Delay on gambling laws sparks concern

Gambling companies have called on the Government to lay its cards on the table regarding regulation of the industry, saying it seemed legislation was being deliberately stalled.

A Gambling Control Bill was approved in principle in 2013 after years of promises but it has made minimal progress since.

In its absence, casinos are self-regulated, online betting operations have exploded, underage betting at bookmakers and the tote is left to the industry to police, operators have no legal responsibility to report financial transactions that might indicate theft, money laundering or event fixing, and gaming arcades are operating under 60-year-old laws.

The Gaming and Leisure Association of Ireland (GALA), which represents casinos, and the Irish Bookmakers Association, which speaks for 700 betting shops, have both urged regulation.

While recognising it may impose some restrictions on them, they say it will also streamline the archaic licencing procedures, clear out unscrupulous operators and pave the way for new investment in the industry.

“Everyone wants regulation — us and the health professionals who deal with problem gambling. We may want it for different reasons but we all want it,” said David Hickson of GALA.

He said he also believed the Government was in favour of regulation too which was why actions by Junior Justice Minister David Stanton, were all the more confusing.

Last month, Mr Stanton told the Dail that while work was getting under way on the Gambling Control Bill, he was considering establishing a regulator in “shadow form” but he has had no discussions with the industry about it and has refused to explain what he has in mind.

And in July he approved work to begin on drafting legislation to make 23 amendments to the outdated 1956 legislation which touch on some of the issues the Gambling Control Bill is meant to address.

Those amendments are in a wide-ranging new bill called the Courts and Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill which has now been sent to the Attorney General for scrutiny and drafting of the wording.

A public consultation on the amendments is ongoing which David Hickson says is pointless. “We’d be saying, don’t waste resources on this because they’re going to use the amendments as an excuse not to proceed with the Gambling Control Bill. I would be very concerned about it.”

Sharon Byrne of the Irish Bookmakers Association said they had not been consulted on a shadow regulator and she was concerned legislation was taking so long.

“My biggest reason for wanting to have the Gambling Control Bill introduced is to have customer protections across the entire gambling sector.

“We have the ‘Think 21’ campaign to cut out underage betting and currently, we are the only ones paying for the services of the charity that runs helplines and face-to-face counselling for people with gambling problems and their families. That responsibility should be shared by the whole sector and the bill would see to that.”

A minister’s spokesman said: “A review of the General Scheme of the Gambling Control Bill, published in 2013, is continuing in the Department of Justice. A number of issues are being considered as part of this review.” He said work to progress the text of the bill was under way.

Editorial: 10

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