Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Tuesday, 15 January 2019
Committee on Public Petitions
Decisions on Public Petitions Received
I commend the petitioner on submitting this petition. We are all conscious of the need to reduce the volume of plastic and plastic waste, particularly in supermarkets. The Government has made the use of plastic an issue. The committee must work with the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Climate Action and Departments to ensure the use of plastic packaging in shops is reduced. During a weekly shop one is bombarded with plastic packaging for everything.
I propose that we forward a copy of the response received from the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment to the petitioner and close the petition. Is that agreed? Agreed.
The next petition for consideration is Petition No. P00043/18. It is proposed that we forward a copy of the response received from the Department of Health to the petitioner and close the petition. Is that agreed? Agreed.
The next petition for consideration is Petition No. P00029/18. It is proposed that we forward a copy of the response received from the Department of Health to the petitioner and close the petition. Is that agreed? Agreed.
The next petition for consideration is Petition No. P00044/18. It is proposed that we forward a copy of the response received from Dublin City Council to the petitioner and close the petition. Is that agreed? Agreed.
The next petition for consideration is Petition No. P00036/16. It is proposed that we forward a copy of the response received from the Department of Justice and Equality to the petitioner and keep the petition open.
I thank the Chairman for agreeing to keep the petition open. The issue of gaming, gambling, loot boxes and young people will become more prominent and I hope the committee can do some work on it. I propose that we do so in the spring.
I endorse what Senator Buttimer has said on the issue. The petitioner outlines several issues in respect of gambling and the gaming industry. The petition goes into quite an amount of detail in terms of the fact that there is a bookies or a casino in nearly every town. It states there is no body or law to protect the public from unfair practices engaged in by bookmakers. Gambling can take a dark turn and ruin people’s lives. Everyone on the committee has friends or family members who have recounted such experiences.
The petitioner is seeking the establishment of a regulator based on the fact that the industry can be a law unto itself. For example, if one puts a bet of €1 or €1,000 on a horse at 33/1 and the horse wins, the bookmaker is fully within its rights to refuse to pay the winnings because placing a bet does not involve a legally binding agreement and there is no body in place to enforce it. Last year I had a winner at a price of 40/1 at Cheltenham, but when I brought the docket back to the bookies to get my money, I was told that I would be only paid at a price of 33/1 because the odds had changed onscreen just at the moment I had placed the bet. In the end, the bookmaker accepted the odds included in the docket. These guys can make up the law for themselves.
There are other issues involved. My party colleague, Deputy Jack Chambers, has introduced a Bill to regulate the industry. If, as the petitioner states, it is controlled, it can be enjoyable. Nobody is seeking for the State to come down in such a heavy-handed manner that people cannot enjoy a bet or go to a racetrack. However, for many gambling is a disease that can be worse than alcoholism. It is a disease that can ruin families far worse than alcoholism or drugs. This is an industry that will stop at nothing in self-promotion. It has also infiltrated sport. Famously, several years ago a prominent bookmaking firm paid to have its logo painted across the boss of a hurl used in a game at Croke Park. This ensured every time the young player struck the ball, the logo was seen on television. The GAA subsequently had to amend its by-laws to come down on this practice. There were many crocodile tears shed before Christmas over certain elements of the budget that affected the industry. We were told that there would be bookies that would be out of business on 1 January, but they are still open. The house never loses.
There are certain aspects of the petition which are worthy of our attention. As I said, gambling is a disease that is ruining families. The Gaelic Players Association is having to deal with several of its members whose sporting and personal lives have been ruined by a gambling addiction. The petitioner is looking for the establishment of a regulator and legally binding agreements. However, as Senator Buttimer said, there is a wide range of other issues which could be dealt with in this petition.
I concur with those comments. While the petitioner has focused on the standing of a pay-out, it is just one small issue. The gambling control Bill will provide for an independent regulatory body. This was a key decision made by the Government last year to change the original proposal to have an in-house regulatory body in the Department of Justice and Equality. It is important that there be a stand-alone body.
I was on radio last week discussing the gaming industry. I am concerned that ten year old children are playing games which involve loot and mystery boxes. Different countries have taken different approaches to whether this is an e-commerce activity or gambling. We still have to make a decision on this issue as part of an amendment to the Gaming and Lotteries Act. The thrill people get in opening a loot box is akin to the adrenalin rush one gets in scratching a scratch card. It is a dangerous activity for young people to be exposed to.
I agree with Deputy Cassells. I, too, like to have a bet at the big race meetings a couple of times a year. I am lucky that I can go three or four months without having a bet. It does not bother me either but where people have that weakness, it is devastating. In a presentation I received not too long ago from health practitioners who deal with those who suffer from addiction, they stated the addiction most difficult to recover from undoubtedly is gambling because one loses one's family support network more so than with the others. People can understand a person needing to take alcohol or a drug, if that is his or her addiction. They can understand how that happens. What they cannot understand is when somebody sober stands in front of them, promises he or she will never gamble again and then walks out and gambles away money he or she does not have such as that week's grocery money, mortgage payment or whatever. The trust breaks completely. For anybody to get out of addiction, he or she needs that support network around him or her. That is how hard it is.
People say to me that they book their holidays to leave the country in Cheltenham week. They know when the sports segments are on the radio but during that week, bookmakers appear on every programme and there is no getting away from it. It is pervasive. If one has that weakness, one cannot even watch a soccer match now without the price at which Messi is to score the next goal coming up at half-time. It is everywhere.
In terms of advertising and proper regulation in the gaming sector, we need this independent body. I am happy for this committee to do a little more work in this area to complement the work that has been done by the Department of Justice and Equality.
There is a proposal that we would discuss this further. What we have are the latest responses from the Department of Justice and Equality. The gaming and lotteries (amendment) Bill is still with the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel. The general scheme of the gambling control Bill gives rise to the intention to establish an independent regulatory authority. There is arguably robust legislation coming down the line. The question is how should we seek to influence the acceleration of such legislation. It might be advisable to seek to have the Minister before the committee to discuss this issue specifically. I suggest the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, who is taking a lead role on this, might be the most appropriate Minister who might come before us. If that suggestion is agreeable, maybe we should propose that and see where we go from there.
I concur. I propose that action.
As a committee, we might talk about it in private session at the next meeting. There is a piece of work that we can do. As both of my colleagues have stated eloquently, there is an issue that is not going away that we need to grasp. Given that we have a petition before the committee, we can use that as a platform to discuss the issue ahead of the legislation being published and ahead of pre-scrutiny. It can be part of our scrutiny of impending legislation. It is important that we allow people to come in here and voice views and concerns on the issue of gaming and gambling. As a first step, we might do that with the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton.
There is a suggestion. In the context of the petition, which we have agreed is to remain open, I now propose that we formally write to the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, and ask if he would appear before the committee to discuss some of the responses that have come from the Department of Justice and Equality and take it from there. Is that agreed? Agreed.
Moving on to petition No. P00040/18, the proposal is to forward a copy of the reply from the Department of Justice and Equality to the petitioner and close the petition. Is that agreed? Agreed.
The final petition is petition No. P00042/18. I propose that we forward a copy of the responses from the Department of Finance to the petitioner and close the petition. Is that agreed? Agreed.
The next meeting will be on Wednesday, 30 January 2019 at 1.30 p.m., which puts us back to our regular time. I thank the members for their attendance.