Gambling Bill Dashes Irish Vegas Hopes
By Jana Sedlakova
Not to be left behind in the rush to barricade the EU gambling markets in recent years, Ireland is the latest member state to produce new gambling legislation. The expected Gambling Control Bill 2013 general scheme was published last month by Alan Shatter, Irish Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence.
This new Bill will replace the over half century old Irish gambling laws and, with the exception of some lottery products covered by the National Lottery Act 2013, the new bill will govern all forms of gambling, including remote gambling. For those lottery products that do fall under the new scheme a significant charitable requirement will apply: “As a minimum, 25% of the proceeds of sales shall be allocated to charitable or philanthropic causes.”
There are currently no fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs) in Ireland and they are specifically referenced in the new legislation, which will maintain the prohibition. If a device is capable of being or becoming a FOBT it will not be issued a licence to operate. The supply, maintenance or repair of FOBTs as well as offering for use or access to a FOBT could constitute a criminal offence with potential imprisonment up to five years.
Unsurprisingly, consumer protection has a place in the Bill including the efforts to tackle the surfacing criminality: “The Minister has identified as a major priority the need to ensure gambling operations do not come under the control of organised criminal gangs. For this reason, he is including detailed arrangements to check on the suitability of all licensed operators, including close liaison with the Gardaí, checks on criminal records and arrangements for contacting regulators and law enforcement bodies abroad.”
As regards casinos, Irish gamblers currently need to be members of private club casinos before they can play on the gaming tables. Whilst the new legislation was expected to lift this requirement for casinos, the permission is two-fold. There will be restrictions in the number of casinos in Ireland, as well as restrictions in the individual casino size. The number of casinos is set to be capped at 40 and with a maximum 15 gaming tables per casino. The number of gaming machines can be set by the Office for Gambling Control Ireland with ministerial approval but with a maximum of 25.
So investment plans for developing large casinos, such as the €450 million ‘super casino’ development in north Tipperary, will likely be halted. After granting planning permission in 2011 the development was put on hold, pending clarification of the legality of casino. Reportedly, the original 2,000-table casino was ruled out shortly afterwards with plans to limit the number of tables drastically.
Two years down the line the situation has not improved. Any hopes which were raised in anticipation of the new rules were dashed by the issue of the Gambling Control Bill 2013 general scheme.
The Tipperary venue would have been a real-size reproduction of the presidential White House. It would have had a hotel with 500 bedrooms, a greyhound track, a racetrack, casino and a golf course on an 800-acre site. It will be interesting to see whether a compromise can be made to allow an operation that would employ a couple of thousand people and contribute to public income as well as revive the region. Interestingly, there are no such restrictions on casino gaming in its online form referred to in the 18th Head of the Scheme covering matters specific to casino games where the 15 table land based casino limit is outlined.
Addressing the Gambling Control Bill 2013 general scheme, Michael Lowry, a T.D. (Teachta Dála) for Tipperary North since 1987 stated, “While elements of Minister Shatter’s Bill are welcome the overall thrust of the proposal is overwhelmingly short-sighted and negative. This is a missed opportunity to modernise our gaming law in line with European norms. The Minister’s proposed legislative reform will fail to maximise the potential for the gaming sector and the benefit to the economy as a whole.
The level of activity that can be conducted in a casino under this bill is ridiculously low. The cap on gaming machines and tables is so prohibitive as to make these proposed new casino licenses commercially non-viable. Due to the curtailment measures contained in the Bill these new proposed licenses will have no appeal to the industry….”
An Office of Gambling Control Ireland will be established under the new Bill. According to the scheme the Minister will be the sole regulator with licensing and regulatory powers which he may delegate to the Office.
The Office will be financed by the licensing fees and will act as licensing agency, the industry regulator and general compliance Tsar. Minister Shatter said that “Under the new law, anyone offering a gambling service to anyone in the State, by whatever means and regardless of whether the operator is based in the State or elsewhere, must have a licence.”
Also a Social Gambling Fund will be established under the Bill. The fund will tackle issues such as problem gambling. The costs of the Fund will be covered by the gambling operators.
Ireland is thus on the path to cater for the rapidly evolving remote gambling sector that has emerged in the last decade. By implementing these licensing requirements Ireland will join its fellow EU Member States in exercising its powers to restrict remote gambling and continuing to divide the so-called Single Market in Europe.
The Gambling Control Bill 2013 scheme can be found here