Ireland’s government has approved the publication of the Gambling Regulation Bill, setting out the country’s new regulatory framework and licensing rules, in a major milestone for the long-awaited reforms.
The draft legislation also paves the way for the establishment of the new Gambling Regulatory Authority.
At the time of writing, the bill had not been published, but it will be “as soon as practicable in line with normal publication procedures after Cabinet approval of a bill. It will be first issued to members of the Oireachtas [parliament],” according to the government announcement.
Details of some regulations, which were also proposed in the General Scheme of Gambling Regulation Bill published in October 2021, were included in the latest announcement, along with additional information on their implementation.
For instance, there is a proposed watershed prohibiting gambling advertising between 5:30am and 9:00pm, a credit card gambling ban and the regulator will be given powers to prohibit inducement offers and promotions.
When it comes to enforcement, operators offering gambling in Ireland without a licence face up to eight years' imprisonment and/or a fine at the discretion of the courts.
The bill will provide for three types of licences for both land-based and online gambling: business-to-consumer gaming, betting and lottery licences; business-to-business licences; and gambling licences for charitable/philanthropic causes.
Additionally, a new National Gambling Exclusion Register will be created, along with a “Social Impact Fund”, paid for by the industry, to finance initiatives to reduce problem gambling and support awareness-raising and educational measures.
The draft legislation still has to be brought through the houses of the Irish parliament before it is enacted.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin called the announcement an “unquestionably a major milestone”, speaking at the launch of the bill on Tuesday (November 15).
“This long-awaited and much-needed bill takes a responsible approach to balancing the freedom to gamble with the safeguards to protect people from falling prey to addiction. This bill provides a clearer framework for operators and for consumers,” Martin said.
Justice minister Helen McEntee said the bill allows for a regulator to “appropriately, meaningfully and swiftly respond to ongoing and future developments in the gambling sector”.
“The focus on preventing harm is of vital importance. As a former minister of mental health and as a local representative, I have seen the damaging impact gambling addiction can have on people and families, particularly on their mental health,” McEntee said.
The Irish Bookmakers Association (IBA), which represents more than 750 of the 780 betting shops in Ireland, welcomed the announcement.
Sharon Byrne, chairperson of the IBA, said: “As anticipated, the bill is extensive and appears to afford the regulator the power and flexibility to regulate an ever-evolving sector. We will review the legislation when published, in full.”
Byrne told VIXIO GamblingCompliance that the IBA has already made “significant strides to increase player protections”, such as updating its code of practice for safer gambling announced in August 2021.
“We look forward to working with the CEO [of the regulator] and her team, to introduce and enforce practical, evidence-based and effective regulation of gambling in Ireland,” Bryne said.
Extern Problem Gambling, an Irish-based non-profit organisation, similarly welcomed what it called “some very progressive proposals”.
The organisation said it “so good to hear” there will be a proposed ban on inducements, writing on social media that “no other addictive product can be handed out, ‘free’, at the click of a screen, any time, day or night”.
Extern Problem Gambling also welcomed the acknowledgment by the Taoiseach that both the industry and the consumer must take ownership of responsible gambling, claiming that “for too long all of the focus has been placed on the consumer”.
To avoid a long transition to the new proposed rules, the government has made preparations.
A Programme Board has already been established by the Department of Justice, which is tasked with “minimising the time between the enactment of the legislation and the date on which the regulator commences operations”.
In September 2022, long-time senior civil and public servant Anne Marie Caulfield was named as the designated CEO of the country’s planned independent gambling regulator.
The regulator is expected to become operational in Autumn 2023 and the Department of Justice has already pledged €1m to help with its establishment.
In October 2021, Ireland published its long-awaited General Scheme of Gambling Regulation Bill, which included a commitment to establish the Gambling Regulatory Authority of Ireland and give it powers to regulate advertising, gambling websites and apps.
The scheme also outlined that free bets, credit cards VIPs and “preferential treatment” would be banned, spending limits would be introduced where practicable, and detailed new requirements around warnings and messaging of gambling products.
In talks prior to the announcement, the gambling industry and public health stakeholders called for advertising codes during several rounds of recent Joint Committee on Justice hearings that were part of pre-legislative scrutiny of the general scheme of the long-awaited Gambling Regulation Bill.
However, the two sets of stakeholders diverged in their views, with gambling industry representatives wanting advertising regulations to recognise “clear distinctions between different types of gambling”, according to the review.
Health stakeholders, on the other hand, backed “extensive restrictions on gambling advertising, particularly around sport”, calling for the proposed watershed and strict penalties for targeting gambling adverts towards vulnerable groups.