The head of Ireland's new gambling regulator has dismissed gambling and sports industry concerns surrounding proposed advertising restrictions in a radio interview.
Long-time senior civil servant Anne Marie Caulfield, who was named as the designated CEO of the Gambling Regulatory Authority of Ireland (GRAI) in September 2022, told RTÉ Radio 1 that problem gambling is a “serious issue” in the country.
The head of the GRAI dismissed concerns raised by horseracing and greyhound racing stakeholders about the impact of a watershed gambling advertising ban between 5:30am and 9:00pm, comparing their concerns to other industries that used to rely heavily on tobacco sponsorships.
“They found alternative sponsors and I think that is the case here as well that those industries will be able to attract other sponsors,” Caulfield said.
Caulfield also expressed that there is “a lot of scope” for the GRAI “to prescribe further [advertising] restrictions in the event that we find there is any bypassing of existing provisions or to deal with developments in the industry”.
When pressed whether this meant gambling adverts would be allowed at sporting events, she reiterated that gambling cannot be portrayed as attractive to children and believed a ban on hoardings at sports events “could fall under that provision”.
“So a statutory instrument would be made, whereby the GRAI would consider the matter, consult with the industry, make a recommendation to the minister and thereafter it could be imposed as a statutory instrument as a condition of people's licences and there could be very considerable fines up to €20m for breaches of terms of licences more generally,” Caulfield said.
The regulator is particularly worried about a recent report on children and gambling, which revealed that 22.9 percent of 16 year-olds in Ireland had gambled for money in the last 12 months.
“I don't think we can ignore the evidence that is there now in terms of the very significant problems for people. The level of problem gambling is ten times higher than we thought when the government took the decision to establish this authority,” Caulfield said.
The GRAI will be watching developments in this space “very closely”, in part through the Growing Up in Ireland national longitudinal study of children and young people, which will now include questions on gaming and gambling.
A code of practice has already been drafted by the GRAI, according to Caulfield, which must be adhered to by licensees and will include “strict verification” procedures.
Caulfield’s comments come soon after Ireland’s Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) had to defend its data published in October 2023 that estimated 130,000 adults in Ireland are problem gamblers, ten times the previous measure from 2019 after it was challenged by Flutter CEO Peter Jackson in the local media.
The Gambling Regulation Bill 2022, which includes the advertising restrictions, is currently before the Dáil Éireann, the country’s house of representatives, and is in its report stage. This is the fourth stage in an 11-step process before a bill is signed into law by the President.
The regulator expects the bill will be enacted “in the next couple of months”, but added there is no definitive timeline.