On 19 October 2021 the Irish Government approved the publication of the General Scheme of the Gambling Regulation Bill1 (the “General Scheme”) which sets out the framework and legislative basis for the establishment of a new Gambling Regulatory Authority of Ireland (the “Authority”). On 17 May 2022 the Joint Committee on Justice (the “Committee”) published its Report on Pre-Legislative Scrutiny of the General Scheme of the Gambling Regulation Bill2 (the “Report”) in which it sought to scrutinise the proposed legislation and provide recommendations on areas where it believes change or amendments are warranted.

The Committee heard evidence and submissions from key stakeholders, identified several issues and made recommendations on these as set out in detail in the Report. The Report summarises the engagements with stakeholders as well as the key points considered by the Committee when drafting the recommendations set out in the Report.

Recommendations

The Joint Committee made the following recommendations:

  1. “The Committee recommends that an examination be undertaken into the possibility of introducing a Domain Name System (DNS) to block access, at a country level, to gambling operators that are not licensed within the State.
  2. The Committee recommends that a pre-watershed ban be applied to all forms of gambling advertising.
  3. The Committee recommends that the potential to decouple sports advertising and gambling advertising be evaluated, particularly in terms of sports advertisements aimed at young people.
  4. The Committee recommends that the regulator to be established in the General Scheme will apply its new Codes equally to all operators, to ensure socially responsible operations and to afford protections to their customers.
  5. The Committee recommends that the General Scheme include specific references to the prohibition of gambling with credit cards, alongside the proposed ban on gambling with credit.
  6. The Committee recommends that automated software be introduced to better complete verification checks of a customer’s age when registering for an account with an online gambling website.
  7. The Committee recommends that consideration be given, with full respect to GDPR provisions, to allowing background checks to be carried out on an applicant when they register for an online gambling website, to ascertain whether this applicant may have any financial vulnerabilities.
  8. The Committee recommends that Heads 49 [Power of Authority to specify terms and conditions of a licence], 86 [Power of the Authority to decide to impose Administrative Financial Sanctions] and 92 [Substantive offences] be amended to apply limits to all gambling products, stakes, prizes and deposits, including those online.
  9. The Committee recommends that a scheme of escalating fines be introduced to deter harmful behaviour by the gambling industry and to better protect vulnerable individuals. This scheme should include a threshold that any breach of the self-exclusion register by a gambling provider results in an automatic loss of their licence.
  10. The Committee endorses the need for the regulator established within this legislation to gather comprehensive data on the behaviour of those who gamble in Ireland, to ensure effective and evidence-based regulation of the Irish gambling market.
  11. The Committee recommends that the legislation ensures that all Fixed-Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) are banned in Ireland.
  12. The Committee recommends that there should be better enforcement of the ban on gambling within pubs.
  13. The Committee recommends that GAMSTOP, the self-exclusion database preventing access to online operators in the UK, could extend its services to Ireland, to address the lack of such a self-exclusion database for online operators in the Irish market.
  14. The Committee recommends that Local Authorities be cognisant of the potential impacts on the health and well-being of a community, when granting multiple licences for land-based betting in predominately disadvantaged communities and that Local Authorities should be discouraged from granting multiple licences in such areas without sufficient reasons.
  15. The Committee recommends that the resolution under Part III of the Gaming and Lotteries Act, 1956 be observed when granting licences to casinos to operate in certain areas [Certificates for gaming licenses can only be granted in districts where the local authority has adopted Part III].
  16. The Committee recommends 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 and that this should be established in legislation.”

Conclusion

The Government has committed to establishing a gambling regulator focused on public safety and well-being covering online and in-person gambling which is focused on public safety and well-being, with the powers to regulate advertising, gambling websites and apps. The recommendations of the Committee are largely focused on protecting players and the vunerable from the harms that can arise from gambling.. These recommendations and the measures contained in the General Scheme will fundamentally alter the landscape for gambling in Ireland once the long awaited Gambling Regulation Bill is enacted.

The Government has approved the Gambling Regulation Bill for priority drafting and publication. There is now a clear pathway mapped for this legislation progressing, which will facilitate the Authority being established and operational in 2023. In addition, applications have now closed for the post of the CEO Designate of the Gambling Regulatory Authority of Ireland. The Public Appointments Service is currently interviewing candidates and it is expected that the start date and on boarding process for the new CEO Designate will be announced in Q3 2022.

After numerous false dawns in the past it would appear that Ireland is now well on the road to reforming the regime which exists in Ireland for gambling.