“An interim reform measure” was how David Stanton, Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality, described Ireland’s Gaming and Lotteries (Amendment) Act 2019 during a debate in July 2019. Furthermore, the Act is aimed at “modernising and clarifying the provisions of what is, as matters stand, greatly outdated legislation”. If this was modernising and clarifying, the Irish gambling sector must be dreading the more substantial regulatory overhaul that is intended with the Gambling Control Bill.

The Act, which was signed into law in December 2019, initially proposed reducing the allocation of bingo prizes to just 50% of a bingo hall’s total takings. The Bingo Players’ Association in Ireland launched a campaign against this prize cap and was successful in getting the government to increase the prize allocation to 75% of total takings. At least 25% of takings should be given to charitable causes.

Even this increase might still cause a lessening in bingo’s appeal to some players because many bingo venues work to a percentage of between 75% and 85% of takings paid in prizes.

The Act also wanted to increase the maximum stakes and prizes on gaming machines to EUR 10 and EUR 750, respectively. These limits were subsequently revised downwards to EUR 5 and EUR 500.

The Act has been even more serious for some of the private members’ club in Ireland, which offer gaming to their members. Upon the passing of the act, the Fitzwilliam Card Club, Dublin, deemed the risk of continuing to operate so great that it closed its doors after 16 years in business.

The company stated:

It is with great regret that we advise you that the Fitzwilliam Card Club has ceased operations. This is due to recent amendments to the Gaming & Lotteries act 1956 contained in the Gaming & Lotteries (Amendment) Act 2019. This Act was signed into law by the President on the 21st of December 2019.

This legislation re-casts the principle of prohibition on the provision of commercial gaming contained in the 1956 legislation, namely that the provision of gaming where the odds of the player and the banker are not equal constitutes unlawful gaming.

While the level of enforcement remains unclear, the provision of unlawful gaming is deemed a criminal offense, which if prosecuted, carries a sanction of up to 2 years in Gaol and/or a fine of up to €50,000.
The legal risk was such that the Fitzwilliam felt compelled to cease all operations until such time that the long-promised Gambling Control Bill is drafted and enacted.”

The club cannot continue to offer games where there is any house edge under the Act.

The Fitzwilliam Club holds out hope that that full regulatory overhaul will clarify the position of gaming and casinos in Ireland. If the climbdowns and unintended consequences of the Amendment Act 2019 are anything to go by, the Club might be hoping in vain.

The situation could be exacerbated by the inconclusive result in Ireland’s general election, in which no party claimed enough seats for a majority and various parties having ruled out working with one another in a coalition.