Gambling regulator set to be in place by summer

Gambling regulator set to be in place by summer

Minister of state James Browne said there will be no specific legislation around video game 'loot boxes'.

The long-delayed gambling regulator could be in place by the summer, with plans in train to limit spending, require age verification, and introduce measures to curb advertising.

James Browne, minister of state at the Department of Justice with responsibility for law reform, told the Irish Examiner that the Government wants the regulator in place by summer, with legislation to follow.

"We want to give [the regulator] a lot of flexibility," said Mr Browne. "The line between gambling and gaming is blurring. Everyone knows what gambling used to mean, but nowadays everyone has a casino in their back pocket with their phones."

The regulator will be paid for by the industry eventually, said Mr Browne, but the Government will back it with between €8m and €12m in the first few years.

"Gambling is quite technical at the moment, but you will have to get a licence which will have a fee and a levy will be placed on bets which will pay for a social fund for education and treatment."

Mr Browne said legislation which will be brought to Cabinet in 2021 could include spending limits, stronger age verification for mobile gambling, and a prohibition on promotions aimed at luring customers back to gambling.

However, Mr Browne said there will be no specific legislation around video game 'loot boxes' and these will be left to the gambling regulator. These loot boxes are paid-for purchases of items which involve an element of chance. For example, in the Fifa football games, players can pay real money for 'packs' of players with which to play online, but the actual contents of the packs are unknown.

The practices have been banned in Belgium and the Netherlands, but the Department of Justice says that they are technically e-commerce.

"A critical issue is whether loot-boxes constitute gambling, or are a form of e-commerce," said a department statement. "These offers do not appear to fall within the current Irish legal definition of gambling, and purchases are essentially an e-commerce activity. As such, they would fall within the recourse of normal consumer law where there is dissatisfaction on the part of the customer with the purchase. This is a position which is shared by other EU Member States."

Barry Grant of problem gambling charity Extern said allowing children to be exposed to these mechanics can lead to gambling addiction further down the line.

"The human brain is still developing as a child," said Mr Grant. "No way are they set up to make those decisions, about random chance or value, nor should they be exposed to these kinds of things.

"We know that gambling products can be super addictive. If we expose kids to potentially addictive gambling services, we're potentially creating a problem down the line.

"The rush is in the anticipation of gambling. The exciting bit is the ball in the roulette wheel. If you train kids to get that anticipation at that age, it's a small jump to horses."

Social Democrats TD Cian O'Callaghan said video games with content which is down to chance should feature warnings.

"There should be very strong labelling and warning," said Mr O'Callaghan. "Video games are addictive enough as it is."

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