Private Members’ Bill – Gambling Control Bill 2018
Dáil Second Stage – Wednesday 9 May 2018
Minister for Justice and Equality Charlie Flanagan T.D.
I am happy to contribute to this evening’s debate. As my colleague Minister of State Stanton pointed out earlier, the Government is not opposing the Private Member’s Bill sponsored by Deputies Jim O’Callaghan, Jack Chambers and Anne Rabbitte.
Their Bill is a replication of the General Scheme of the Gambling Control Bill approved by the Government in 2013. That Scheme was an ambitious effort to introduce comprehensive reform of our antiquated gambling legislation. It was intended to replace all current gaming and betting legislation and to bring licensing and regulatory functions together in one place. Minister of State Stanton, who has special responsibility in the area of gambling policy and regulation, set out in some detail, the work underway in the Department of Justice and Equality to review and enhance the original Government proposals in the General Scheme of the Gambling Control Bill 2013.
Progress has been slower than any of us would wish in advancing the Government’s legislative proposals. Now, due to the passage of time and the rapid evolution of the gambling sector, there is consequently a need to review and ensure that proposed measures to ensure effective regulation and protection of the consumer and vulnerable persons are fit for purpose into the future. It is in this context that the Government on 10 January, agreed to review the General Scheme of 2013 and to make significant changes. By contrast, the Bill proposed this evening is simply a replication of the Government’s earlier proposals with no new elements or recognition of how fast the gambling industry has evolved.
The critical element of the Government Decision of 10 January 2018 is for the establishment of a gambling regulatory authority as an independent statutory body under the auspices of the Department of Justice and Equality. This approach is different to the original proposal to establish an Office for Gambling Control Ireland with more direct involvement by the Minister. Independent regulation is the normal situation in most EU Member States. An independent regulator would offer assurance that decision-making would be free from any potentially undue influence. It would also provide greater assurance for both consumers as well as potential investment in gaming related activities that could bring employment and revenue benefits.
The Government has agreed that there is a need for the development of an appropriate licensing, monitoring, inspection, supervision and enforcement regime for land based gaming machines, in either casinos or located elsewhere, that may be played for monetary reward. The 2013 Scheme requires further development with regard to issues such as numbers and locations for machines and stake or prize amounts. The new regulatory authority would have the responsibility to develop the necessary term and conditions. These conditions must be clear, fair, legitimate and transparent to all. There is evidence of movement away from land based gaming machines in favour of on-line versions. Any discriminatory licensing approaches to gaming machines might attract legal challenge by operators.
Another area that will require our further attention is what conditions should attach to the licensing of casinos. We must introduce formal legislation regulating casinos. In the context of licensing of casinos, there are nearly 40 private members’ clubs providing gaming facilities and services of the type that would be available in licensed casinos, as proposed under the 2013 Scheme. The current regulatory requirement on these clubs is to register with my Department under the Criminal Justice (Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing) Act 2010 and to pay relevant taxes to the Revenue Commissioners.
I have heard Deputies contributions this evening that very much highlighted the issue of problem gambling and of gambling addiction. The media sometimes features the sad and unfortunate experiences of a number of persons whose addiction led them into dark places with risks to their liberty and health. We have all, as public representatives, heard very sad and disturbing stories. The Minister of State outlined earlier the efforts by various arms of Government to obtain reliable information and statistics.
What should be our response? The 2013 Scheme contained a number of proposed responses. We must enhance consumer protection for participants in gambling activities. We will insist on fair play from the gambling companies in terms of clear and reasonable terms and conditions, of no hidden conditions regarding payouts, of acceptance of bets from successful participants. I am very much of the view that our normal consumer protections must apply in this area. The very ancient prohibition on enforcement of gambling debts will be removed in respect of licensed activities.
Enhanced consumer protection can contribute to our attempts to better protect vulnerable person who may be prone to problem gambling. But, we will do more. Both I and Minister of State Stanton will insist on a workable self-exclusion process with the gambling operators. While I am conscious of possible data protection issues, we must ensure this protective measure as far as we can. I appreciate that it will be easier to apply to online accounts, but we will study what can be done in our traditional bookies shops and other gambling establishments.
The final element must be the development of a Social Fund. In this context, the new independent regulatory authority will be the critical factor in the operation of such a Fund that I would envisage would support those professional and expert organisations involved in addiction treatment. Levies on gambling operators will provide the necessary resources for the Fund.
To progress the review and updating of the 2013 General Scheme, the Government agreed that Minister of State Stanton should himself chair a Working Group comprising all stakeholder Departments, relevant Offices and the Office of the Attorney General. The Group has considered new developments not only in Ireland, but also in other States in its work. In addition to our focus this evening on developing the 2013 General Scheme, my Department has been working to bring forward early proposals to update the antiquated Gaming and Lotteries Act 1956 in a number of areas. These proposals were agreed by the Government on 11 July 2017 for inclusion in the Civil Law and Courts (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, but will now be contained in a separate Gaming and Lotteries (Amendment) Bill and this is currently under preparation by the Office of Parliamentary Counsel.
I am expecting publication of the Gaming and Lotteries (Amendment) Bill during the Autumn session and it will include:
setting the minimum age limit for participating in activities at 18 year, procedures for the better promotion of minor local lotteries,
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raising the current unrealistic monetary limits on stakes and prizes for gaming machines licensed in relevant local authority areas.These are urgently 3 cents and 50 cents and it is proposed to raise the stake amounts to €10 and the prize amounts to €750.
I need not remind members of this House, how important locally run lotteries are to the financial wellbeing of many sports clubs and community groups. Thus, Deputies will appreciate how important it is to update the law regarding the promotion of fund raising lottery activities at local level for charitable and philanthropic purposes and to streamline the application process for permits and licenses.
The guiding principle of the 2013 Scheme was that only gambling activities, which were licensed and regulated, would be lawful. Only the regulatory body might issue licences for such activities. The licensing principles would apply equally to both land based and on-line services. I can assure the Deputies that this principle remains. A new modern gambling legislation, in conjunction with independent regulation, offers the best route to enhanced consumer protection, increased Exchequer revenue from that industry and development of a full range of treatment and mediation methods to address problem gambling by those agencies competent in this field.
Minister of State Stanton said earlier that he would be happy to receive realistic proposals from Deputies that can contribute to the updating of the 2013 General Scheme. I very much support that position. It would be very useful to receive wisdom from all sides so that we can progress the development of modern and effective legislation.
Finally, I would like to acknowledge Minister Stanton’s work in working within government across Departments and within my own Department and his commitment to introducing an ambitious package of legislation. Minister Stanton takes a very collegiate approach to policy development and I would urge all deputies to work with him to bring forward the best possible new laws as soon as possible.