Ireland: Gambling Regulation – What's On The Cards?

Senior Associates, Aoife McCluskey and Valerie Sexton explore the legal considerations for the future of licencing and the regulation of gambling in Ireland.

The Inter-Departmental Working Group on the Future Licensing and Regulation of Gambling appointed by the Irish Government has published a report on future licensing and regulation of gambling1  .

Two key recommendations of the report are the publication of the Gaming and Lotteries (Amendment) Bill 2019 and the establishment of an Irish gambling regulatory authority.

Following the publication, Minister Stanton has said that “The Government has made a major commitment to the modernisation of our licensing and regulatory environment for gambling.”

So what can we expect following these recent developments for the Irish Gambling industry, assuming that the planned reforms come to pass? We discuss this below and also discuss some amendments proposed to be made to the Gaming and Lotteries Acts 1956 to 2013.

Gambling Control Bill 2013

In Ireland gambling has primarily fallen into one of two categories – (i) betting; or (ii) gaming and lotteries. Betting is governed by the Betting Act 1931 (as amended) while tote betting is regulated by the Totalisator Act 1929. Gaming and lotteries are primarily governed by the Gaming and Lotteries Act 1956 (as amended). It has long been recognised that these pieces of legislation are archaic and not fit for purposes in terms of governing and regulating an industry which has largely moved online and has developed innovative products and delivery mechanisms.

Five years after the recommendations in 2008 of the Irish Casino Committee, the Government published the Gambling Control Bill 2013 (the “Gambling Control Bill”). The aim of the Gambling Control Bill was to bring all forms of betting, gaming and lotteries under one legislative roof and create a clear, modern licensing regime to cover all forms of gambling.

However, by 2015 the Gambling Control Bill had lost all momentum, and the Betting (Amendment) Act 2015 was enacted as a temporary measure pending the enactment of the Gambling Control Bill. The piecemeal changes of the Betting (Amendment) Act 2015 introduced a licensing regime for remote bookmakers and betting intermediaries but otherwise did not make a meaningful attempt to modernise gambling regulation in Ireland.

Fast forward to March 2019 - 11 years from the Casino Committee’s recommendations in 2008. The Government has now published the much anticipated Inter-Departmental Working Group’s Report on Future Licensing and Regulation of Gambling (the “2019 Report”). The 2019 Report, which runs to 146 pages, sets out the working group’s recommendations. The working group was comprised of all Government departments with responsibility or involvement in gambling activities, the Office of the Attorney General and An Garda Siochána. The 2019 Report covers:

  • The future regulation of gambling activities;
  • The advertising, sponsorship and promotion of gambling activities;
  • Combatting attempted money laundering through gambling activities;
  • Protection of the consumer of gambling activities and protection of vulnerable persons; and,
  • Licensing fees, betting duties and taxation of gambling activities.

The 2019 Report acknowledges that the Gambling Control Bill is yet to be enacted and is now out of date, needs further work and is not capable of fulfilling its intended function.

Gambling Regulatory Authority

Perhaps the most significant aspect of the Gambling Control Bill was the establishment of a gambling regulatory authority to regulate the industry. The Government has now approved the plan set out in the 2019 Report to establish such an authority.

We are told that in the new Gambling Control Bill the new gambling regulatory authority will be given the power, amongst other things, to:

  • Develop and enforce licensing and regulatory measures in respect of all gambling activities, including online betting;
  • Combat the use of gambling for money laundering purposes;
  • Take steps to deal with the protection of vulnerable persons, including age restrictions, staff training, self-exclusion measures and controls on advertising, promotions and sponsorship; and,
  • Develop and manage a social fund for the protection of vulnerable persons.

Interestingly the 2019 Report identifies the UK Gambling Commission and the Malta Gaming Authority as reference points for the development of an Irish regulatory authority.

Again, the approval by the Government of the plan to establish such an authority might suggest that the Government is making headway with its plans to introduce a regulatory framework for the gambling industry in Ireland. However, the authority cannot be established until the Gambling Control Bill has been updated (which requires revised Heads of Bill to be drafted and subjected to pre-legislative scrutiny) and passed through the Oireachtas – a process which is unlikely to happen without in the short to medium term given other national legislative priorities (notably Brexit). A change of government in the upcoming general elections could impact on the rate of progression also.

The Gaming and Lotteries (Amendment) Bill 2019 

The Government also published the Gaming and Lotteries (Amendment) Bill 2019. It is intended to update the Gaming and Lotteries Acts 1956 to 2013.

The Gaming and Lotteries (Amendment) Bill 2019 will bring the following changes if enacted:

  • Changes to the permit and licensing approach to certain small-scale, local gaming and lottery activity;
  • gaming machines stake and prize limits will be updated to €10 and €750 respectively (from 3c and 50c); and,
  • 18 years of age will be the minimum gambling, including for Tote betting.

What’s on the cards?

Reform of the Gaming and Lotteries Acts 1956 to 2013 through the Gaming and Lotteries (Amendment) Bill 2019 is welcomed as a general approach. Operators will need to adapt commercial models, products and marketing campaigns to take account of changes once enacted.

In terms of the government statements around the fundamental reforms in the Gambling Control Bill, similar pronouncements around reform in this area have been made before. Gaming and gambling is a very sensitive policy area which successive Irish governments have chosen not to act upon in terms of implementing fundamental reforms.

While the Government announcements suggest that the ball has started rolling in terms of establishing an up-to-date regulatory regime for the gambling industry in Ireland, the fact that it is not a priority on the legislative programme for Government suggest that it will still be some time before a finalised, consolidated regime is put in place in this jurisdiction. Our clients like to operate in an environment of regulatory certainty, and it is disappointing for those that use our clients’ services as they do not have appropriate protection through the regulatory environment.

While the ball may have started rolling slowly (again!) it is still likely to be a number of years before the gambling industry in Ireland will be able to avail of a fit for purpose regulatory regime.

Footnotes

1 Interdepartmental Working Group Report.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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