Many forms of gambling have been regulated in Ireland for centuries. Irish law distinguishes primarily between three main forms of gambling: betting, gaming and lotteries.Betting
Betting is governed by the Betting Act 1931, as amended by the Betting (Amendment) Act 2015 (the Betting Acts).
The word 'bet' is not defined in Irish law. Instead, the Betting Acts state that 'the word bet includes wager'. The scope of what constitutes a bet has fallen to be determined at common law by the courts, although case law is rare. In Mulvaney v. The Sporting Exchange Ltd trading as Betfair,2 Clarke J stated that:
While bookmaking is not defined in that legislation it seems to me that the term bookmaker derives from a person or body 'making a book' on an event. In other words, the person or body concerned offers odds on all or a significant number of eventualities arising in respect of the same event (for example, offers odds on each horse winning or offers odds on either team winning a football game, or, indeed that game resulting in a draw). Thus, a person carrying on the business of bookmaking is someone who habitually offers to cover a range of possible eventualities on future uncertain events. Two private individuals entering into a wager on the same future uncertain event could not remotely be said to be engaged in the business of bookmaking.
Accordingly, the general consensus arising from case law is that betting encompasses a bookmaker setting fixed odds against a future event, taking bets on that event and paying out winnings.Gaming
Gaming is governed primarily by the Gaming and Lotteries Acts 1956–2019 (the Gaming and Lotteries Acts).
Gaming is defined in the Gaming and Lotteries Acts as 'playing a game (whether of skill or chance or partly of skill and partly of chance) for stakes hazarded by the players'.3 A stake is defined as including 'any payment for the right to take part in a game and any other form of payment required to be made as a condition of taking part in the game but does not include a payment made solely for facilities provided for the playing of the game'.4
The Gaming and Lotteries (Amendment) Act 2019 came into force on 1 December 2020 and introduced a suite of changes to the laws in respect of gaming. See Section III for further detail.Lotteries
Lotteries are permitted by the Gaming and Lotteries Acts, but are heavily regulated and there are restrictions on their operation. As per the Gaming and Lotteries Acts, a lottery 'includes all competitions for money or money's worth involving guesses or estimates of future events or of past events the results of which are not yet ascertained or not yet generally known'.5
The Gaming and Lotteries (Amendment) Act 2019 came into force on 1 December 2020 and introduced a suite of changes to the laws in respect of lotteries. See Section III for further detail.
The Irish National Lottery falls outside the scope of the Gaming and Lotteries Acts and, instead, is regulated by the National Lottery Act 2013 (the 2013 Act), which repealed and replaced the terms of the National Lottery Act 1986. In 2013, following a competitive tender process, the Irish government awarded a 20-year licence to operate the Irish National Lottery to a consortium involving An Post (the Irish post office) and led by the UK national lottery operator, Camelot. The most notable feature of the 2013 Act is the establishment of a new office, the Regulator of the National Lottery, whose primary functions are to ensure that the Irish National Lottery is run with all due propriety, to ensure that participants' interests are protected and to ensure that the long-term sustainability of the Irish National Lottery is safeguarded.Tote/pari-mutuel betting
The Totalisator Act 1929 provides for the establishment and regulation of the Totalisator6 by the Irish Revenue Commissioners. The Irish Horse Racing Industry Act 1994 provided that the Irish Horse Racing Authority could apply for and hold a totalisator licence. This was later transferred to Horse Racing Ireland by the Horse and Greyhound Racing Act 2001, and the licence is currently held by a subsidiary of Horse Racing Ireland called Tote Ireland. Bord na gCon (the national greyhound board) is licensed to operate a totalisator at greyhound tracks.Financial spread betting
Spread betting on financial instruments is governed by the Markets in Financial Instruments Directive (2004/39/EC) and regulated by the Central Bank of Ireland.Prize bonds
Irish government prize bonds are regulated separately from other forms of gaming and lotteries. They are described in the Finance (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1956 as non-interest bearing securities that are 'subject to such conditions as to repayment, redemption or otherwise as [the Minister] thinks fit and in relation to which chance may be used to select particular securities for prizes'.Pool betting
There is no equivalent in Ireland to the types of pool betting licences (non-remote and remote pool betting licences) that can be obtained from the UK Gambling Commission and that can be used by operators to provide pool betting or fantasy sports products. Instead, if an operator in Ireland wishes to provide a pool betting or fantasy sports product in which the amount of money won by the successful customers is calculated by dividing the total pool (minus commission) by the number of winners, it would be necessary to analyse the characteristics of the product to determine whether it could be characterised as a bet or a game under Irish law.Betting on lotteries
There is no specific licence in Ireland for betting on the outcome of lotteries. There are a number of operators offering such products to Irish consumers under their retail or remote bookmaker's licence. There is currently no prohibition on betting on the result of the Irish National Lottery.
The National Lottery Amendment Bill 20217 is currently before the Irish government for consideration and debate. The bill, if enacted, will make it an offence for bookmakers and betting intermediaries to take bets or facilitate betting on the outcome of a draw run by the Irish National Lottery.ii Gambling policy
Although gambling has a long history in Ireland, the Irish authorities have recognised that the legislation governing gambling requires modernisation.8 As currently drafted, betting (remote, non-remote and intermediary) is permitted where a licence has been issued under the Betting Acts. Gaming and lotteries (except for the National Lottery) are primarily governed by the Gaming and Lotteries Acts. However, under the Gaming and Lotteries Acts, gaming is prohibited unless a gaming licence or permit is obtained.
Gaming permits are available from a Garda superintendent for on-premises gaming where the maximum stake is €10 and no player can win more than €3,000 in a game. Gaming licences are available from the Revenue Commissioners for gaming machines and all other gaming where the maximum stake is €5 and no player can win more than €500 in a game, provided that a certificate is obtained in the district court in the first instance. The Gaming and Lotteries Acts have not been updated to take account of internet gaming. It is, however, common for operators that are lawfully licensed overseas to offer online gaming services to Irish customers provided that the gaming contracts are not governed by Irish law.
There is a political desire to modernise Irish gambling law. On 15 July 2013, the government published the heads of the Gambling Control Bill 2013 (the 2013 Bill), which, if enacted, would have modernised Ireland's legislative framework for all types of online and land-based gambling. However, in early 2018, media reports indicated that there were plans to scrap the 2013 Bill and prepare and publish a new, updated Scheme, on the basis that the 2013 Bill is now considered outdated and no longer fit for purpose. The long-awaited General Scheme of the Gambling Regulation Bill was published on 21 October 2021 (the 2021 Scheme) by James Browne TD Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality with responsibility for Law Reform.9 Minister Browne stated that, 'The publication of the General Scheme is an important milestone towards the effective regulation of gambling in Ireland under the new, independent statutory body – the Gambling Regulatory Authority of Ireland. The 2021 Scheme sets out the framework and legislative basis for how we will do this'. The 2021 Scheme, once enacted, will modernise the current outdated legislative framework in which betting and gaming providers operate. See Sections II and VII for further detail.iii State control and private enterprise
For the most part, gambling in Ireland is the subject of private enterprise and the normal principles of free competition apply. Private citizens and companies, whether based in Ireland or abroad, are entitled to apply for a betting licence subject to fulfilling the various requirements to obtain a licence. The main exception to this policy is the Irish National Lottery, which is the subject of the 2013 Act, under which a single licensee is chosen to operate the Irish National Lottery following a competitive tender.iv Territorial issues
Where regulated, gambling is generally regulated nationally. There are generally no special states, municipalities or localities in Ireland that have separate gambling legislation. Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom and its gambling laws are separate to those of the Republic of Ireland.v Offshore gambling
Offshore gambling operators who offer betting services or betting intermediary services by remote means to Irish citizens are required to obtain either a remote bookmaker's licence or remote betting intermediary's licence from the Irish authorities under the Betting Acts. Remote in this context is described as meaning, in relation to a communication, any electronic means including the internet, telephone and telegraphy (whether wireless or not).10 It is clear from the list of operators who have obtained the necessary licences11 that there is a significant number of offshore gambling operators offering betting products to Irish citizens.
Online gaming products (e.g., casino, slots, bingo) are governed by the Gaming and Lotteries Acts, although the legislation has not been updated to take account of online internet gaming. The focus of the Gaming and Lotteries Acts is primarily on gaming carried out in amusement halls, arcades, funfairs, carnivals, travelling circuses and slot machines and therefore quite how it is to be applied to the type of games offered online is unclear. However, it is common for operators who are licensed in other jurisdictions to offer online products to Irish customers. It is important in such circumstances that the contract between the operator and the Irish customer is not governed by Irish law. Operators should also be aware that the Gaming and Lotteries Acts prohibit the promotion, advertising and the provision of unlawful gaming products so it is important that operators are familiar with these provisions.
The Irish Revenue Commissioners actively monitor compliance by remote operators with the licensing regime that applies for remote bookmakers and remote betting intermediaries. We are aware that the Irish Revenue Commissioners have actively pursued operators who have not registered as remote bookmakers and remote betting intermediaries. In addition, we are also aware that the Irish Revenue Commissioners actively follow up with operators if they are not registered and paying remote betting tax, remote intermediary duty and VAT on e-gaming activities, and have wide-ranging powers in order to ensure compliance.
Under the Betting Acts, the Irish Revenue Commissioners have the power to issue compliance notices to third parties who provide facilities or services (e.g., advertising, internet service provider (ISP), telecommunications, payment services) to unlicensed remote betting and betting intermediary operators requesting them to cease supplying such services to unlicensed operators. Failure to comply with a compliance notice is an offence and can lead to a fine of up to €50,000. In addition, various civil and criminal sanctions may also apply.
Legal and regulatory frameworki Legislation and jurisprudence
There are a number of different, parallel legislative regimes that control and regulate gambling in Ireland:
- the Betting Acts, which govern betting in Ireland;
- the Gaming and Lotteries Acts, which govern gaming, lotteries and other similar activities;
- the National Lottery Act 2013, which governs the Irish National Lottery; and
- the Totalisator Act 1929, which governs the Totalisator.
These legislative regimes are currently under review by the Irish legislature and reform is expected in 2022 and 2023 (see Section VII).ii The regulator
There is currently no Irish equivalent to the UK Gambling Commission. In March 2019, the government approved the establishment of a gambling regulatory authority. The 2021 Scheme has been approved by the government for priority drafting and publication, and the drafting of the bill is now underway. The bill will set out the framework and legislative basis for the establishment of a new independent, statutory body (the Gambling Regulatory Authority) to implement a robust regulatory and licensing regime for the gambling sector. It is anticipated that the Gambling Regulatory Authority will be operational by 2023. See Section VII for further detail.
Currently, the bookmaker, remote bookmaker and remote betting intermediary licences that are granted are granted by the Irish Revenue Commissioners, who administer the licensing process and maintain public registers of those who have been granted a licence. As part of the process of obtaining a licence, the applicant (or the relevant officers of the applicant where the applicant is a company) must first obtain certificates of personal fitness. The Department of Justice and Equality is charged with awarding certificates of personal fitness to overseas applicants. Applicants who are based in Ireland may apply for a certificate of personal fitness from a superintendent of the Irish police.
The Irish National Lottery is regulated by the Regulator of the National Lottery, whose primary functions are to ensure that the Irish National Lottery is run with all due propriety, to ensure that participants' interests are protected and to ensure that the long-term sustainability of the Irish National Lottery is safeguarded. Small lotteries (which must be carried out for a charitable purpose) may be carried out under a permit granted by a superintendent of the Irish police or a licence granted by a district court.
Gaming permits and licences may be obtained from a Garda superintendent or the Irish Revenue Commissioners. Lottery permits and licences may be obtained from a Garda superintendent or the district court.
The Totalisator is governed by the Totalisator Act 1929, which provides that the Minister for Finance awards the relevant licence to operate the tote.
Spread betting on financial instruments is governed by the Markets in Financial Instruments Directive (2004/39/EC) and regulated by the Central Bank of Ireland.iii Remote and land-based gambling
The Betting (Amendment) Act 2015 (the 2015 Act) brought remote bookmakers (e.g., internet and mobile betting providers) and remote betting intermediaries (e.g., betting exchanges) within the scope of the existing licensing regime that applied to bricks-and-mortar betting shops in Ireland. The 2015 Act extended the existing 1 per cent turnover on a bookmaker's activities to online and mobile operators and introduced a 15 per cent commission tax on betting exchanges. These rates have since increased to 2 per cent and 25 per cent respectively since 1 January 2019.12 'Commission charges' are defined in the Finance Act 2002 (as amended) as 'the amounts that parties in the State to bets made using the facilities of a remote betting intermediary are charged, whether by deduction from winnings or otherwise, for using those facilities'.
Under the 2015 Act, a traditional land-based bookmaker's licence permits a limited amount of remote betting without the need to obtain an additional remote bookmaker's licence. The value of remote betting on a standard bookmaker's licence may not exceed the lower of €200,000 or 10 per cent of that bookmaker's yearly turnover.
The Gaming and Lotteries Acts apply to all forms of gaming. See Section III for details of the reform that recently took place in this respect.iv Land-based gambling
The Betting Acts envisage the business of bookmaking being carried out in registered bookmaker's premises.13
Casinos are illegal in Ireland if they promote or provide facilities for any kind of gaming that is deemed 'unlawful gaming' for the purposes of the Gaming and Lotteries Acts. Private arrangements are excluded from the scope of the Gaming and Lotteries Acts. This has given rise to the operation of private members' clubs as casinos and card clubs, which it may be argued fall outside the prohibitions on gaming contained in the Gaming and Lotteries Acts. Aside from the requirement to become a member, a process that is not standardised, the opening hours, age restrictions and general operation of such clubs are not regulated.
The Totalisator Act 1929 provides for the establishment and regulation of the Totalisator14 by the Irish Revenue Commissioners. The Irish Horse Racing Industry Act 1994 provided that the Irish Horse Racing Authority could apply for and hold a totalisator licence. This was later transferred to Horse Racing Ireland by the Horse and Greyhound Racing Act 2001 and the licence is currently held by Tote Ireland. Bord na gCon is licensed to operate a totalisator at greyhound tracks.v Remote gambling
Remote betting and the provision of remote betting intermediary services are generally permitted in Ireland, meaning that an operator that is licensed by the Irish Revenue Commissioners in Ireland may provide betting services to Irish citizens in Ireland by remote means15 using equipment which may be located in Ireland or abroad.
As stated in Section IV, online gaming products such as casino, slots and bingo are governed by the Gaming and Lotteries Acts, although that legislative regime has not been updated to take account of online internet gaming. It is common for operators who are licensed in other jurisdictions to offer online products to Irish customers. It is important in such circumstances that the contract between the operator and the Irish customer is not governed by Irish law.vi Ancillary matters
Suppliers of key equipment (e.g., manufacturers of gambling equipment or software suppliers) are not currently required to obtain licences in order to supply to operators. This may be set to change when the 2021 Scheme is enacted (see Section VII).vii Financial payment mechanisms
There are no specific restrictions on payment mechanisms for gambling in Ireland. Again, this may be set to change when the 2021 Scheme is enacted (see Section VII).