to 50 per cent, many players will not play any more as there will be no incentive to play.

“For many of the people who play, it’s their only social outlet, their only chance to get out of the house, meet old friends and enjoy themselves,” said spokeswoman Naomi Reilly.

Bingo operators claim the payout is often more than 50 per cent and the new law will prevent them varying the prize, for example, having a bumper bingo session at the end of the night. However, sources on the Government side also say the prize fund can dip to below 50 per cent.

The demographic who play bingo tends to be older and agents include large commercial operations in Dublin as well as small community groups in rural Ireland.

Mr Stanton yesterday issued a very strong defence of this new provision.

“It is right and proper that licence holders get an appropriate return to their charity. I don’t accept that these changes will stop anyone playing bingo – a game which is renowned for its social appeal.

“Given its social appeal, people do not play bingo based solely on the prize level, if they did, they would likely gamble elsewhere,” he said.