Two years after the Government said it was to “immediately” start modernising the country’s 50-year-old gambling laws, Justice Minister Alan Shatter has published the heads of a bill to regulate the industry.
The Gambling Control Bill 2013, published yesterday, ruled out the possibility of introducing ‘Las Vegas-style’ super-casinos such as that backed by Independent TD Michael Lowry, which had been proposed for Tipperary.
When enacted, the bill will restrict the number of casinos to 40, will only allow them to have a maximum of 15 tables, and will require each establishment to hold a licence.
According to Mr Shatter, the law will also introduce measures to protect vulnerable adults and young people who are prone to gambling addiction.
As the law stands, casinos are prohibited in Ireland, yet every city and large town in the country has at least one “private members’ club”. Some are open 24 hours a day, sell alcohol throughout those hours, and admit people without membership as is required under anti-money laundering laws.
The Government says that, when the laws come into force, there will be a “unified national regulatory system” for gambling, with the minister as regulator. The casinos will only be allowed in certain locations — they will not be allowed to be near schools or health care facilities, for example. The sale of alcohol “may” be allowed, but only during bar hours.
The bill includes detailed arrangements for checking the suitability of operators who apply for a licence. The Department of Justice said there will be a “close liaison with the gardaí, checks on criminal records, and arrangements for contacting regulators and law enforcement bodies abroad”.
Operators will have to pay a levy, which will go into a Social Gambling Fund, which will be used to assist treatment services for those with gambling addictions, as well as educational and information services. The bill also introduces age restrictions for players, a requirement for staff to be given specific training, and for key personnel in each casino to have a personal licence.
Speaking at Templemore Garda College, Mr Shatter said the Cabinet view was that super-casinos were not in the public interest as they attract the wrong element.
“There are substantial difficulties in other states with that type of framework and we believe that a more modest type facility with appropriate regulatory structures in place, with a proper inspectorate in place, is the correct way in the public interest overall in dealing with this issue,” he said.
The Gaming & Leisure Association of Ireland, which has nine casinos as its members, said it welcomed the Cabinet’s decision “to take gambling out of the dark ages into the online age as a positive step forward”.
“Proper regulation of the gaming sector is good news,” said association director David Hickson.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved