Irish gambling laws face overhaul

Out-Law News | 22 Mar 2019 | 1:33 pm | 3 min. read

A major overhaul of the way gambling is regulated in Ireland has been recommended by a group tasked with advising the Irish government on the issue.

The reforms proposed would see a new licensing regime established for operators based at physical locations as well as those serving Irish consumers remotely, as well as the introduction of tougher consumer protection standards, new anti-money laundering controls and the establishment of a new independent regulatory authority to oversee and enforce compliance.

The proposals have reportedly been backed by Irish ministers, although Ireland's prime minister Leo Varadkar said it could take a least 18 months to set up the new gambling regulator, according to the Irish Times. Interim measures designed to deliver some reform sooner are anticipated through the Gaming and Lotteries (Amendment) Bill.

Plans to update Irish gambling laws have been in place for years, but have failed to materialise.

Proposals for reforms to the licensing and regulation of gambling in Ireland were outlined in the General Scheme of the Gambling Control Bill published by the Irish government in July 2013. However, those proposals were not materially advanced until early 2018 when the Irish government set out plans to streamline the existing fragmented and longstanding legislation currently in force and establish a new licensing regime, and further establish an independent statutory gambling authority.

It was thought at the time that the measures in the General Scheme of the Gambling Control Bill would be taken forward. However, the Irish government set up a working group to assess if the 2013 measures remained fit for purpose today and the group, which comprised representatives from across government departments, Ireland's Office of the Attorney General and the police force, has now recommended a series of further reforms.

David Stanton, Ireland's minister of state at the Department of Justice and Equality, said the new report "identifies new and emerging issues not represented in the 2013 General Scheme and, which must be addressed in a revised Gambling Control Bill".

"Incremental change is not a viable approach to the reform of Irish gambling licensing and regulation," Stanton said. "Effective reform requires fundamental and significant change. This will take some time to develop. It is essential that sufficient resources be committed to support the reform. The effective oversight of an industry with an estimated annual value of between €6 – 8 billion requires nothing less than such an effort."

Stanton said a number of interim measures of reform in a new Gaming and Lotteries (Amendment) Bill are to be delivered and that he hopes those measures "can ultimately be reflected in the future comprehensive reform of the licensing and regulation of gambling".

Under the broader reforms, gambling operators should expect stricter licensing requirements, including around the protection of consumers and vulnerable persons and for combatting fraud and money laundering.

The new gambling regulator would set the levies and fees to be paid by operators, which would ultimately ensure the body became self-financing. Special anti-money laundering and match fixing units should be set up within the new regulatory body, the working group has recommended. Irish minister should look to the Gambling Commission in Great Britain and the Malta Gaming Authority for inspiration on how the new regulator should be developed in Ireland, it said.

The working group further recommended that an alternative dispute resolution mechanism could be developed by the proposed new regulator to "settle disputes between consumers and operators", and that the reforms should also ensure gambling wagers are "contractually enforceable".

Further protections for vulnerable persons were also endorsed, with the group recommending in future that licensed gambling operators contribute to a social fund "to assist with research, information campaigns and to support addiction treatment by relevant professional bodies".

Shortcomings with the existing regulatory framework for gambling activities in Ireland were identified by the working group in their report. Currently, regulation is governed by a number of different pieces of legislation and the framework is overseen by a variety of government departments, revenue commissioners, the police force, local authorities and district courts.

"The current Irish legislation does not provide for a coherent licensing and regulatory approach to gambling activities (apart from the specific legislation for the National Lottery)," the report said. "The responsibility for licensing and regulating gambling activities is shared between a number of Departments and agencies. This fragmented approach does not facilitate a consistent and effective approach to licensing, compliance and enforcement, consumer protection and the protection of vulnerable persons, including of underage persons."

"In addition, this fragmented regulatory environment limits the potential for revenue raising possibilities from licensing fees, duties and taxation, which could better fund regulatory activities and treatment for gambling addiction. With regard to online gambling activities, there is very limited regulation through the licensing of remote betting operators… The licensing and regulation of gambling activities in Ireland still exhibits a land-based approach. This is increasingly less important due to the advent of digital technology and a move to online gambling," it said.