The most comprehensive legislation to regulate gambling since the foundation of the State has reached the Dáil 14 years after it was first mooted.
The Gambling Regulation Bill will reform legislation dating from 1956 and aims to address dramatic changes in the sector over the past two decades.
It will not provide “an outright ban on gambling advertising or sponsorship”, according to Minister of State James Browne, who introduced the Bill.
“Many people have strong views on the issue of gambling,” he said, but they had to have balance between limiting advertising and sponsorship as much as possible but “not to have unintended consequences” of driving it underground.
The legislation will, however, introduce a watershed banning the broadcast of gambling advertising on television and radio between the hours of 5:30am and 9:00pm.
Social media advertising regulation will mean a person can only receive gambling adverts “if they subscribe to such services and platforms and give their consent”.
Mr Browne said he planned to have the legislation in effect by mid-2023.
“Everyone, including children, can now carry a mobile casino on the phone in their back pockets,” he said, adding that it was vital “to have a robust regulatory framework with public safety as a cornerstone”.
He said that often the first a family might know about addiction is when “the sheriff is at the door or a garda”.
And it could happen that “people who live exemplary lives often go off and do very stupid things to feed this addiction”.
Mr Browne said the gambling industry “is large, complex and technologically advanced”. He said the necessity to counter “money-laundering and terrorism must be paramount”, which meant creating “an appropriately empowered regulatory body” that will also license operators.
The authority will have power to prescribe “the times, places and events where gambling advertising can be broadcast” and its duration and frequency.
The Bill provides for a social impact fund, which will be financed by mandatory contributions, calculated on operators’ turnover.
He said they had to have a “balance of interests and considerations” for an industry worth more than €6 billion a year, “with an impact economically and for employment”.
The Bill takes a “responsible approach to balancing the freedom to gamble with the safeguards to protect people from falling prey to addiction”, and it is “intended to help to protect children and prevent harm to people vulnerable to problem gambling”.
The Minister said the legislation “provides a clear framework for operators and for consumers”.
He pointed out that gambling “is an important fundraising activity for many of our charitable and local community organisations”.
The National Lottery will not come under this legislation; it is separately regulated and lottery fundraising by political parties “remains unaffected by this Bill”.
A ban will also be introduced on the use of credit cards or the offer of credit facilities, with a prohibition on facilities to withdraw cash at certain operators’ premises.
Sinn Féin’s Thomas Gould warned of a loophole in the credit card ban online through the use of financial offerings such as Revolut.
He also highlighted the “potentially 55,000 people in this State engaged in harmful gambling behaviour”, and said it was a “shocking statistic” that one in five young people are at risk of harmful gambling.
Independent Wexford TD Verona Murphy said that while the Department of Justice estimated that the gambling market was worth €6 billion, according to a report by a House of Lords select committee in Westminster, “60 per cent of the gambling industry’s profits in the UK come from 5 per cent of its customers”.
Labour spokesman Aodhán Ó Riordáin said the gambling lobby’s influence was “remarkable”, when a levy of 20 per cent on bets placed in Ireland was cut to 1 per cent and is now 2 per cent.
He added that interest groups have ensured the levy goes to a fund “which is disproportionately spent on prize money people bet to get their hands on”. The levy has not benefited anyone with a gambling addiction, he said, with about €45 million of tax-free prize money “presented by the taxpayer to the horse racing industry last year on the backs of bets placed on everything”.
Social Democrats spokesman Gary Gannon said “to date we have largely let the gambling industry run rampant throughout the country”.
The few restrictions in place are often “blatantly ignored, unenforced and easily worked around”.
“A ban on casinos, for example, led to private members-only clubs being established, which are effectively casinos with an entrance fee.” He said there were 36 in operation, with most in Dublin city centre.
He added that “there is a ban on bookies displaying a list of the terms or odds for a bet on a particular match. Anyone can easily walk past their nearest bookie to discover how well that law is enforced.”
Fine Gael TD Jennifer Carroll MacNeill said the Bill aimed to protect children up to 18 years of age but she said “research shows that many people, particularly young men, can remain vulnerable up to that age”. She said “that point has been highlighted by those working in gambling addiction”.
People Before Profit TD Gino Kenny said “there should be blanket ban on gambling companies advertising their industry”. There was a socioeconomic factor to gambling, he added. “We find that people with problematic use come from a poorer socioeconomic background. That is where there are problems with losing one’s wages, literally in seconds.”
Fianna Fáil TD Jim O’Callaghan welcomed the national gambling exclusion register. “That will ensure that certain people, whom we designate and want to protect, will be excluded from being involved in gambling activity.”
Independent Louth TD Peter Fitzpatrick said: “Louth, which is the smallest county in Ireland, has the highest concentration of betting shops per capita.”
He highlighted the Health Research Board report that approximately 90,000 adults are low-risk gamblers, 35,000 are moderate-risk gamblers and 12,000 adults are problem gamblers “whose gambling has negative consequences and entails a possible loss of control”.