THE multibillion-euro betting, gaming, and gambling industries in Ireland are regulated by arcane laws, principally the 1956 Gaming and Lotteries Act and the Betting Act of 1931. Successive governments have been well aware for decades that these are way past their sell-by dates.
Hence the introduction in 2013 of the Gambling Control Bill by the then minister for justice, Alan Shatter. The bill is full of good intent, prioritising the protection of underage gamblers. There are real concerns children are being groomed by online games, which are a precursor to gambling sites. Any law must prohibit activities that encourage children to go from gaming to gambling.
But intent is one thing, action quite another. It now looks like we will have to wait until next year before this vital piece of legislation comes into force.
In the meantime, we have seen enacted the Betting Amendment Act of 2015, but that does little more than update the 1931 act to include online gambling operators and place them in the licensing system. A far more comprehensive piece of legislation is needed, not just to regulate the number and types of gambling that are allowed, but also to take into account addiction and the dangers facing children and gambling addicts.
Indeed, problem gambling has received more high-profile attention from the industry than from government. The most notable reflection on the dark side of gambling has come from none other than Stewart Kenny, the founder of Paddy Power (which became Paddy Power Betfair), one of Europe’s most profitable gambling companies.
Mr Kenny was chief executive from 1988 to 2001 and a non-executive director after that, but he left the company in 2016 because he believed it had not done enough to stop addicts losing large sums of money. More recently, he told the Sunday Business Post that the gambling industry is in danger of getting a “stench like cigarettes” unless steps are taken to make its products less addictive.
The newspaper said Paddy Power Betfair has since closed 200,000 accounts of problem gamblers. The current chief executive, Peter Jackson, acknowledged that the company needed to step in when customers were showing signs of problem gambling.
That is all very laudable, but it cannot be left to the industry to regulate itself. We need, as a matter of urgency, a comprehensive law that controls and regulates the industry. David Stanton, junior justice minister, is overseeing the drafting of the new legislation and has defended the delay in its implementation on the grounds that this is a highly complex area. It certainly is, as it ranges from horse racing to online gaming and from betting to amusement arcades and casinos. But that still does not explain why it should take more than six years, particularly when we could usefully borrow from the UK, where new regulations have proven to be highly effective in controlling the industry. The inordinate delay in enacting legislation to control gambling in Ireland is, in itself, a gamble.