Ireland’s Gambling Control Bill Stalls as Politicians Despair

The Dáil building in Dublin
The Gambling Control Bill has stalled in the Irish legislature.

30-second summary

  • Gambling Control Bill was first introduced in 2013
  • Bill has not moved through the Dáil since a vote on May 9, 2018
  • Politicians cannot agree on shape of regulation
  • Problem gambling highlights urgent need for regulation

Ireland’s long-awaited Gambling Control Bill remains stalled in the legislature as politicians argue over how to regulate the country’s gambling sector.

The number of problem gamblers in Ireland continues to rise, and there are huge concerns about money laundering. Campaigners say the Dáil must push through the legislation this year.

Background to the bill

The existing legislation – the Betting Act of 1931 and the Gaming and Lotteries Act of 1956 – is out of date and inadequate for the digital age. The draft Gambling Control Bill runs to 90 pages and includes extensive provisions for licensing gambling operators.

License applicants will be required to demonstrate they have suitable measures in place to prevent money laundering. They will also need to show they have programs for training staff about how to spot problem gamblers.

The bill was first presented to the Dáil in 2013, but attempts to ease its passage have been painfully slow. After sitting on the sidelines for several years, the bill was back on the Dáil’s agenda in late 2017. But junior justice minister David Stanton said the debate would only be in 2018, due to the volume of other bills awaiting a vote.

In the meantime, Stanton promised to set up an interim “shadow” gambling regulator, whose mission would be to tackle the increase in gambling addiction. This has not happened. Ireland has an estimated 100,000 problem gamblers, but anti-gambling campaigners say the true figure is likely much higher.

The Gambling Control Bill would bring Ireland’s gambling industry under a level of regulation similar to that in the UK. The UK Gambling Commission has some of the toughest regulation in the world for both land-based and online gambling operators, with tougher rules on the way, yet the sector flourishes.

Why the delay?

Political commentators and politicians all say the bill needs to pass as soon as possible because money laundering and organized crime are huge problems for the gambling industry. TD Maureen O’Sullivan said: “1% of the industry is regulated for money laundering, which means that 99% are not.”

Politicians David Hickson and Sharon Byrne say the government needs to act to take control of what has been described as a “Wild West” industry. They are concerned about the lack of support for problem gamblers and protections for underage gamblers. The bill has clauses to deal with these issues.

However, there is a lack of consensus on the best way to regulate the gambling sector, resulting in the bill being stalled at the third stage. It needs to pass another eight stages to become law. Some legislators now want to see tougher measures than those set out in the bill, such is their frustration.

The Department of Justice ordered a study in 2015 on problem gambling in Ireland, plus a consultation with the gambling industry. These were due to be published in the second half of 2018. But neither has yet been put on the table, so the bill cannot progress to the report stage for amendments.

Pressure is now mounting, both in the Dáil and from the public, to pass the bill this year and start dealing with the social harms caused by gambling.

The cost of gambling

The latest figures, for 2017, show that the Irish gambled more than €6bn (£5.15bn; $6.8bn), including €800m (£687m; $910m) on games run by the National Lottery such as scratchcards and online games, as well as lottery tickets. Bettors’ losses amounted to €2.1bn (£1.8bn; $2.4bn) in 2016

Around 45% of Irish adults have gambled at some time in their lives. Children as young as nine are also recorded as having gambled.

Sinn Féin TD Louise O’Reilly says Ireland can no longer afford to ignore the issue of problem gambling, and she criticized the government for not yet producing its research.

She said: “Despite what anyone will tell you, we are in the grip of a problem gambling crisis. We need stiffer regulation, and we need it urgently. It might all be a bit of fun, but we ­cannot let that blind us to the real hardships caused by problem gambling.

“Combined with aggressive marketing, people are more susceptible than ever to developing problem gambling habits, particularly teenage boys and young men. But these people are being failed by governments that have sat on their hands and done nothing.”