Unlike in the United Kingdom, gambling debts in Ireland are unenforceable, as stated by section 36 of the Gaming and Lotteries Act 1956 (the “1956 Act”), which notes that “every contract by way of gaming or wagering is void” and that “no action shall lie for the recovery of any money or thing which is alleged to be won or to have been paid upon a wager or which has been deposited to abide the event on which a wager is made”.
The relatively recent Irish High Court case of Sporting Index Limited v John O’Shea  IEHC 407 reaffirmed this position. It was held that a gambling debt owed by an Irish resident was not enforceable against Sporting Index, the UK-based operator.
This position was challenged more recently in an Irish Circuit Court case involving an action brought by an individual against a small amusement centre, Automatic Amusements Limited which trades as D1 Casinos. He claimed that it had refused to pay him €11,713 he had won after he placed several bets on an automated roulette machine. The plaintiff alleged that he first won about €7,500 but, when he sought to cash it out, he was given €2,500 in cash and €5,000 worth of chips, before being told to play more and that he would be paid at the end of the night. The court heard that after he won a further €6,713, the plaintiff was told by a manager to cash out. When he went to the cashier counter, he was told the casino had no more cash for the night but that he would be paid the following day. The plaintiff claimed the amusement centre refused to pay him despite multiple requests.
The defendant alleged that the plaintiff found a flaw in the roulette machine which allowed him to play even though the screen indicated “no more bets”. The defendant alleged that the plaintiff changed the screen layout from single to double play mode in order to re-place a bet that had been placed in a previous game, enabling him to place a bet when the roulette ball had already settled.
In reaching his decision and reaffirming the position in Ireland that gambling debts are unenforceable, the Circuit Court judge stated that he had to rely on the 1956 Act, including section 36 which, as noted above, states that “no action shall lie for the recovery of any money or thing which is alleged to be won or to have been paid upon a wager or which has been deposited to abide the event on which a wager is made”. The judge went on to say that ‘if you happen to be too lucky while placing a bet or gambling, the person can simply say “no you’re not entitled to the money”. That is simply the law in Ireland’.
Operators should be aware that if they refuse to pay out, they may have difficulty in obtaining or renewing a remote betting or remote betting intermediary licence. The process of obtaining a licence requires the operator to be certified as a “fit and proper person” to hold such a licence by the Minister for Justice and Equality (the “Minister”). The Minister can take into account whether the operator “unreasonably refuses or refused to pay sums due to persons who won bets made with [it]”. Accordingly, a refusal by an operator to pay out could mean that the operator may not be able to renew its licence, notwithstanding that the bet itself is unenforceable.
As previously flagged in our other client briefings (see, for instance, our briefing entitled “10 Things You Need to Know About the Gambling Control Bill 2013”), reform of the gambling sector in Ireland is on the government’s agenda. As currently drafted, the Heads of the Gambling Control Bill 2013 propose repealing the 1956 Act and making gambling contracts enforceable in most circumstances. However, until such time as the Gambling Control Bill 2013 is enacted, the legal position in Ireland is that gambling debts in Ireland are unenforceable.