Irish Lawmakers Debate Gambling Bill Amendments

April 26, 2024
Ireland’s landmark gambling bill has made some forward progress in its slow journey to becoming law, as both government and opposition politicians introduce a series of amendments.

Ireland’s landmark gambling bill has made some forward progress in its slow journey to becoming law, as both government and opposition politicians introduce a series of amendments.

Irish lawmakers debated the Gambling Regulation Bill 2022 in the Dáil Éireann, the country’s legislative lower house, on the evening of April 24 and a host of proposed amendments that were published a day before were put forward. 

Planned discussions on the bill set for early April were previously delayed as the Dáil Éireann selected a new Taoiseach on April 9.

Proposed amendments

On April 23, the “report stage” amendments for the bill were published on the Dáil Éireann website.

The amendments focus primarily on altering definitions in the bill to provide more clarity and include exemptions for charities, community groups, philanthropic bodies and sports organisations.

James Browne, the minister of state at the Department of Justice, brought forward several amendments, including updating the definitions of "advertise", "gaming machine", "participant", "providing a betting activity" and "regulated financial service provider".

Browne also introduced several technical amendments relating to ensuring player funds are not used for inappropriate means and enabling authorities to “seek orders against any financial service providers that come under the remit of the Central Bank, the European Central Bank, similar regulatory bodies in the EEA or any other bank outside the State”.

“With these amendments, the authority will be able to seek orders and take action against those banks and financial providers operating on behalf of unlicensed operators outside the State that are not subject to supervision here, in the EEA or the EU,” Browne said. 

The report stage is the last opportunity for politicians to make amendments to the text of a bill. When all amendments have been dealt with, the bill will be received for final consideration. However, the bill could face another report stage in Ireland's upper legislative house. 

Political opposition targets fundraising changes

Sinn Féin, the political party with the joint most members of the Dáil Éireann and the largest member of the opposition, has warned that the gambling bill will restrict local sporting and voluntary organisations from much-needed fundraising activities.

During the debate, Sinn Féin deputy Pearse Doherty, said the bill is “seriously problematic” for charities and sports organisations.

“Every single Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael Member came and voted to apply many of these measures that we apply to Paddy Power and Betfair to our local communities that are trying to raise funds,” Doherty said. 

Both Doherty and fellow Sinn Féin member Pat Buckley said “the legislation should be recommitted and done properly”.

Before the debate, Pa Daly, a Sinn Féin member of the Dáil Éireann, said his party was contacted by charities ahead of the scheduled report stage of the bill that are “very concerned” about the implications the bill will have on fundraising, and “have requested that opposition TDs raise these concerns and move amendments to address them”.

Daly wrote on April 23 in a blog post that “Sinn Féin moved a number of amendments in response, including one which would exempt charities and sports clubs from the provisions of the bill, provided that the funds from any activity are for their benefit alone”.

“By contrast, the government has persisted with blunt measures which could cripple many small community organisations and sports clubs, with no evidence related to gambling harm provided to justify doing so,” Daly wrote.

Concerns flagged before the debate

In recent months, several different stakeholders have flagged concerns about the bill.

The Electronic Money Association (EMA), the EU trade group representing electronic money issuers (EMIs), warned Browne that the bill’s inclusion of “prohibiting payments by electronic or digital means which uses money loaded from a credit card or from any other source of credit” is “too broad, and will be unworkable in practice”.

Amendments have been put forward to address concerns around the details of the proposed prohibition of credit card gambling.

The EMA also claims it is “unclear” whether “gambling-related services” extend to financial institutions and banks that provide services to gambling providers, which would require them to obtain a gambling licence under the new legislative requirements.

Gambling and lottery betting operator Lottoland also wrote to Browne on March 7, flagging concerns around “vague and ambiguous definitions”, such as “bet” being simply defined as “pool betting” in the bill, as well as addressing comments made by the minister on the RTÉ Drivetime radio show on February 21.

Last year, Malta also submitted two separate notifications to the European Commission flagging what it considers to be a host of regulatory barriers that may be a “cause for concern” in the Irish bill.

There are also notable concerns raised by horseracing and greyhound racing stakeholders about the impact of a watershed gambling advertising ban between 5:30am and 9:00pm. However, it seems unlikely that the government will change this proposal.

Next steps

The bill is currently still officially in the report stage, meaning it still has to go through one more stage before it is passed to the Seanad Éireann, Ireland's upper legislative house. 

The final stage in the Dáil will see final statements on the bill being made. No date has been set for this yet.

Once the bill is with the Seanad, it faces several more discussions and the possibility for more amendments to be proposed.

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