The Circuit Court has restated the position that gambling debts are unenforceable in the Irish Courts. Gambling debts cannot be enforced by either a gambler seeking payment, or a bookie, casino or online gambling service seeking to collect a debt.

In a decision on 20 March 2017 Circuit Court Judge Comerford held that a casino is not obliged to pay a sum of €11,713 to a patron who won the sum on an electronic roulette machine. Section 36 of the Gaming and Lotteries Act 1956 states that no action shall lie for the recovery of any money which is alleged to be won.

However this means that either party to a gambling transaction can decline to meet their obligations under Irish law. This can have consequences for licenced gambling operators here as well as non-Irish based betting operators. In 2015 the High Court refused to enforce an English judgment for a gambling debt of €118,058.99 against an Irish resident, ruling that to do so would be against public policy. The High Court ruled that:

"The intention of the legislature in relation to the relevant provisions of the 1956 Act is perfectly clear. The enforcement of any betting contracts is prohibited and I am satisfied that the statute constitutes a rule of law regarded as essential in the legal order of this State. There is a manifest conflict between the foreign court order arising from a gambling debt and Irish public policy as expressed in the 1956 statute. Because this rule was enacted by the Oireachtas I am bound to find that the rule is essential in the legal order of the State. The rule reflects public policy on the control of gambling." (Sporting Index v O'Shea [2015] IEHC 407)

Betting Operators Beware!

While betting operators may refuse to pay out on a bet, such a refusal can be taken into account under the rubric of the operator being a "fit and proper person" when a betting operator is renewing its licence. This will not be a factor for casino operators as they do not operate under the same licencing rules.

Reform

The Gambling Control Bill published in 2013 proposed significant reform of this sector, including the reversal of this position on enforceability - with provision for an appeal of a substantially unfair bet within 6 months. As it stands there has been little progression of the Bill and so any gambling debts remain unenforceable.