On 21 February 2018 members of Fianna Fáil (the main opposition party to the Government) introduced the Gambling Control Bill 2018 as a Private Members' Bill.
The Gambling Control Bill 2018 is largely based on the General Scheme for a Gambling Control Bill which was published by the Irish Government in 2013.
The General Scheme was essentially an outline of what was to be included in the Bill once drafted. It had not advanced since 2013, though the Minister for Justice recently secured approval from Cabinet to bring forward an updated Scheme. The Minister said that the updated Scheme would take account of updates in the gambling industry since 2013.
One issue that is likely to cause controversy is that the government had decided to establish the new regulatory office for gambling control, outside of the Department of Justice. However in the Fianna Fáil draft legislation, the regulatory function is firmly located within the Department of Justice.
Purpose of the legislation
The objectives of the new Bill are outlined as ensuring:
- fairness in the conduct of gambling
- the protection of vulnerable persons, including children, from risks to their well-being arising from gambling
- the avoidance of circumstance where gambling could, inadvertently or otherwise, facilitate or enable criminal or illegal activity
- consumer choice and protection
The Bill doesn’t deal with the tax rate that will apply to gambling activities as this will be addressed in separate legislation.
Repeal of existing legislation
If enacted, the new legislation will repeal the Betting Act, 1931 and the Gaming and Lotteries Act, 1956, which set out the current law on betting, gaming, lotteries and amusement arcades/gaming machines in Ireland. In its place, the new Bill is proposing to introduce a comprehensive new unified licensing and regulatory framework for gambling in Ireland.
Creation of the OGCI
The Bill also proposes to set up a dedicated gambling regulator within the Department of Justice, which has been given the title of "the Office of Gambling Control Ireland" (OGCI). Although this was also part of the General Scheme published in 2013, the Government had recently decided that the OGCI should be independent.
The Bill envisages that the OGCI will develop and issue Codes of Practice and Codes of Conduct setting out detailed guidance on relevant procedures and criteria. In terms of monitoring compliance and enforcement, the OGCI will be able to appoint authorised officers who will have a range of inspection and search and seizure powers.
Scope of the new regime
If enacted, the Gambling Control Bill will regulate gaming, betting, lotteries, bingo and gaming machines, but will exclude the activities of Horse Racing Ireland and the Irish Greyhound Board (Bord na gCon), the National Lottery and financial spread betting. The legislation also clarifies that pool betting will be regulated under a betting licence, something that was left in doubt after the enactment of the Betting (Amendment) Act 2015. While lotteries will still need to have a link to a charitable or philanthropic purpose, the Bill proposes to allow bingo to be operated on a commercial basis.
The Bill provides for the creation of 43 new licences, covering both land-based and remote gambling activities. The 43 licences broadly fall into 5 categories:
- betting licences
- gaming licences
- remote licences (including licences for mixed remote gaming and betting)
- temporary licences
- personal licences
All gambling operators (both land-based and remote) supplying gambling services to Irish customers, will need to apply for a licence. The specific category/type of licence required will depend on the nature and size of the gambling operation, and in some instances, a gambling operator may need more than one licence. Under the draft legislation, suppliers of equipment and services to gambling service providers will need to register with the OGCI, but they will not need a licence.
In line with the proposals set out in the 2013 General Scheme, the Bill proposes to limit the number of casinos in Ireland to 40. The number of gaming tables allowed in casinos will be capped at 15 and the number of gaming machines will be capped at 25.. As a result, and again similar to the 2013 Scheme, a licence is not available for a "super casino" in Ireland.
Fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs) are also expressly prohibited.
Player protection and social fund
The Bill provides for the creation of a self-exclusion register and also sets out rules on advertising, promotions and sponsorship. This is presumably in response to concerns expressed in the media about the increased dangers associated with gambling in an environment which is not fully regulated.
The legislation also requires service licence holders to commit resources to funding and operating a scheme for dealing with customer complaints and for compensating customers.
This is in addition to the creation of a social fund to promote socially responsible gambling and to assist those affected by problem gambling. The OGCI must prepare a report setting out the criteria for establishing the social fund within the first year of the enactment of the Bill.
In practice, very few Private Members' Bills succeed in progressing beyond the second stage debate in Parliament, though a limited number have gone on to become law.
In this case, it will be difficult for the Government to oppose the Bill given that it is very similar to the 2013 General Scheme which the Government itself put forward. That said, developments in the gambling industry which have come to the attention of the government since 2013, are not provided for in the draft legislation. One such example is daily fantasy sports.
In addition, the Government may decide to insist that the gambling regulator should be established and operate outside of the Department of Justice, whilst remaining answerable to the Government in the same way as independent regulators operating in other sectors.
We will issue an update on any significant progress or changes to the Bill that may happen over the next few months. In the meantime, if you would like more detail on the draft Bill you can contact any member of the Betting, Gaming and Licensing team.