AS THE UK ordered a review of its gambling laws this week, the Irish government has again reiterated that it won’t be enacting landmark legislation until next year at the earliest.
The UK has had a gambling regulator since 2005 and has, like Ireland, witnessed a huge move towards online and mobile gambling in the last decade. The value of the Irish gambling market annually is estimated at €8-10 billion.
But Ireland, on the other hand, doesn’t even have a regulator yet and legislation drafted by the government in 2013 that would create one still hasn’t passed through the Dáil.
It comes amid calls for a dedicated gambling prevalence survey to understand the scale of the issues around problem gambling in Ireland as well as a problem gambling awareness campaign.
The HSE has said its own figures don’t paint an accurate picture of the scale of problem gambling in Ireland while a significant survey that includes statistics on gambling in Ireland won’t be published until mid-2021.
The UK first introduced its regulator, the Gambling Commission, 15 years ago. It provides licences to operators of betting, lotteries, bingos, casinos and remote gambling across the UK.
It sets requirements for those it grants licences to and can take action, including enforcement and fines, against those who breach the rules.
The fines it dishes out can run into the millions, such as a £2.8 million fine given to Boylesports last month after an investigation found the company failed to have appropriate money laundering risk assessment.
However, a review of the work of the Gambling Commission and gambling laws in the UK have been long mooted and, this week, the British government launched its landmark review.
It said: “Online restrictions, marketing and the powers of the Gambling Commission will be looked at as part of a call for evidence, to examine in detail how gambling has changed over the past 15 years.
“Protections for online gamblers like stake and spend limits, advertising and promotional offers and whether extra protections for young adults are needed will all be explored.
The review will also look at evidence on the action customers can take where they feel operators have breached social responsibility requirements, such as intervening to protect customers showing clear signs of problematic play, and how to ensure children and young people are kept safe from gambling-related harm.
In a debate in the House of Commons, the government was also urged to prevent social media influencers from encouraging children and young people to gamble.
Sports minister Nigel Huddleston said that action would also be taken on betting advertising in sport if there was “evidence of harm” in relation to it.
Separately, reviews are also under way in the UK into loot boxes in video games and into VIP schemes operated by gambling companies.
Situation in Ireland
Speaking to TheJournal.ie last month, Barry Grant from problem gambling charity Extern said that the government had been “twiddling its thumbs” for years on regulating gambling in Ireland.
New laws to regulate gambling were first proposed over seven years ago by the Fine Gael-Labour government with the Gambling Control Bill 2013.
However, this legislation that would modernise Ireland’s gambling laws has never been brought in and wasn’t advanced under the previous government.
In the new programme for government, a commitment is made in this area. It says: “We will establish a gambling regulator focused on public safety and wellbeing, covering gambling online and in person and the powers to regulate advertising, gambling websites and apps.”
When that will actually happen, however, is uncertain.
This week, Minister of State James Browne said that the development of modern gambling legislation is a “priority” for the government, in response to a parliamentary question.
“This reform includes a new independent gambling regulator to enforce necessary and appropriate licensing and regulatory measures in respect of all gambling activities, including online,” he said.
Work is underway in my Department on the drafting of a General Scheme of a new Bill to provide for the modern licensing and regulatory provisions for the gambling industry. That work will involve a major updating of the proposals of the General Scheme of the Gambling Control Bill 2013. I hope to be in a position to bring proposals in that regard to government next year.
At the end of November, Browne said that “seed funding” of €200,000 for the establishment of a new regulator had been granted under Budget 2021.
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This body will be responsible for regulating to protect vulnerable persons including age restrictions, staff training, self-exclusion measures and controls on advertising, promotions and sponsorship.
It is also envisioned that it will administer a new social fund, that will support research, information, campaigns and even treatments.
For campaigners, this long overdue regulator would be a welcome move to help safeguard vulnerable people.
Grant said: “We’re so far behind the curve, it’s not like we’re some technological backwater. We’re at the cutting edge of tech in this country. Surely someone somewhere can get a grip on this.
It’s a new world… bookies shops was one thing. When you put all that stuff in an app on someone’s phone, it does bring up a whole set of problems. It’s not beyond the government to come up with a solution. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel to do it.
One aspect that is called for is a comprehensive study on the extent of the issues around problem gambling in Ireland.
Sinn Féin’s Thomas Gould has called for a dedicated gambling prevalence survey. In a statement, he said that it’s needed “so we can understand the scale of the problem, and we also need the rolling out of a problem gambling awareness campaign”.
However, there is little data on how prevalent the issue is in Ireland, at present.
Junior Health Minister Frank Feighan said earlier this month that the 2018/19 HRB national survey on drug and alcohol use – which includes data on gambling – will publish its data in mid-2021.
Gould added: “Problem gambling is too serious for our health service to not have a comprehensive understanding of the issue, and the gambling industry cannot continue to be essentially unregulated.
“The Minister recently gave me an assurance the legislation would be published by the end of 2021. This is simply too long to wait. We already have legislation waiting.
“The Gambling Control Bill, which has been gathering dust since 2013, needs to be progressed… The issue is too big for the government to abdicate responsibility and leave it to others.”
With reporting from PA