Ireland has "analogue laws in a world of digital gambling" Minister of State for Justice James Browne said as he acknowledged the decades of delay in implementing comprehensive controls on gambling.
Mr Browne pledged that a gambling regulator would be in place by the end of the year in advance of the completion of comprehensive legislation to control the “wild west” that exists with gambling in Ireland.
The Minister was speaking during a Seanad debate on Friday on the future of gambling control, as ever-increasing rates of addiction were highlighted and concerns raised about the levels of gambling advertising on TV with no watershed hour for such adverts.
Sinn Féin Senator Lynn Boylan condemned the advertising of greyhound racing parties for Holy Communions which she said Greyhound Racing Ireland offers on its website.
Labour Senator Mark Wall and Fine Gael Senator Mary Seery Kearney demanded that RTÉ should stop showing the National Lottery draw on Saturday evening's during family movies when children are watching.
Mr Wall said “thousands of Irish families sit down for family time and to enjoy the Saturday evening movie, but their family time is interrupted each week by the National Lottery.
“Why does our national broadcaster allow this to happen? It’s time for this to change and for families to enjoy their family time together and to simply have the lottery on after the movie.”
He also said children as young as six were exposed to completely unregulated gambling advertising.
Fine Gael Senator Joe O’Reilly said 64 per cent of the population “have the occasional flutter” but at least 29 per cent of the population gamble in a problem way.
Calls were also made to stop 24-hour TV gambling advertising and ban it before the 9 pm broadcast watershed; to prohibit betting shops from allowing bets on credit cards, and to stop bookmakers from allowing customers to bet on the National Lottery draw numbers.
Fianna Fáil Senator Fiona O’Loughlin said Ireland has the seventh biggest gambling spend in the world per head of population in an industry worth up to €10 billion annually.
Ms O’Loughlin described gambling as a “silent addiction”. She said “sometimes loved ones don’t know about the problem until the bank manager comes calling, a person loses their job or gardaí call to the door”.
A website for gambling addicts, problemgambling.ie, showed that traffic on the site had increased by 46 per cent since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, she said, while 7.6 per cent of teenage boys and 2.8 per cent of teenage girls have developed a gambling problem.
The Minister acknowledged that there is no gender distinction in gambling. “Women are becoming more and more addicted to gambling because of the availability of online betting.”
Acknowledging that effective gambling control legislation had been talked about for decades, Mr Browne said “it hasn’t happened for various reasons”. But he said he was only appointed last summer. “I’m here now. I’ve set out targets; to publish the scheme [of the Bill] in summer, to advertise for a regulator and have that appointment made by the end of the year.”
He said that would give the regulator time to put all their staff in place, so that when the legislation was passed by the Houses, the regulator “is kicking off what he or she needs to do”.
Fianna Fáil Senator Malcolm Byrne noted that when a regulator was first spoken of 14 years ago, then minister for justice Michael McDowell pledged to base the regulator's office in Gorey, Co Wexford. Mr Byrne, a Wexford Senator called on the Minister, a Wexford TD, to honour that pledge.