Irish Government Begins Promised Overhaul of Gambling Regulations

The Dail in Dublin is the seat of the Irish government.

The ruling Fine Gael party in the Republic of Ireland is pushing ahead with much-needed updates to the country’s gambling laws. The aim is to present new draft legislation within a matter of months, possibly even weeks, and enact two new laws in 2020.

  • The draft law will include restrictions on gambling advertising
  • A new independent regulator will be created
  • There will be protections for children and at-risk gamblers
  • Overseas operators will be placed on a par with Irish companies

Ireland’s current gambling laws date back to 1931, in the form of the Betting Act 1931 and Gaming & Lotteries Act 1956. They have been deemed wholly unsuitable for the digital age. Work to overhaul the laws began in 2013, but little progress was made and a draft bill was shelved. The new legislation will be in line with that of other EU member states.

David Stanton, the minister of state for equality and integration, heads a team of lawmakers from the Inter-Departmental Work Group on Gambling. The team is working on the new Gaming and Lotteries Bill and the revised Gambling Control Bill 2013.

Urgent reform needed

Stanton has made it clear that there needs to be urgent oversight not just of gaming machines in amusement arcades, covered in the 1956 Act, but also of the booming online gaming industry.

He said: “With internet gambling, you could lose your house overnight online. This is the area we need to regulate, as well as the advertising and glamorizing of gambling.”

He is also keen to put protections in place for children. He mentioned the controversial issue of loot boxes in online games and expressed concern that some online games “groomed” children to move on to gambling when they became older.

Updating the Gambling Control Bill 2013

The original draft updates were due to be voted through in 2018 but were stalled due to fast-moving changes in technology and the digital gambling space.

This bill will create a new independent regulator whose responsibilities will include licensing and compliance (including the setting of penalties for non-compliance), overseeing the promotion of gambling products, taxation of revenues, and protections for consumers.

The latter will include policies for gambling addicts to access help, to be funded by a mandatory levy on operators.

Previously, regulation fell within the remit of the Department of Justice, but in practice the industry was left to regulate itself. The gambling industry is so complex now that the working group deemed it necessary to have a dedicated body to provide oversight.

Establishing an independent regulator has bipartisan support, and the Irish Bookmakers Association has also expressed its approval for the initiative, especially since the regulator would have statutory powers to force overseas operators of online gambling sites in Ireland to comply with the same rules that physical premises must abide by.  The IBA’s members include major gambling operators such as Paddy Power, Boylesports, and Ladbrokes.

The new Gaming and Lotteries (Amended) Bill

This is the bill that will completely overhaul the original 1956 Act. It will simplify the process of applying for a lottery license and update the rules on promoting regional lotteries.

Ireland is also looking at slashing the maximum stakes that bettors can place on fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs), as the UK is in the process of doing. It’s thought the new maximum will be €2 (£1.80; $2.30), on a par with the UK’s new £2 ($2.55) limit. Stakes will also be limited on video gaming machines.

Controversial changes to taxation

Controversial changes to tax rates went live on January 1. The gambling tax is set at 2% of turnover, double the previous rate. The government believes the increased tax rate will raise €50m (£45m; $57.6m) a year. This money will be used to fund treatment for gambling addiction and support for Ireland’s substantial horse racing industry.

The Irish Bookmakers Association lobbied hard against the change, arguing that it would lead to around 1,500 job losses and the closure of 400 betting shops. It proposed an alternative option – to tax gross profits at a rate of 10% for betting shops and 20% for online operators.

The IBA says its proposal would raise €25m (£22.6m; $28.8m) while protecting jobs. The government has promised to review the impact of the tax hike by the end of the first quarter of 2019 to see how businesses are actually being affected and make revisions if needed.