Progress towards the reform of Irish gambling law continues with the publication this week of the pre-legislative scrutiny report of the General Scheme of the Gambling Regulation Bill by the parliamentary Joint Committee on Justice.
The report, which makes 15 recommendations in total, can be accessed here. We examine some of the key recommendations below. In summary, the report covers a broad spectrum of themes including consumer and player protection (in particular of children and vulnerable individuals), gambling advertising and sponsorship, and the future regulatory enforcement by the planned new independent regulator, the Gambling Regulatory Authority of Ireland (GRAI).
This report follows a consultative process involving representatives from a range of industry operators and stakeholders including Entain, Flutter Entertainment, the Irish Bookmakers Association, Lottoland, BetXS, the Department of Justice, the Gambling Awareness Trust, the Institute of Public Health and Extern Problem Gaming, all of whom attended the deliberations of the Committee and engaged in discussions as to possible aspects of the General Scheme which may need to be amended as the legislation progresses.
Future regulatory enforcement by the Gambling Regulator of Ireland
The Committee made a series of recommendations concerning the operation of gambling services and the envisaged interaction with the GRAI as the new regulator. The Committee has called out that the regulator should establish codes which apply equally to all operators, to ensure socially responsible operations and to afford protection to customers. The Committee also recommended the introduction of a scheme of escalating fines and sanctions, including a threshold that any breach of the self-exclusion register would result in an automatic loss of the gambling service provider's licence. This may, however, be a challenging recommendation to implement from a fair procedures perspective.
Other enforcement related measures identified by the Committee to ensure that the new regulatory regime is robust and effective include:
- An examination of the possibility of introducing a Domain Name System (DNS) to block access, at a country level, to gambling operators who are not licensed within the State
- The inclusion in the legislation of a ban on all Fixed-Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs)
- Greater enforcement of the ban on gambling in pubs
Gambling advertising and sponsorship in sport
The Committee has recommended the evaluation of the potential to 'decouple' sports advertising from gambling advertising, particularly in terms of sports advertisements aimed at young people.
If such a decoupling were to proceed, it would likely have an immediate adverse impact on those sports which lean heavily on gambling advertising revenue.
Pre watershed ban on all forms of advertising
The Committee expressed its concern in relation to gambling advertising and the impact that over-exposure to gambling can have on children and teenagers. It was recognised that while advertising is an important tool for licensed operators to communicate with customers, the tone and frequency of advertising needs to be evaluated on an ongoing basis, in order to ensure the safeguarding of young and vulnerable individuals.
For these reasons, it recommended the introduction of a ban on all forms of gambling advertising before the 9pm 'watershed'. In emphasising the need for such a ban, the Committee pointed out that a cultural shift had resulted in advertising on cigarettes being banned and advertising on alcohol being curtailed, and recommended that the same approach be applied to gambling advertising.
Use of technology in the protection of children
There was a call for robust age verification measures, increased monitoring of gambling behaviours and harms among children and regulation of gambling embedded in online games, as key measures necessary for the protection of children. Measures recommended in this regard included the introduction of automated software to complete verification checks of a customer's age when registering for an account with an online gambling website.
Protection of vulnerable individuals
There was also a discussion around measures that should be enacted within the legislation to protect vulnerable individuals from becoming addicted to gambling. One recommendation was the inclusion of a specific measure to prohibit gambling with credit cards, alongside the proposed ban on gambling with credit.
Those called before the Committee noted that previously gambling operators had made mistakes in not identifying problem gamblers when they should have, and in not understanding what indicators they should have been looking for, to alert them to a customer with a potential gambling addiction.
Potential expansion of duty of care
Perhaps one of the most far reaching recommendations is the suggestion that operators should be liable to dependents and creditors of gamblers, where they know or ought to know, that gamblers are making losses beyond their means. It will be interesting to see if this proposed measure finds a voice in legislation as it is likely to pose difficulties when it comes to implementing such a significant expansion of the duty of care.
Another proposed measure that is also likely to be practically difficult to implement is the recommendation concerning the extension of services of the UK self-exclusion database GAMSTOP to Ireland to address the lack of any such database for online operators in the Irish market.
Data gathering on gambling behaviour in Ireland
The Committee noted a lack of data on gambling behaviour in Ireland and called on the GRAI to gather comprehensive data on the behaviour of those who gamble in Ireland, in order to ensure effective and evidence-based regulation of the Irish gambling market.
The Committee recommended that consideration be given to allowing background checks to be carried out on an applicant when they register for an online gambling website, while noting that this would have to be approached with due deference to the relevant GDPR provisions. Again the practicality of this recommendation may be in question having regard to the limited open source information available in Ireland to facilitate such background checks.
A role for local authorities
The Committee also called upon Local Authorities to consider the potential impact on the health and well-being of a community when granting multiple licenses for land-based betting in disadvantaged communities. We take this to mean a consideration on the part of local government in granting planning permission for such businesses.
We will continue to keep you updated on the key developments in advance of the new regulatory regime coming into force, including the extent to which the Department of Justice endeavours to incorporate the Committee's recommendations in the upcoming legislation.