Irish Industry Discuss Regulatory Proposals With Lawmakers

March 10, 2022
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Key stakeholders in Ireland’s gambling market have told the government they want a well-funded, nimble regulator as legislators continue to lay the groundwork for the country’s new gambling bill.

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Key stakeholders in Ireland’s gambling market have told the government they want a well-funded, nimble regulator as legislators continue to lay the groundwork for the country’s new gambling bill.

Several gambling operators appeared before the Committee on Justice on March 8 as part of its pre-legislative scrutiny of the general scheme of the long-awaited Gambling Regulation Bill.

The most negative view of the bill was Lottoland's, which said the scheme “risks not fully delivering on the consistent, comprehensive and consumer-centred approach”.

Graham Ross, Lottoland country manager, said ensuring the whole sector, including the National Lottery, are included in one regulatory framework will be key to creating a level playing field.

“In a jurisdiction the size of the Irish one, we query the effectiveness and cost efficiency of potentially having two separate regulatory frameworks for the gambling sector — one, in this newly established authority and the other, in the existing National Lottery Regulator,” Ross said.

Lottoland also wants provisions requiring the regulator to consult with the industry over issues affecting governance and a proposed Social Impact Fund.

Flutter UK and Ireland CEO Conor Grant and Flutter Entertainment chief legal officer Pádraig Ó Ríordáin said the challenge is to strike a balance between those who gamble safely and vulnerable people.

They say there is “no silver bullet”, meaning the regulator should be well funded and able to adapt to new forms of gambling as they emerge.

“It is important that the measures Ireland adopts are not static as their effectiveness could date quickly, mitigating their original purpose,” they told the committee.

The pair acknowledged Flutter “has not always got things right”, but argued it has learned from other markets and made “significant voluntary, proactive strides to protect customers in Ireland”.

The company’s Sky Bet unit was fined in the UK this week for marketing to self-excluded players during Responsible Gambling Week.

Flutter has introduced a mandatory €500 per month net deposit limit for all customers under the age of 25 in Ireland, banned the use of credit cards and introduced a pre-watershed whistle to whistle ad ban during live sport.

The Flutter duo said they support a strong regulator focused on reducing gambling harms and agreed Irish punters should be protected “against the dangers of unregulated offshore operators”.

Flutter said it is one of the largest companies in the country, employing 1,600 people in its Dublin HQ, along with a further 1,400 colleagues in 265 Paddy Power shops.

In total, it contributed more than €125.5m in taxes to the Irish Exchequer last year.

Representing Entain, Jackie Murphy, director for Ireland, Ladbrokes, and Martin Le Jeune, head of public affairs UK and Ireland, said they “strongly support” a regulatory authority and the inclusion of new products within the proposed regulatory framework.

However, similar to Flutter’s response, the Entain pair argue the perception that online gambling is inherently more dangerous than retail “is incorrect”.

“Until now, the normal solutions proposed for dealing with problem gambling have been limited to universal rules — such as affordability checks or staking limits — that are unfair to the vast majority of customers who bet safely. That kind of over-regulation can drive customers to the black market,” they said.

Instead of a one size fits all approach, Entain wants technological developments, such as its Advanced Responsibility and Care (ARC) system, to allow operators to make “tailored interventions”, acting as an “invisible safety net to protect customers from harm”.

Entain introduced ARC to its products used by Irish customers in 2022 and offered to demonstrate its effectiveness to the committee.

The operator did challenge proposed advertising restrictions, saying it “believes we provide a product that people should be able to enjoy” and because “our shops are an important social asset for many communities”.

Sharon Byrne, chairperson of the Irish Bookmakers Association (IBA), stressed in her response that whoever is picked to be the CEO of the new regulator should be “someone with significant, relevant experience”.

Byrne also urged that the regulator be fully resourced, flexible and proactive “so that product development and consumer choice is not hindered by lack of relevant codes”.

“The regulatory authority should be afforded wide powers to alter its codes in reaction to developments. Therefore, the final legislation should not seek to include details that will tie the hands of the future regulatory authority,” Byrne said.

The General Scheme of the Bill was published by the government on October 21, 2021.

The bill is intended to modernise the approach to the licensing of gambling in Ireland and to set out a framework and legislative basis for the establishment of a new, independent statutory body — the Gambling Regulatory Authority of Ireland.

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