Wednesday, 4 December 2019
Gaming and Lotteries (Amendment) Bill 2019 [Seanad]: Report and Final Stages
I move amendment No. 1:
In page 5, to delete line 20 and substitute the following: “1931;
‘Private Members’ Club’ means a voluntary and unincorporated association of persons over the age of eighteen years, not being a public body, formed for the purpose of gaming in premises to which the public does not access as of right, the affairs and management of which is governed by a committee in accordance with rules established by the membership body;”.”.
The amendment relates to private members' clubs. The first thing is to set out a definition of such clubs. There is an issue whereby many private members' clubs are very fearful that this legislation will reach into what they do. Certain clubs, mainly in Dublin city but also elsewhere, have roulette tables and card games such as poker. The legislation would not be appropriate to deal with the particular aspects of regulation of these games. If the Minister of State can assure me that it does not, we will look at that. However, the amendment is specifically to make it explicit in this legislation that they are not going to be dealt with in any way that would harm the businesses that they run.
I will call Deputy Grealish in a moment. It is Deputy Martin Kenny's amendment. He took one minute to explain what was in the amendment. The Deputy can have as long as he likes as long as he is referring to the amendment. We are not straying into Second Stage speeches.
I will also only take one minute. I support Deputy Martin Kenny's amendment. I have also been contacted by many people who are involved in private members' clubs. They are very concerned that this Bill will have an effect on their businesses. Over 400 people work in these clubs. I seek assurances from the Minister of State that this will have no impact whatever on the private members' clubs and that they will remain open. They are fearful that if the Bill passes, all the clubs will be forced to close down leading to the loss of over 400 jobs. Will the Minister of State make a commitment to the House and to me that this will not impact on the private members' clubs?
I also support Deputy Martin Kenny's amendment and its definition of private members' clubs as being "a voluntary and unincorporated association of persons over the age of eighteen years". People are very concerned about these clubs. They have met with the Minister of State and others. The Taoiseach was asked about this earlier. They could be closed down as of today even before the Bill is passed. Let us not take an approach whereby it is a case of "Live horse and you'll get grass". If that is the situation, it is unfortunate. However, the clubs have not been closed down. Those involved very concerned about their clubs, many of which are voluntary, and they are worried about jobs. Above all, they are worried about their traditions and way of life. Clubs may have many other activities but this plays is a big part. I hope that the Minster of State can clarify whether they can already be closed as of now.
We are in the process of passing legislation. We often pass legislation and are ridiculed for it. We must think of the unintended consequences. This legislation may have many and it would be our fault if we let it go through without proper scrutiny and debate.
I also thank Deputy Martin Kenny for tabling this amendment. That he had to do so shows the uncertainty and lack of clarity in the context of what is being proposed. I also have concerns for people who are operating businesses of this sort and who are fearful regarding the jobs they create and the service they provide. Those to whom I refer are concerned that this section will have a detrimental effect on their businesses. I see the role of Government as encouraging people who create employment and provide jobs for themselves and others and who provide a service. As Deputy Mattie McGrath outlined, legislation has often been passed here and there have been unforeseen casualties. People can be hit by the crossfire on this where there is a detrimental effect on these clubs that is unintended. In common with other aspects which the Government has proposed and which we have already raised and will come to again - including those of us who raised concerns and who wanted to have a vote at the outset - to highlight that there is such a lack of clarity in the proposal before us. There is an awful lot of uncertainty regarding the matter mentioned in the amendment and we need the Minister of State to clarify the position. I thank Deputy Martin Kenny for tabling the amendment.
The reference to private members' clubs and who is covered by the legislation is causing much confusion. Sometimes people think that the term "private members' clubs" refers to local GAA, soccer or rugby clubs. The issue is causing considerable confusion so hopefully during the debate we will get clarity on definitions of precisely who is included, who is included under a permit or licence and who requires neither if the prize fund is sufficiently small.
I thank Deputy Martin Kenny for tabling these amendments. My response will be similar to that which I gave on Committee Stage. I have responded to the various numerous representations I received from those involved in private members' clubs. I have made the point repeatedly that the operation of such clubs enjoy a constitutional protection, that of free association. Those clubs are not governed in the context of gaming activities by the Gaming and Lotteries Act 1956, by this Bill or any other enactment or law.
This position is supported by the advice I have received from the Office of the Attorney General. I went there to be sure and to get that advice.
I expressed my concern on proposals similar to amendments Nos. 1 and 2 to representatives of private members' clubs when I met them that they would risk confusion and even invite legal challenge. To the best of my knowledge, many of these establishments are not member-based clubs in the same way as we might understand sports clubs, for example. The membership is frequently not a stable feature and it may vary considerably from night to night. Many of these establishments seem to hold themselves to be casinos and I am not in favour of any measure that would facilitate commercial casino operations by the back door at this time. I am sure colleagues agree with me on that. If we went down that road now, these establishments would not be subject to any form of licensing terms and conditions in respect of gaming.
In future, we will have to address, honestly and openly, the issue of how we might license and regulate casinos in the context of the work under way to reform and modernise our gambling laws comprehensively. It is the appropriate place to deal with the matter and I have been advised that these amendments could open the way to all kinds of unintended consequences. I ask the Deputy to consider withdrawing them on that basis. My advice is that this Bill has no impact whatever on the matters in question and they are not mentioned in any other legislation either.
Reading the Bill before us, many people feel it is open to interpretation. I am trying to close this so there no interpretation required. Amendment No. 2 indicates the legislation would not apply to the promotion of gaming in premises used for the purposes of private members' clubs. It is clear. However, the Minister of State has given an assurance. Until now, the 1956 Act has not done anything to in any way inhibit the operations of these clubs. If the Minister of State can give me that assurance from the Attorney General, I suppose we must take it at face value.
It is valid for people to have concerns and it is understandable. Perhaps, as colleagues have said, this is a reflection of the reality in that many people find in cases like this Bill that there is much ambiguity and people may not be absolutely certain what it covers. I will take the Minister of State's word for it and withdraw the amendment.
I move amendment No. 4:
In page 6, line 34, to delete "to be carried on." and substitute "to be carried on, including whether the gaming is for a charitable or philanthropic purpose.".
A new section 9A of the principal Act as inserted by section 4 of this Bill provides for a modern but limited approach for gaming under permit from a Garda superintendent. It allows for gaming for a charitable or philanthropic cause and for profit. The maximum allowed prize for a game is €3,000. Amendment No. 4 is a textual amendment to make it a requirement on the applicant for a gaming permit to indicate the proposed beneficiary of the gaming. Such information would better assist the superintendent to consider the nature and character of the applicant to guard against any potential attempt at fraudulent or criminal usage of gaming permits.
Does this not speak to the core issue, which is the dividing of money? I specifically refer to the amount taken in, the portion that an organiser can take to run the event, and the amount of prize money. Does this not speak to the cause of the trouble because there is uncertainty over what right the legislation provides to control the amount of money to be given for charitable use? We all want to see money made available for charitable use and many events have the purpose of raising much-needed funds. At the same time, we must be careful that there is a balance with the amount of money given out and we do not stop people playing whatever game or activity has been organised.
It is the worry I have, as an Teachta Michael Healy-Rae has said. We must be very careful. We want to allow clubs to have clarity of purpose. People are concerned and we have met people who have organised many bingo events, and I am sure Deputies from other parties have met them as well. There is concern about this, although I know previous amendments have been withdrawn or not moved. There is concern that there might be a different superintendent with a different interpretation of this legislation. I have serious concerns about the amendment.
We must be conscious of what we are debating. The purpose is to add an extra provision into subsection (5) of the new section 9A. It states, "In considering an application under this section, the superintendent of the Garda Síochána shall have regard to the following". The Minister of State is proposing to insert a provision that the superintendent of the Garda Síochána should be required to take into account the kind of gaming proposed to be carried on, including whether the gaming is for a charitable or philanthropic purpose. I would have thought it would be to the advantage of community groups throughout this country that are running games for the purpose of a charitable or philanthropic purpose if they could tell a Garda superintendent about that and the statute required him or her to take it into account. Why would we not want that taken into account by a Garda superintendent? There are many clubs throughout the country and in constituencies all over the place that are trying to raise money and they need to be able to tell the people who are playing the game that this is being done for "a charitable or philanthropic purpose". I do not see any reason we would not want this inserted.
This is a very simple amendment. It is to better assist a superintendent of the Garda Síochána in considering the nature and character of an applicant and guard against any potential attempt at fraudulent or criminal usage of gaming permits. It is strengthening the legislation, and as Deputy O'Callaghan has stated, we should all agree on it. It helps the superintendent in making a decision on whether to grant a permit.
I move amendment No. 5:
In page 7, to delete lines 35 to 37 and substitute the following: “(e) the conditions referred to in paragraphs (a) and (b) and the name of the intended beneficiary shall be prominently displayed at the normal means of access to the premises proposed to be used;".
Amendment No. 5 replaces a previous section 4(11)(e), which required that not more than 5% of the total proceeds of ticket sales could be retained by the holder of a gaming permit. On further consideration of this point and in the context of this type of gaming, I am now of the view that this provision does not serve a useful purpose and I propose its deletion. I am proposing a different paragraph (e) that will require information on stake and prize limits and the name of the intended beneficiary to be prominently displayed at the normal means of access to the premises proposed to be used for gaming. This change is intended to facilitate the operators of gaming where tickets are not used and thus such information cannot be printed on them.
Amendments Nos. 9 and 10 are technical amendments on the public display of information.
There is a requirement in the new sections 27B, 28(10)(a) and (b) of the principal Act, as inserted by sections 11 and 12 of the Bill, to display the value of each prize and the name of the intended beneficiary on every lottery ticket or coupon. However, it has been brought to my attention that such may not be technically feasible where the lottery, for example, is conducted by way of bingo. In that regard, tickets may be bought in books and played using a mechanical or a digital device to mark off the numbers. Bingo is different in this regard from other lotteries, which primarily involve the purchase of a ticket. Thus, amendments Nos. 9 and 10 allow for the public display of the required information.
Amendment No. 12 concerns section 12 inserting the new section 28 into the principal Act. It is a textual amendment to introduce a reference to a new subsection (2) in amendment No. 13.
Amendment No. 13 provides a new subsection (2) to section 33 of the principal Act concerning the public display of the necessary information that might otherwise be contained on a ticket. There is a requirement in the new section 28(10)(b) of the principal Act, as inserted by section 12 of the Bill, to display the value of each prize and the intended beneficiary on every lottery ticket or coupon. However, where the lottery has been conducted by way of bingo, for example, such display may not be technically feasible, so we are doing it in a far easier way for people who are running these bingos.
This is terribly important. Anybody who understands the game of bingo knows that on the night bingo is called, the amount of prize money available for a line or a full box cannot be predetermined until people pay for their admittance on the door and those organising the bingo know the number of people are playing the game, which will determine the prize money available, be it for a line, a second line or a full house. That is the reason we must be 100% sure about what the Minister of State is proposing. People who run bingo events have been very uncertain about what is being proposed. They may be small community-based groups that organise bingo events regularly that may be attended by only 20, 30, 40 or 50 people, or they may be monster bingo events that are great and are more of a commercial enterprise and to which there is also a charitable element. Many people travel long journeys to attend these bingos. We must be sure that what the Minister of State is proposing does not in any way affect that. If it was to do so and there was uncertainty about it, we could not agree with what is being proposed tonight. We must make sure common sense prevails and that the game of bingo in the way it has been run in the past can be allowed to continue in the future, regardless of what the Minister of State is proposing tonight. It is as simple as that.
I want clarity on what is being proposed. It relates to the lottery permit. Anyone who is involved in community or voluntary organisations knows about the permits and the laws that must be abided by and there is no problem with that. I presume what is being proposed does not include the local lottos. Prize money is being looked at. GAA clubs and the local community and voluntary clubs have local lottos. I am involved in one myself on a community and voluntary basis. I would be out once every month on a Saturday until 1 o’clock the following morning. A great deal of time and effort is put into going to the community council. Many other community councils, GAA clubs and sporting organisations throughout the country put a great deal of effort into ensuring this is carried out correctly. They go through the tickets, stamp the back of them, make sure there is enough to make the whole process viable and then the money is put back into the community because many community and voluntary organisations would not have the funding required to carry out all the works needed if they did not have such funding made available to them. The legislation states the prize money will not exceed €1,000. It states "the total value of the prizes is not more than €1,000" and "the price of each ticket is not more than €5". It is understandable that each ticket would not be more than €5.
And to amendment No. 9. The legislation also states "the maximum number of tickets sold is not more than 1,500". If that is referring to bingo, we would appreciate clarity on that. There is quite a degree of bingo activity in south-west Cork and there is considerable confusion about this Bill. The Minister of State might clarify that. People are genuinely going out to play the game with the intention of winning a few bob if they can, and that is what we need to support.
I ask the Minister of State to provide clarity on that, especially on the local lottery. Local voluntary groups throughout west Cork depend on that and they cannot be bogged down with any more rules and guidelines, because if they are, they will not go out at night to do this work. We are depending totally on people who volunteer to carry out this work. Only for them, we would be back with our hands out looking to the Government to cough up more money that may not be available. I would appreciate some clarity on that from the Minister of State.
I am almost always remarkably focused. I refer to the people I represent here, the plain people of Ireland. All they want to do is go out and play bingo. They were playing it when the Leas-Cheann Comhairle was a buachaill óg. They were playing it when I was a buachaill óg, and even before I was even a bad thought in anyone’s head. We hope they will continue to play it. I accept the Minister of State’s bona fides in respect of most legislative measures, and he has dealt with complex legislation, but this issue is causing fear among the plain people of Ireland, many of whom do not have their dinner in the middle of the day, as both Deputies Healy-Rae would say, because they cannot afford a dinner and hope they will be able to make a dinner the next day with their winnings from bingo.
There are many clubs and organisations involved in this. We are not dealing with amendment No. 6 but we will come to it and the limits involved. I could name every club in my county that runs a lotto, split the bucket, spin the wheel, jackpots, spin the drum or whatever. A huge amount of effort goes into that. Ní neart go chur le chéile. It is of the people, by the people, for the people for their own benefit. Many of them got lottery grants recently but many of them did not. Many of them do not have the capability to apply for lottery grants. They do not have that facility but they run organisations and clubs and events in church halls, parish halls, community centres and so on and they are supported and augmented by the game of bingo.
I appeal to the Minister of State, and we made an appeal in respect of the programme for Government, to allow for rural proofing of legislation. I fully accept that bingo is played in Baile Átha Cliath freisin, but in the country we have little else left as a result of the actions of the Minister, Deputy Ross, and his cabals. We have nothing else left. I ask the Minister of State please to leave us the game of bingo.
They met the Minister of State today. We met him. I do not like to quote him but Ivan Yates said he had 20 minutes with the Minister of State on his programme and that he made no sense whatsoever and that he did not understand it. I do not know if Ivan plays bingo. What he would play is probably more serious in regard to sport. We know he is a former bookie. Does the Minister of State and the parliamentary draftsman understand the far-reaching tentacles of this legislation? There are five or six amendments being discussed together. I wrote them down. They include amendments Nos. 9, 10 and 13, and I miswrote the other one.
I did not know amendment No. 12 was in this grouping. I thank an Teachta Rabbitte. Amendment No. 12 is the most important one. I thank the Deputy for the prompt. We are concerned about the legislation. There was an occasion previously where the Minister, Deputy Ross, recommitted a measure and he allowed an amendment through, at a glance, to a road traffic Bill. I want an amendment called the bingo amendment that will allow the plain people of Ireland to have their little bit of sport. The Minister of State should not kill them off, so to speak, altogether. They pay their taxes, work very hard, rear their families and support the clubs, and part of their social life and interaction with their communities is through bingo.
I have been a member of a voluntary housing association for more than 20 years. We were discussing last night that we have made it very difficult, through all the legislation and so on, for ordinary volunteers to get the seven or nine members of a board. People no longer want to be involved. They are smothered with paperwork, bureaucracy and regulations. I am concerned about amendment No. 12 because it can have unintended consequences and put the fear of God into people. Does the Minister of State want them in the hills and the caves, as they were hundreds of years ago? Let them go out to support themselves. They are not getting anything from the Government. They are asking to be allowed to run their bingo, day clubs, lotteries or whatever to keep their clubs and to get the jerseys for the children. We talk about childhood obesity. This is all about what makes people tick.
I ask the Leas-Cheann Comhairle to please let me continue. I am not doing this for fun. We in the Rural Independent Group and Members from other parties met the bingo people today. They are very concerned and unhappy.
They feel that the Minister of State may mean well - they are not saying anything bad about him - but that he does not get it. The Taoiseach's comments this morning show that he certainly does not get it. He either did not understand the brief he was given or he misled the Dáil. It was one or the other. I am not being uncharitable in that.
One can mislead the Dáil unintentionally and then correct one's ways if one finds that one is wrong. If any Member here cannot do that, he is not man enough to be here. People are concerned. They feel great concern, worry and angst. They are persecuted by the Road Safety Authority, road traffic legislation, health and safety measures, and hazard analysis and critical control points, HACCP, rules. Legions of officials are going around with briefcases in their hands telling us what we cannot do. We are going to play bingo. We are going to keep playing it and supporting our clubs. I would like to be able to do so within the law.
The amendments the Minister of State has mentioned state that the holder of the gaming permit has to display the prize money or prize on the ticket. It is my understanding that it is not possible to do so for bingo games. I take the advice of Deputy Michael Healy-Rae and others who say that the prizes given in a bingo hall are determined by the number of people who attend. It is a long time since I was at bingo but my understanding was that there was a given prize per line, box and page. That was set before people attended and they knew what it was every night. The crowd attending determined how much profit was made on the night. If there was a big crowd, the organisers did well and, if there was a small crowd, they did poorly. That brings us to the issue, to which we will come later, of the amount that can be given out in prizes. That is the core of the matter. It probably would be possible to print what the prizes are on the front of each bingo book. Apart from that, the amendments provide that a large sign setting out the prize money would be displayed at the door or as one enters the premises. Perhaps things have changed but it is not my experience that the prizes change every night. The prizes set for a bingo hall are standard every time one goes. I hope that remains the case. It would be very useful if the Minister of State could provide clarity on that issue.
We should not forget the social aspect of bingo and the difference it makes to many people's lives. It is an outlet for people one, two or three nights a week. Like Deputy Kenny, I will speak to my own understanding. At my local bingo event, and in the local bingo events around us, a set amount of money is paid out every night. In our case, it is approximately €1,300. We sometimes pay out 70% or 80% of the money collected. Sometimes we pay out 110% because, if we have a bad night or the roads are bad, the organisers are still committed to paying out that set amount. People expect that and it is paid out. I understand that organisers are given a permit to run a bingo game and that any game which pays out less than €5,000 will not be affected by the Bill. Am I right in that? It will not affect bingo games which pay out less than €5,000. Once a permit has been granted, things are fine.
The other issue is that of the jackpot but this would seldom exceed €5,000 in any event. Sometimes it is capped at a given figure. In our case, it is capped at €3,000. The Bill will not really affect this either.
Many clubs run lotteries. My understanding is that there is no issue with a normal lotto with a prize of up to €30,000. Am I right in that? A lotto prize could run on for 12 months and keep increasing. In some cases, the prize is capped at €20,000, but it can exceed that. Nothing will change for such lotteries if the prize stays under €30,000. Am I right in what I am saying?
I will speak in the same vein as Deputy Scanlon and refer to parish and community organisations, an example of which is to be found in Kildorrery in my own native Cork. A bingo game is run there which takes in approximately €1,100 and approximately €900 is paid out. I will refer to the point made by Deputy Michael Healy-Rae, although he may be on the phone and indisposed.
With regard to the Deputy's point, the prize fund in this particular instance is predetermined. I seek clarification from the Minister of State. Will the proposed section 26A apply to this particular operation? This section states:
Section 26 shall not apply to a lottery where— (a) the total value of the prizes is not more than €1,000,
(b) the price of each ticket is not more than €5,
(c) the maximum number of tickets sold is not more than 1,500,
(d) the lottery is conducted for the benefit of a charitable or philanthropic purpose, and
(e) the promoter of the lottery derives no personal profit from the lottery and has not conducted a lottery in accordance with this section during the preceding 3 months.
To be fair to the Minister of State, he is my constituency colleague and I do not believe he would seek to shut down operations such as this. I welcome the opportunity for the Minister of State to give these voluntary organisations some clarity and comfort tonight. The return to the bingo game in Kildorrery, and in every community across the land, it makes a few bob for the GAA, the local development association and community endeavours. It is not for profit. If the Minister of State will clarify that point, I am sure many of us will be very satisfied. I am sure he will do so.
The second issue is about how roll-over jackpots will be dealt with under this legislation. I am confident the Minister of State will provide some clarity on this issue as well.
My final point relates to circumstances in which a GAA club, for example, gives away a house as a prize. This has been known to happen. A number of GAA clubs across the country are now selling tickets for raffles or lotteries in which the prize is a house. What will be the threshold for such lotteries? There is reference to a figure of €360,000 in the legislation. Given the value of particular houses in particular parts of the country, that threshold of €360,000 could easily be surpassed. I am coming from a place of ignorance in this regard. I seek to be educated by the Minister of State on that point.
Those are the key points. I recognise that they do not strictly relate to the set of amendments now being discussed but they are the issues exercising many of us at this point.
Viewers watching this debate may think that bingo players live exclusively in rural Ireland. That is not the case. There are very many bingo players in my constituency of Dublin Bay South. Women from Pearse Street play bingo in St. Andrew's Resource Centre at least once a week and they derive great enjoyment from it. If I can level some degree of criticism at the Minister of State, the legislation has not been explained well to people. The word has gone abroad that the Bill will, in some way, shut down bingo halls throughout the country. From my reading of the legislation, that is not correct. The Minister needs to announce the effect of this legislation in the Chamber tonight. We see from the legislation that it attempts to regulate lotteries. Of course, bingo is a form of lottery but it is not the only type. As Deputy Sherlock just mentioned, under the new section 26A of the Gaming and Lotteries Act 1956 proposed in the legislation, if prizes total less than €1,000, there is no need to worry about the Act.
Organisers will not need to go to a superintendent or the District Court. They will not need to worry about divvying up the pot into shares of 50% for prizes and 25% for charity. It will not matter what they do. The Minister of State should clarify that there is no issue if prizes are €1,000 or less with no more than 1,500 tickets. Many of the bingo games in this country fall within that range.
If the prize is between €1,000 and €5,000, organisers will need to get a lottery permit. They will have to approach a Garda superintendent, who will issue a permit if the requirements are fulfilled. It is important to point out that lottery permits for games with prizes of between €1,000 and €5,000 contain no requirement for the pot to be divvied up into shares of 50% for prizes, 25% for the organiser and 25% for charity. That requirement only applies to higher-level bingo games with prizes of between €5,000 and €30,000 per week. Organisers of those games have to go to the District Court and apply for a licence. These games are subject to a requirement that no more than 50% of the take goes towards prizes. Up to 25% can go to organising costs and at least 25% must be for charity. This has not been explained well. It is complicated legislation and we need to provide confidence to the people who play bingo. Nobody is trying to stop bingo. Why would we want to stop it? There may be other people who want to stop this legislation, but I do not think bingo players are trying to stop it. We need to communicate the provisions of this legislation properly. I hope the Minister of State will provide clarification.
I will pick up where my colleagues finished. There is a lack of clarity around this issue. Earlier in the week I was contacted on this issue by Councillor Valerie Byrne, who is involved in organising bingo in Elphin in County Roscommon. Hers is very typical of the situation throughout the country. I spoke directly to the Minister of State on a few occasions in the past 48 hours about my concerns regarding community organisations throughout the country that run bingo games as a social outlet. I ask the Minister of State to clarify that the distribution cap limiting prize money to a maximum of 50% of the pot does not apply to any bingo game awarding less than €5,000 in prize money on any one particular night. The Minister of State might also clarify the situation regarding jackpots. If a jackpot reached the €3,000 mark referred to by Deputy Eamon Scanlon earlier and there was a big crowd in the hall, could a game end up going over this threshold? This would be an isolated incident. Could a mechanism be introduced to annualise these figures? That cap would not be a problem for those games if prize money was averaged out over 52 weeks, as the average would be much less than €5,000. As Deputy Scanlon has noted, the people I have spoken to are concerned that because a guaranteed sum of money is awarded each week, a figure of 110% could be allocated in some weeks. People are not going to go to a bingo game if they do not know how much prize money they can win.
Last night I gave the Minister of State the example of Northern Ireland, where there is a tiered system regulating bingo. Professional commercial outfits are regulated differently from the community bingo games in Northern Ireland. From reading section 11, which deals with lottery licences, it seems that a similar approach is being taken here. We are not prohibiting the practices of the bingo halls found in Elphin or throughout Roscommon, east Galway and the rest of the country. A lack of clarity about this is part of the problem. I received a briefing note from the Minister of State's Department that did not provide the clarity we seem to be getting from going through the legislation tonight. That is disappointing.
Personally, I was surprised to receive an email from a public relations consultant who was quite concerned about parish bingo games throughout the country.
I doubt very much that any PR consultant based here in the city of Dublin is very worried about the bingo games that go on in Elphin, Castlerea, Ballinasloe, Roscommon or anywhere else for that matter.
I am not pursuing that. I am focused solely on the community groups throughout this country that run bingo games as a social outlet. I want to see that continue. Deputy O'Callaghan is correct. Some bingo games are operated on a more professionally organised basis here in Dublin. I was talking to Deputy Martin Kenny during the vote earlier. He suggested amending section 12 to bring the 50% threshold for prize money up to 75% for those bigger operators while protecting the 25% for charity. If an operator runs a bingo game for a charity, then I have no difficulty with the charity getting that money, particularly where a big operator is involved. My focus is on protecting the small communities throughout this country. It is important that the Minister of State clarifies that nothing will change for those groups where the total prize money is less than €5,000. I ask him to consider introducing some flexibility to that definition so that where those groups have a roll-over jackpot, they do not come a cropper because of the legislation.
I wish to raise two other very brief points. One is the point made by Deputy Sherlock about houses. As the Minister of State knows, Club Rossie in Roscommon recently ran a very successful raffle in which a house here in Dublin was awarded. I believe the club is now running another raffle for a house in London. It would be nice for any of us to win a house in London. I will make the tickets available to any colleagues who want them.
County boards throughout the country are finding it far more difficult to raise funding to match what the Dubs are raising. We need a bit of support in that regard. I do not want those country boards to find themselves in difficulty. The Minister needs to provide some clarity there. Finally, will the Minister of State clarify that the position will remain the same for those club lotteries throughout the country?
I welcome the opportunity to speak on Report Stage. I will lump all my remarks into one contribution because I do not wish to hold matters up. I did my own research before coming into the House tonight. Unlike Deputy Healy-Rae, my research indicated that people who organise community bingo games have to have the money laid out in advance. They have to know what it will cost them to run a community bingo game.
In my research I found that the cost of a double book, which would fall under the lottery permit and the maximum price of a ticket, would be €10. The cost of a single book is €7 and a baby book is €4. A person pays €3 for the gamble and €3 for the jackpot. If the organiser happens to have 100 people sitting in the parish hall, he or she is running the bingo at a loss. Technically, the payout for the night would be €1,590 but the organiser's income on the night is only €1,510. This does not take into consideration the heat, insurance and rent. Straight away the organiser is down €320. If, however, the organiser manages to bring in 150 people, the income is now at €2,175 and he she can break even and have a profit of €160. Portumna Rugby Club runs bingo nights and we would be delighted to see 150 to 200 people at it. Loughrea Rugby Club also runs its own bingo nights and it too would be delighted to see 200 people. When 200 people sit in the room, the income is €2,900 and the organiser can make a little profit and have something to buy the jerseys with.
Out of every week's income €100 must always be left aside for the jackpot. This is where I want some clarification from the Minister of State. Perhaps it is different from Deputy Scanlon's point, but some community groups do not put a limit on it. As the jackpot gets larger, the crowd gets bigger. When the jackpot hits €5,000, for example, the bingo night could attract more than 250 people. Any parish hall or community would be delighted to see 250 people coming into the community once a week. When they come in, they are also stopping, shopping and using the Local Link and so on. Will the Minister of State clarify what would happen if the prize funds start to go over or accumulate? Has this been thought out and can we have clarification?
That is the one piece that has incited many community bingos in this regard. There has been a lot of information, but it is such detailed and complex legislation that perhaps some people got only one side of the story. I would welcome hearing that clarification tonight. The jackpot and the rollover is a huge part of the issue, and this would also feed into the GAA clubs.
On the issue of signage, it is important to have it at the front door of the venue. It is one point of contact and it is just a bit of common sense. This is up for the day. May we also have clarification that this is acceptable? The community GAA clubs are branding those evenings already. Portumna or Sarsfields for example will have the sign on their club letting people know it is €2 or €5 for the box. This is covered off.
One aspect has been missing from the debate tonight. The Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, is aware that I feel passionately about gambling. I am very dismissive of gambling on a particular level, and I always have been. Fianna Fáil would have brought through its own Gambling Control Bill 2018 and I would love to have seen that coming through. We must deal with what we have, however, and addiction is the one part missing from the debate tonight. Consider how the industry lobby kicked off in the past 72 hours. In all of my three and a half years in Leinster House I have never seen a machine to crank up in the way it did.
I will tell you for nothing that my phone was hot all day yesterday. Apparently, I was responsible for, and I was aiding and abetting in, preventing the women of Ireland from playing bingo. I certainly would never want that to happen. This is why clarification is important. Whatever the agenda was behind the miscommunication, it was absolutely appalling that it wanted to convince the people that we in Leinster House wanted to kill bingo.
Is dócha gur fada an lá go dtí go mbeimid in ann labhairt faoi biongó arís sa Dáil. Ceapaim go bhfuil sé oiriúnach labhairt faoi inniu. It might be a long day again before we speak about bingo in the Dáil. It is important to contribute a few words because it is a unique activity throughout the country and especially in the charitable and community sector. I am thinking of clubs such as Duleek Bellewstown GAA with its drive-in bingo and the Gibbstown drive-in bingo. Ashbourne-Stamullen will hold its annual bingo night tonight. It happens all over our constituencies, and I believe a lot of fears have been raised about this.
I want to record my objections to the highly professional and organised lobbying campaign around the Bill. The mental health of the elderly was used to pursue an agenda, but we really do not know what the agenda was. Deputies who took part in the lobbying campaign should think very carefully about that. When Members lobby on particular issues, we need to look at the issue ourselves before jumping the gun and examine it carefully. When I was contacted by some people about it, I spoke to my colleagues, Deputies O'Callaghan and Rabbitte, who are well versed on the issues. A good explanation was given by Deputy O'Callaghan and Deputy Rabbitte has put good questions to the Minister of State for clarification. It is important that the Minister of State clarifies the position.
It is not right that lobbying campaigns would jump on the bandwagon and undertake an extremely professional operation, with the quality of the posters outside Leinster House, alleging that bingo was under threat. It is not. It is important that we pay tribute here to all the volunteers who undertake bingo nights throughout the country and the enjoyment that people get from it through socialisation.
We must put the fears to rest and let it be a lesson to Deputies who might be persuaded by sharp-suited lobbyists that they should relax a little before jumping on a bandwagon. I look forward to the Minister of State's clarifications. It is important that this happens and that he explains exactly what the rules are so people can know they are playing by the rules and can organise their games by the rules.
Bingo has various forms. The latest form is disco bingo, which one of my party colleagues uses as a good fundraiser for his election campaign. I will not name him but it was very successful and enjoyable event-----
-----with prizes way below anything near the threshold.
As Deputy Rabbitte and others have said, it is also important to think about the addiction element of gambling. It is an unspoken addiction. Each of us would know recovering alcoholics or people in the media who have other addictions. Those are high profile. Gambling addicts, however, do not have a high profile. They do not have lobbyists speaking on their behalf and running to Deputies when there is a problem. Gambling addicts are sitting at home and may be watching this debate. I am sure they would not have a problem with people enjoying community bingo or minor gambling. Their interest, however, must be recognised in this debate, and it is important that we think of people who have had problems with gambling. When we bring through gambling legislation, the needs of problem gamblers must be part of the equation, along with the experiences of recovered gambling addicts.
There is much to stew over in this debate. The clarity given by the Minster of State will be very important. Many people will be listening to it. It is good that this Dáil can recognise a lobbying campaign for what it is and still proceed in a careful and considered manner in the processing of legislation in the national and public interest with an independent mind.
I will use this opportunity to give a full contribution rather than coming in with bits and pieces and extending the debate unnecessarily. The debate on Report Stage of this legislation has such interest for two reasons. First, there is a very effective lobby group out there. Second, the Minister of State did not get clarity out to the public quickly enough in response. I was confused up to yesterday but I got clarification having spoken to Deputy O'Callaghan and other Deputies. I was fully happy going home last night and I put a tweet out this morning supporting the legislation. I also met a group of the lobby people in the coffee dock here today. I do not know if they will list meeting with me as part of their lobbying activities - I have no idea on that one. When I left that meeting only a few hours ago, I was further confused again. I went back to Deputy O'Callaghan and his staff who clarified the whole issue.
There has been mass confusion over several days. I was in my local town of Mountrath, in Laois, at the weekend where I was asked what was I doing "up there stopping the bingo". There is a lesson here for the Minister of State's Department. Some of the correspondence that went out confused permits, licences and lottery operators.
The Bill, however, does not apply to any of the people who believed they were affected. The local community group, be it a hall committee, the Irish Countrywomen's Association, a parish council or a soccer or GAA club, is not affected, but it believed it was.
This Bill has a benefit. Under the old legislation, some of these groups were technically only allowed to run two lotteries per year. That restriction will be gone under the Bill and groups will be able to run bingo weekly or monthly if they ask a chief superintendent and place limits on their prize funds. That is an improvement.
I call the bingo in my community centre on the second Sunday of every month. If anyone wants to come to Castletown in County Laois on Sunday, he or she might win €3,000. That is my plug. We are Members of the House because we know, understand and are part of our communities. That is why we can speak on matters.
I see great value in one of the Bill's sections. An operator could sell 1,500 tickets for less than €5 each and pay out less than €1,000. Someone could raise €7,500 and clear €6,500. I think of the small raffles that parents councils are running in primary and secondary schools. They are selling one ticket for €2 or three tickets for €5. They will be able to pay out up to €1,000 and happily operate without having to ask the Garda for a permit because they will be below the limit requiring one. It is good that this has been clarified.
One grouping might need a bit of clarification, though. I know all of the bingo games in the Laois area. They advertise set prizes. They pay out €1,000, €2,000 or €3,000 and people know how much single lines, double lines and full houses are worth as the games go on. Even under the current arrangements, that information can be stuck up on a door. However, there is another arrangement whereby some games split the pot or bucket. Depending on what they collect in a raffle during the course of a week, they might agree to pay out 50% of it. Sometimes, the amounts cannot be determined, but once the prize money is under €1,000, the small games will have nothing to worry about. I wanted to make that point, as I am familiar with games that run €2 tickets every week and there are 20 promoters in a parish. It is small money. They will not have to ring their local gardaí once the prize fund is under €1,000 and the game is being run for charitable or philanthropic purposes. That means "for the good of the community" in simple English. People worry about big words, so we have to tell them what they mean in simple English.
The provision relating to the maximum prize of €5,000 covers most of the lotteries that I know. I am not expressing any interest in major commercial lotteries. The Revenue Commissioners and the lotteries' accountants should be ensuring that every penny they collect is properly recorded in their books and audited and that they pay their proper corporation taxes like everyone else. Making sure that a commercial operator is paying its tax is not the Minister of State's function, but other State authorities should be dealing with them and we should not allow their issues to be conflated with those of others. They are being conflated, however. The people whom I met today conflated some of the issues, for example, licenceholders with permitholders.
It is important that the Minister of State understand one of the queries raised with me today concerning something that is in the legislation. People told me that the holder of the permit could only retain 5% of the proceeds. I went away a few hours ago wondering what it was about. I will explain what it means. If I am a trustee of the local hall and I get a permit in my name on behalf of the community hall, I might need to incur some legal expenses. I would be allowed a maximum of 5% of the proceeds. Although no trustee of any hall keeps a penny, there is provision allowing for a trustee's legal costs to be covered. We were told only a few hours ago that the pemitholder could only hold 5% of the gross proceeds. I am not sure whether they did not know what they were talking about or were deliberately trying to mislead the Oireachtas. It could have been one or the other.
If the Leas-Cheann Comhairle indulges me, I am almost finished. Once a lottery exceeds €5,000, it must go to the District Court. That should not be an issue. This is where the percentages clock in with regard to prizes, operating costs and the amount that goes to charitable of philanthropic purposes. There is a cap of €30,000. Some of the large lotteries roll over. Some parishes have hit big lotteries, though. In practice, they might have had voluntary ceilings. That will now be in legislation. A ceiling stops a roll-over. If a lottery keeps rolling over from €28,000 to €29,000 to €30,000, it will stop at €30,000. A lottery cannot exceed that amount. Some lotteries might start building up a second jackpot to be won in a later week. When the big jackpot is won, the second one coming behind it will already be halfway up to the cap. I see the Minister of State's officials looking at him wondering whether an amendment is necessary to cover a second jackpot that is creeping up at the same time, but we will move on and take the legislation as it is before us.
A great deal of confusion was caused during the week by a certain sector that came to lobby, but the Department could have helped to assuage much of that. We are there now.
We are where we are. Before the Minister of State replies, I have allowed some latitude on the basis that we would not have repetition as we went through the other amendments. However, I cannot but think of how the lottery for the Order of Business ran in this House. Everyone wanted a-----
I am sorry, but there was a full deputation of women outside Leinster House yesterday. They were very sensible women. As many of them said, they do not drink or smoke. They came to Leinster House at their own inconvenience to say that they did not want the bingo games that are held in halls all over Ireland interfered with destructively. The Government's proposals, for which the Minister of State has responsibility, are that there will be a revised structure for how the financial elements of bingo are divvied out - costs, prizes and charitable donations. At the very least, the Minister of State should have sent every Member a detailed letter outlining what he proposed to do and how it would work. If 100 Deputies held a game of bingo in the Members' Bar tonight, the Minister of State was the bingo caller and I was arranging how the money was divvied out, we would have some idea of the road being taken.
Remember the people who go to bingo in community halls all over Dublin, Cork city and right across the country. To my knowledge, even the churches have never objected to bingo. That is because it is not seen as gambling. Rather, it is seen as playing a game in the same way that people play other games. It is not gambling. The Bill's Title is the Gaming and Lotteries (Amendment) Bill 2019. This is not James Bond in a dicky bow and black suit out for a night in one of the novels or films. We are talking about people's mothers and grannies-----
-----going down to a hall to play a game, albeit one that certainly has an element of prizes in it. One pays for the lines and cards and, at the end of the night, there might be a jackpot or roll-over.
People who win go home happy and people who do not win go home determined to come the next week when perhaps their luck will change and they will win a line, a card or one of the super prizes. Why decide to insert this absolutely harmless pastime into the gaming and lotteries Bill? It was an unwise decision. The Minister of State's motives may have been well meant but he seriously needs to explain to people, and particularly to women, up and down the country what exactly it is that he proposes to do, why he proposes to do it and what impact it will have on a fairly harmless fun pastime that is at the heart of a lot of communities up and down the country.
Earlier today, I understood the Minister of State was going to send us out a letter or a card with the details of what he was proposing so we in turn could pass it on to people and tell them they do not need to worry because this is what will happen and how it will happen. Perhaps the Minister of State has it in his back pocket because he looks like he is looking at a card. I ask him to share it with us.
I told the Taoiseach earlier that one of the women at the protest yesterday lives in my area. She suffers from multiple disabilities and is a table tennis champion. Yesterday, she said that if she loses her game of bingo, and she often travels quite far to play, she will lose some of the pleasures in her life. The Minister of State has to know that throughout the country people collect for their local GAA club through weekly draws and accumulators in practically every bar, community-based restaurant and clubhouse in Ireland. Tonight, those people are all asking what will happen. The Minister of State is saying that if something is under a €5,000 limit it will not be affected.
This is the kind of stuff we want to show to our constituents and the people in the local GAA club and elsewhere who want to know about the draws they have been running. At the moment, I am sure like many Members of the House, I am going to many functions full of tickets. They are all for very good community events and needs. The Minister of State has raised a question, particularly in the minds of the organisers, as to whether they will now have to meet more stringent conditions and new regulations. I am not clear as to whether the Minister of State will bring new regulations. I know the legislation is fairly simple but are there regulations to give effect to what the Minister of State is proposing on bingo? I would say from my ministerial experience that there probably will be a need for regulations. Why is the Minister of State visiting all of this on people? It is a total waste of the Department's time and resources. Really, the Department of Justice and Equality should be doing better things with its time and money than threatening a pastime that is so important, particularly to women.
Those who regularly visit people in nursing homes will know that in many nursing homes bingo is offered one or two days a week. The staff often donate the prize and the patients' families donate. Please let us not have a situation where somebody who is a busybody starts to say this is some kind of gaming and that somehow or other it is subject to some kind of regulation. The Minister of State has opened a field of uncertainty. I want him to make it clear tonight that it does not affect people. I still do not know why the Minister of State has it in the legislation. Perhaps he should introduce a side Bill that deals with bingo only but I would not advise that either. The Minister of State really needs to give us an explanation. If he has that written explanation which everybody deserves to have I ask him to pass it around.
I can see the Minister of State is getting frustrated and I can see he is frustrated because perhaps this is something that has bubbled up. I know his intention and the intention of the Department is to provide clarity on licensing and regulation and that is fair enough but there are legitimate concerns. The Minister of State is aware that I raised these concerns in April on Committee Stage. At that point, I stated that for a bingo game to be attractive the prize fund is generally 60% to 70% of the income. The Minister of State recalls this conversation.
Several people on the community and voluntary side, and people in the profit-making bingo organisations and the halls that are run for profit, have said this to me. It may well be the case that some of the smaller bingo operations will not be affected adversely by the legislation but it is the case that there are bingo operations that fall into the larger category and have pots over the threshold. It is the case potentially that some of them are community based. It is also the case that some of them are profit-based. We are all more inclined to support charitable community-based bingo and with good reason. Many bingo operations started in this way. As far as I am aware, it is not the intention of the Department to make it difficult for the profit-making venues to operate. There are many such venues and they employ a lot of people. I appreciate it is not the intention but it appears to be the case that under the legislation it will be difficult to run these premises and to run a community or voluntary operation with a very large pot as it would require the prize money to be under 50%.
I was not in the Chamber at the time but I understand the Minister has accepted recommittal of the Bill and that is welcome. A very constructive and sensible proposition was raised previously by Deputy Martin Kenny. This is that the 25% charitable portion would be preserved but the maximum prize limit would be 75%. It would then be on the organisation to make the call on its own profits and running costs and the prize pot, which could vary from week to week. An organisation could calculate how it might work for it. It would preserve the purpose of what the Minister of State is trying to achieve, which is to ensure a portion is safeguarded and ring-fenced for a charitable purpose but it would also allow bingo operators the flexibility to ensure they can offer an attractive pot and run a viable business. They would have discretion within that as to their own running costs and profits and the prize fund. Leave it up to them. That is a very sensible and constructive proposition and I ask the Minister of State to consider it.
On Committee Stage we discussed a number of issues and I asked the Minister of State to consider them over the summer. At that time, we anticipated that Report Stage might be taken immediately after the summer. We discussed stakes when debating Deputy O'Callaghan's amendment, which he withdrew, to reduce the stake from €10 to €5. The Minister of State has tabled amendments to this effect. I still have a little concern about this because the point I raised with the Minister of State has never been clarified. My understanding is that the legislation would be interpreted whereby every line in a machine would be treated as a game. I gave the analogy of betting a lucky 15 or a lucky 31 on horses where each line is a separate bet. Someone might put down one note for a lucky 31 but they are 31 lines in the bet. In a similar way, if the lever is pulled there may be several lines in a game for the stake. What one might imagine to be a maximum of a €5 stake could have 25 lines. That is 25 by €5. There is an issue and I have never had it clarified. I am still concerned about this. I am not sure the legislation captures it. If it is the case it is a big issue and people could spend an awful lot of money. It needs to be fixed. There is a constructive solution on the table that I believe could be to the satisfaction of many Deputies across the board.
I ask the Minister of State to consider that because it could get us out of the difficulty this legislation faces.
My understanding is section 12, which is the section dealing with lottery licences, will be recommitted to Committee Stage. We are probably already dealing with it to some extent in the conversation we are having but that would be a wise way forward. While Deputy Ó Laoghaire mentioned I had proposed a solution, I had not formally proposed it here but I want us to look at the 50% the Government is talking about as being the cap on the prize money. If that was moved to 75% it would be up to the operator to decide what portion of that they would be able to put back out in prize money. The 25% going to charitable causes is at the root of this and that is what we need to see happen. Many of the big operators that currently get a licence to run bingo, get that licence on the premise they will give a portion of the takings to charity. The current legislation does not say how much must go to charity so they run the bingo, they have a large profit and they give 1% or nothing to charity. This legislation will force them to give 25% to charity. That is what it does, that part of the legislation is appropriate and we need to do that.
However, there is an issue that needs to be addressed, namely that in order for bingo to be viable the pot has to be above 50%. That is where we run into the problem and unless we can deal with that we will have an issue but we can find a solution to that. The smaller bingo operators I deal with in rural Ireland give out less than €5,000 in prize money per week so they come under the permit section and that does not apply to them at all. That would be the case with most of the bingo operators I know such as those that operate in small GAA clubs and community centres around the country. They would be giving out less than €5,000 per week and many of them would be giving out less than €5,000 per month in prize money. They do not come into this, therefore. A lot of tension has been raised with ordinary decent people who go out to play bingo and enjoy their night out. Maybe some of it is inappropriate and should not have happened but we are where we are, there is an issue and the Minister of State can deal with that issue. I hope that when we get to the recommittal we will deal with it in an appropriate manner and move forward.
I know a lot of my constituents enjoy bingo and play it quite a bit. As a social outlet, bingo has a lot to recommend it and Deputy Burton went through a number of the attractions of it. It is an innocent pastime and it is a way for a lot of people to socialise that does not cost a lot of money, does not involve alcohol and is harmless fun. Rightly or wrongly, people's concerns have been raised about this. I know we can talk about the lobbying and I was targeted myself by that. I did not participate in it, although I did go out and meet my constituents yesterday outside the Dáil. I want to raise some of the concerns I have about the lack of flexibility involved in this legislation for commercial operators.
A lot of the talk is about fundraising events, GAA clubs and different community organisations. However, a huge number of people participate in bingo that is run on a commercial basis. Is that a legitimate commercial activity?
The Minister of State is shaking his head. Is it the case that bingo is a form of entertainment? Is it valid to say that with this form of entertainment in which a lot of people participate, enjoy and get a lot of satisfaction from, there should be an imposition of a requirement to donate 25% of the proceeds to charity? How fair is that as an approach? If the Government is saying that about fundraising, that is one thing. I am not setting these down as being my firm beliefs but I am asking if there is an issue with requiring a commercial operation to make a 25% contribution to charity. The other aspect is the limit of 50% of the takings going into the prize fund. Again, I have to say I do not know a huge amount about the economics or mechanics of bingo but my understanding is there is flexibility in that. Sometimes 80% of the pot might be given back in prize money and sometimes it might be less. Much of the flexibility that currently exists is used to create excitement, to encourage more business and to encourage people to come back or on a quiet night, more than 50% of the takings might go out on prize money. Those are the arguments that are made. There is an extent to which the priorities are skewed in this.
I admit straight off I was not involved on Committee Stage at all but it strikes me that some of the big problems associated with gambling in this country are not being addressed in this legislation. For example, we are not getting the regulator and we are increasing the stake in a way that is likely to cause more social problems for people who have addiction problems. At the same time, the Government is including bingo in gaming and gambling when that is not what it actually is because there is no legal definition of bingo.
The Government is therefore lumping bingo in with all lotteries and gambling and because of that it is not regarded as a separate activity in its own right. It seems that what the Government is proposing to do is unnecessarily rigid and potentially unfair. That is how it strikes me. I wish we had a proper briefing from the Minister of State to address the concerns that have been expressed but I welcome the fact section 12 is being recommitted. That is a wise thing to do. I hope in the context of that we might look at this in a way that ensures we all come to agreement on a fair outcome.
The people I met were people who play bingo. I met people from Deputy Shortall's constituency yesterday and they were the nicest people in the world that one could wish to meet. They were nice and respectable people. They were not what I would call lobbyists. They were people who came here because they had concerns. They heard what the Minister of State was proposing, they read about it in the newspapers, they heard about it on their radios and they came to the Dáil yesterday to make their protest in a nice, ordinary and dignified way. They were not lobbyists.
All I am saying is the people I met were the salt of the earth. They want to continue playing bingo and they have grave concerns about that. This has still not been put right tonight because there is still worry and concern out there and there are messages coming through that there is no clarity about the funds that will be made available and if they will be under threat. Another thing has transpired here tonight. Every one of us, as elected Members, give 100% support to the small bingo operators that are raising funds for this club or that club or perhaps a person with a medical problem, for example, might have a bingo event organised for them or a bingo event might be organised to keep a local club going, be it a sports club or a community centre. We should also remember there is nothing wrong with monster bingos. In the Irish National Event Centre, INEC, in the Gleneagle Hotel complex in County Kerry, for instance, a monster bingo event was held four or five weeks ago.
I played bingo there that day and was delighted to be there. Perhaps 2,500 to 3,000 people were playing bingo and the place was at capacity. It was a lovely Sunday afternoon and the people thronged. They came from everywhere to Kerry to play bingo that day. On the other side of the border, in County Cork, there are monster bingo events. Does the Minister of State know about the bingo week held in Limerick? Points made during the debate have given the impression we should be against monster bingo events. There is nothing wrong with people who organise a monster bingo event. People attend such events and play bingo just for one day or for a week, where they play bingo during the day and into the night. They have a good, sociable time and if they want to take a break from a few games, they go outside and have a bit of time to themselves. They stay in hotels and have a great time. There is nothing in the world wrong with that.
Let us not give the impression we are against monster bingo events, because there is nothing wrong with them. The Minister of State has to clarify to the people, whether they are the small clubs that benefit from bingo events or the weekly bingo events going on since 1958, what in the name of God is wrong with allowing them continue. We should leave it to them to determine what prize funds they are able to give on the nights they hold their events, and not let the legislation meddle with, interfere with, or detrimentally affect them in any way. As Deputy Mattie McGrath stated, over the years legislation passed in the House has had a negative effect on activities that get hit in the crossfire but were not intended to be affected. We do not want that to happen to the game of bingo.
I will take a gamble at this point, before I let other Deputies respond. There is some latitude to allow the Minister of State to clarify matters, which might pre-empt some of the further comments.
I thank Deputies for their contributions and apologise for any confusion that has arisen. I was out of the country dealing with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination for the past couple of days. I was away from Sunday until last night and the issue blew up while I was gone. I tried to deal with it on a connecting flight from Paris and determine what was going on.
The Bill was published two years ago. It passed all Stages in the Seanad, and Second Stage and Committee Stage in this House. Now, at the 11th hour, it has all blown up. Some colleagues, including Deputy Thomas Byrne and O'Callaghan, noted that a major, professional lobbying campaign was taking place. Deputy Martin Kenny also referred to it. Let us not be fooled about it: that is what happened at the last minute and it was an attempt to derail the Bill. I ask colleagues not to fall for that and to be wise to what is happening. People have called for a long time for regulation of gambling, gaming and lotteries, and this is the start of it. While it is modest, the issue has been overblown. Let us imagine what will happen when we introduce a regulator and get to grips with the heavy aspects.
Legislation is in place, including the 1956 Act. The Bill will update that. It is quite modest and no more. Under the legislation, which was amended in 2013, running a lottery with a prize fund of up to €5,000 requires a permit from An Garda Síochána, and that can be done every week. With the permit, away you go, and the lottery can be run. In 1965, the courts defined bingo as a lottery. It was decided in the Doherty judgment and I can convey the details to Deputy Shortall. For bingo events, there can be a payout of up to €5,000 every week, and in the case of the vast majority of local bingos in rural areas, that is what happens and the payouts are well under that. I have checked what is done in my area, where the payout is sometimes as high as €3,000 but that is it. Organisers are well covered with the permit and no change will be made at that level.
Deputy O'Callaghan pointed out that we will introduce an alleviation to lotteries held for charitable or philanthropic purposes not requiring a permit or licence. Section 9 states that section 26A of the principal Act will not apply to a lottery where the total value of the prize is not more than €1,000, where the price of each ticket is not more than €5, where the maximum number of tickets sold is 1,500, where the lottery is conducted for the benefit of a charity and where the promoter of the charity derives no personal benefit, as long as he or she has not conducted a lottery in the preceding three months. If there is a fashion show, therefore, and the organiser wishes to hold a lottery to raise a few more euro, this is how it will be done. Until now, by law, the organiser should have had a permit for that, although many organisers would not have had one. Now, there can be a lottery at a fashion show, table quiz or whatever it is, and the organiser will not need a permit, which will alleviate the issue and make it easier for clubs and organisations to hold fundraising events. For payouts up to €5,000, there will be no change and no matrix will be involved. The vast majority of clubs and organisations that run bingo events are in that space, and we will not do anything to them.
For larger prizes of between €5,000 and €30,000, that is serious money and the organiser must go to the District Court to seek a licence to operate at that level. For the permit and the courts, the judge and the Garda superintendent have to ensure that the person applying for the permit or licence is of good repute, according to the legislation. A licence to run a lottery will be given by the court and the payout can be up to €30,000 per week. The law states - we will not change it - that if such a permit is sought, it has to be for a charitable or philanthropic purpose. No commercial bingo is currently allowed under law and we do not propose to entertain it.
Currently, the 1956 Act does not specify how much money, if anything, should go to charity. If somebody goes to the court and applies for a licence to run bingo or a lottery, he or she has to name the charity that will receive the money but does not have to say how much it will receive. The Bill will provide that the charity must receive at least 25% of the proceeds, which many Deputies support. The vast majority of bingo events in towns, cities and rural areas will not be impacted by the provision because they are small potatoes compared with the larger events. At present, operators at that level can put up to 40% of the proceeds into their back pocket, which leaves 60% for prizes. We argue that 25% should be for the charity. The figure allowed to be taken for running costs will be reduced from 40% to 25%, which will leave 50% for prizes. In effect, we will reduce the prize fund from 60% to 50% of the take on the night, assuming the charity will receive little. Nothing will prevent an organisation at any level from topping up the jackpot if it wishes, as some colleagues noted. They indicated that, sometimes, organisers pay out 120% or 130% of the takings, perhaps because they have had a slow night. Nothing will prevent that from happening and many clubs and organisations do it already. I take Deputy Kenny's point but there is no reason to amend the legislation because organisers can top up the prize to make it more attractive.
I understand it. There is no need to change the Bill as it stands because of that.
No, not 50%. They can top it up, and a lot of them are doing that already from their own funds. Deputy Rabbitte alluded to that, and she knows a lot about this. Deputy Scanlon said that people running bingo events top up the jackpots themselves. There is no limit to that, and we do not propose to introduce one. They must still give 25% to charity. Most clubs with prizes of more than €5,000 will be more like businesses. They are supposed to be charities; that is the difference. That is what the law states and we are not changing it. I can give Deputies the references.
That is where we are coming from. We are discussing amendments Nos. 5, 9, 10, 12 and 13. We are making it easier for small bingo operators to operate because instead of having to print the name of the charity and prize on every book they will be able to put the information beside the door. That makes everything much easier for them. We are trying to make it easier across the board for small local operators. Large so-called commercial operators have applied for licences and have told courts they are holding events on behalf of charities. We are now telling them that they have to give 25% of the take to charity. Most colleagues here have agreed on that. That is the crux of the Bill.
A question was asked about rollovers. Some clubs get a permit from Garda superintendents, which allows them to have a prize of €5,000. If the rollover goes beyond that, they should get a licence because they are going beyond the limit of the permit. Deputy Byrne said many clubs have a cap of €5,000. They can then apply for a new permit for a new event. I am delighted that most colleagues here have read about this, taken in the information and realised what is happening. The main regulator is to be established.
I am also concerned about addiction, which has been mentioned. People who have an addiction of any sort need help, treatment, counselling and so forth. It is a health issue, as I have said time and again. We can do so much with regulation, but even where there is intense regulation in other jurisdictions, people still have addiction problems, there is problem gambling and so forth. People with addiction problems of any kind, whether it is alcohol, drugs or anything else, need to be treated by the HSE and medical professionals. This is something similar.
We have to be careful to recognise that regulation will not solve addiction. It can help, but it will not solve the problem. Deputy Ó Laoghaire made a good point. I recall the debate on Committee Stage with respect to lines and stakes, which we will discuss later. I listened carefully and reduced the numbers involved. People who have an addiction problem will spend and spend anyway.
This Bill has been kicking around for two years. It is only at one minute to midnight that this issue has been raised. Unfortunately, I was out of the country when it arose and I want to apologise for any confusion that was caused. There is no confusion intended. As Deputy O'Callaghan and others said, the matters being raised now are a result of the concern of various lobbyists that we are now asking them to give money to charity, something they should have been giving under the law as it stands - a law which is not going to be changed.
I am here to speak about amendment No. 6 but I have listened to the debate and I am aware of the public commentary, discussion and so on about the bingo issue. I am in favour of increasing the amount that goes to charity to 25%, a change that makes all the sense in the world. I still do not quite understand why a maximum of 50% of the proceeds is to go to those who play bingo. A maximum is proposed, but if the running costs can be met with 5% of the money involved why can 70% of the proceeds not go back to the players? This would mean 25% would still go to charity and running costs can be taken out of the remaining 5%. If the amount can be topped up, why is the maximum not higher? Perhaps the Minister of State can clarify that.
When we are tackling this issue, it is important to distinguish between two different interest groups. One is the interests of those who play bingo and use it as an important community outlet. I am on their side and against anything that will impact on their ability to play bingo. The second issue involves a separate group of interests, namely, the large bingo companies. I accept that most of the bingo operators outside of the major cities do not exceed the €5,000 limit. Major corporations in Dublin have the money to hire PR companies and so on and have a separate interest to that of the players, namely, to minimise the amount that goes to charity and, therefore, to maximise their profits. We clearly have to take a stand against that.
On the broader issue, the Minister of State said that if someone has a gambling problem, he or she will spend and spend, and I take that point. The Government has reduced the figure which can be spent from €10 to €5, but that facilitates gambling. If there is a maximum bet per game of €5, which is 800 times the previous limit, multiple games can be played at one point in time, as a previous speaker said. A person could play five games a minute and play for an hour. In the course of an hour, he or she could spend €1,500. People with addiction problems can spend a large amount very quickly and go broke.
What the Minister of State proposes is wrong. I agree that €5 is better than €10, but I do not think the €5 limit is the answer. That is particularly true given that we have the highest gross gambling revenue per capitain Europe. We have up to 40,000 problem gamblers, yet we have no dedicated gambling addiction treatment service or gambling prevalence study, and there is no State agency dedicated to reducing gambling-related harm. This issue is being significantly underestimated and is not being tackled by the Government.
We have spoken about an element of the interests that exist within gambling, and there are much more significant interests at play than the average bingo company. They are making substantial profits in this country. We should not facilitate the exploitation of people who have addiction problems in the context of increased alienation, community fragmentation, poor mental health and the lack of Government investment in supports for people, which are, in some cases, being filled with addiction problems, including gambling.
I thank the Minister of State for allowing the Bill to be recommitted. I respect that he was out of the country and it was difficult to catch up with what was going on when he got back. Clarity on the issue was definitely required because a lot of people were concerned.
Deputy Byrne's comments were not helpful. He talked about lobby groups. We can make up our own minds and do not need any lobby groups to tell us what to do. I will talk on behalf of the constituents of Cork South-West and if he wants to talk on behalf of lobbyists, that is his own business. If he had spoken to his constituents, he would have known how concerned they were about the Bill. Many concerns required clarity.
I respect that. People are talking about prize money being printed on every ticket or for every bingo. Perhaps I stand to be corrected, but I am pretty sure that when there is a pop-up bingo in a local social centre, a game that does not occur on a regular basis and that is based on the local hospital or whatever, it would depend on the number of people there. Many of these groups make no money on the bingo, they basically make money on selling raffle tickets during bingo. That is what keeps the doors open in community halls. In fairness, the Minister of State has clarified quite a lot and I am not taking that away from him. He has always been very fair in clarifying issues.
Perhaps further clarity will be given. I still think, however, that if a large bingo game is being run, perhaps to aid a community voluntary organisation, that the prize money going from 60% to 50% is going to upset many good bingo players. There has also been much talk about addiction. That is a serious problem, regardless of whether it is to addiction to alcohol or gambling. However, we are going strongly down the route of bringing people playing a bit of bingo into that. I am referring to people who play bingo once or twice a week. That is getting mixed up in this conversation.
Concerns have been expressed over the past number of days. The Minister of State has allayed much of that concern. If more clarification is needed, perhaps that can be given. I appreciate that this Bill is being recommitted and that will give us a further opportunity to have a discussion. Our job here is to try to help community and voluntary organisations. I said earlier that many individuals out there cannot take any more paperwork or anything that will cause them to stay at home and not enjoy what they want to enjoy. Bingo has been a great outlet for many people, men and women, down through the years. I thank the Minister of State again for the clarification he has given, but we need further clarity.
I too accept the bona fides of the Minister of State and that he was out of the country when some of this confusion erupted. This legislation has been almost two years making its passage through the House. Clarity is certainly needed. We are killing our communities with over-regulation.
We are speaking to about five amendments and section 12. I understood it was being recommitted to Committee Stage. This is a Committee Stage debate and I welcome that. Over-regulation is killing communities. I said that earlier about voluntary housing and the Bill passed last night in respect of approved housing bodies, AHBs. We are driving volunteers away with paperwork.
I did not interrupt the Minister of State, so I ask him to let me finish. The limits on profits have to be looked at too. We cannot allow big companies not to pay to charities what they are supposed to pay them. It was mentioned that they are not doing that. If that is the case, then it is for the Minister of State's Department and An Garda Síochána to enforce that legislation. Just because we did not enforce that legislation does not mean that we should introduce new legislation to deal with it. Regarding an Teachta Tomás Ó Broin, Deputy Thomas Byrne, mo iar-chara and mo chara fós I hope, I resent his language. I do not know who he was talking about. We were all lobbied, but the people we met were ordinary decent voluntary bingo people.
-----"sharp-suited lobbyists" and we were jumping on the bandwagon. Deputy Thomas Byrne might clarify who he was talking about, because I do not know who he was talking about. I resent that because, as a former Member of the Deputy's party, I was never in the Galway tent but there were many sharp-suited and shady individuals in that tent and we know where that got us. I will not take that lecture from anyone in this House that we were eejits here and were lobbied by people and that we could not see who they were. There is none so blind as those who cannot see at all. We are well able to represent rural people and we are not going to be lobbied.
We met professional lobbyists today and we were very quick to discern those from the ordinary people. I have no truck with or interest in lining the pockets of public relations companies and allowing them to get paid. They should not, and there is plenty of them around. Plenty of them work for the political parties as well and plenty of mercenaries travel from party to party too. As the whip of our group, I organised the meetings today through my office. I want the allegation withdrawn that we were jumping on the bandwagon because of information we got from "sharp-suited" lobbyists. Nothing could be further from the truth. We have our reasons here and we all know we are here to represent the daoine beaga, the ordinary people, who like and play bingo. Goodness knows enough things have been taken off them.
I am referring to rural and urban Ireland. I accept that bingo takes place in towns and cities. The only difference is that people there can get the DART, bus or Luas. We cannot do that. Often a husband would come to bingo and have a social drink while his wife or partner was playing bingo. That day is gone now. The wife might not be able to drive. With the national car test, NCT, the poor roads, the bóithre bochta, and everything else they cannot afford a car to drive. Let those people have their pastime playing bingo and let the small voluntary clubs and groups be supported through the profits. The spirit of it, ní neart go cur le chéile, and the meitheal, is nearly quenched. The late great Canon Hayes said that it is better to light one candle than to curse the dark. We are here trying to keep that wavering, flickering candle in rural Ireland. The Acting Chairman knows that as well in her constituency in Galway, both urban and rural. We need to keep that spirit kindled and not kill it with the unintended consequences of legislation that we might pass.
I want clarity on some of the things on which the Minister of State came back to us. Deputy Rabbitte laid it out very clearly and she has obviously done much research in preparation for this discussion. The Minister of State is correct that this is coming, as he termed it, "at a minute to midnight". That is why legislation has ten Stages before it is enacted. That is the reason for it, so that we do have the minute to midnight to deal with this. Why else would we have Report and Final Stages, were it not for that?
In his response, I would like the Minister of State to clarify if this specific issue was flagged with him by anyone prior to this becoming an issue this weekend. Was it brought to the attention of his officials prior to this? I accept it might not have been brought to the attention of the Minister of State, but were his officials aware of it? Have they considered changes that would provide the type of clarity that we need? The Minister of State can correct me if I am wrong, but from his original response I take it that he is stating that for the majority of communities across the country the permit will address the issue for them because of the €5,000 cap. If it goes over €5,000, it will then be necessary for those groups to get a licence-----
-----and that licence continues until the jackpot is reached and paid out and then the permit will apply again. Can those groups run their daily or weekly bingo on their permit and then, if the jackpot exceeds the €5,000 combined with the amount given out in prize money, get a licence to cover that? Will they be forced to continue to operate that licence when the prize money goes back again to less than €5,000?
Deputy Martin Kenny's suggestion that we increase the threshold from 50% to 75% meets the Minister of State's objective of giving 25% to charity. None of us has an issue with that aspect of the Bill. When we return to Committee Stage, Deputy Martin Kenny will propose that the maximum which can be paid out is 75%. That will ensure the maximum amount of prize money is paid out. If the operator wants to take a bigger share for itself, so be it. In such circumstances, people will vote with their feet by going to another operator where the prize money is bigger. The 25% that goes to the charity is secured in either event.
My understanding, based on what the Minister of State has said, is that in circumstances in which the jackpot rolls over, the 75% cap we are proposing will not kick in. As I understand it, the 75% cap will apply to the money taken at the door of the bingo hall on that particular day. As Deputy Scanlon said earlier, the €100 that is put into the jackpot every week rolls over if the jackpot is not won. Such roll-over moneys cannot be seen as takings on the door or considered as part of the prize pool or pot. The Minister of State referred earlier to an operator taking money that it already has on account.
I would like clarity on the licence. It appears that if a community group falls back under the €5,000 threshold, it will revert to operating under its permit. If the Minister of State accepts Deputy Martin Kenny's proposal to increase the prize money cap from 50% to 75%, that will address the issue which has been raised with me by community groups across my local area. I hope that when we return to Committee Stage, the Minister of State will accept the amendment that will be proposed by Deputy Martin Kenny. It is a fair amendment because it deals with the two aspects of the matter that have been raised this evening.
I have done a great deal of fundraising in my time. I am still connected with a lot of fundraising for various organisations. As I have listened to the Minister of State, I have become really confused by what he has been saying. I would like an explanation to be written out in a series of case studies involving small, medium and bigger halls. It is inevitable that those who will be responsible for administering this legislation will end up worried. They are volunteers rather than professional accountants. They do not own these businesses. They are setting out to do something for the good of their communities.
I would like to mention something the Minister of State should consider. I do not disagree with him when he says a certain amount of money should go to charity and that we should make it clear it is going to charity. Why is he not expanding the role of the Charities Regulator to provide for some regulatory oversight? I remind him that all of these community organisations have to fund their work. I will give a small example of something the Government is doing at the moment which is giving rise to a great deal of fundraising. I do not know whether the Minister of State is aware that the Minister, Deputy Zappone, is requiring significant fire surveys to be carried out in community buildings where there are crèches. That is fine. If one were to commission a fire survey tomorrow, it is likely it would cost thousands of euro. The only way that many communities can raise such moneys is by organising a series of fundraising events, possibly including the kinds of events covered by this legislation. Why is there no regulator to which people can go to get clarity? I invite the Minister of State to go to his local Garda station to work out the finer points of the law in this area, including the stage at which roll-over and accumulator jackpots fall into certain categories. I remind him that many gardaí in many stations are under pressure. It is difficult to work out these things. The Minister of State is asking many people who are essentially volunteers to add another element to their existing burden, which involves seeking to do a good job for their local communities in a variety of community organisations.
I would like to put a second point to the Minister of State. It relates to something I do not understand about the Government. I do not know whether the Minister of State has met representatives of the national lottery.
Okay. They have met many Deputies because they are facing withering competition from offshore companies that allow people to bet on lotteries. Those companies are competing with our national lottery, which is a major contributor to good causes. If one goes online, one can see how the stakes from the national lottery are distributed to good causes around the country under the good causes fund. The national lottery is a lottery, as we understand it, on a large national scale. At the moment, it is facing withering competition from offshore companies that allow people to bet on lotteries. They advertise on daytime television and elsewhere. As a result of their activities, good causes around the country are losing significant amounts of money. I am sure the national lottery will happily send the Minister of State a communication on this phenomenon. However, we have not heard a word about it.
It struck me as I listened to some of the Minister of State's descriptions that he might not be aware that institutions like hospices typically have a major raffle each year with a car as the prize. I have had a significant involvement with my local hospice in Blanchardstown over a long period of time. This kind of prize easily reaches the kind of value that has been mentioned by the Minister of State. Everybody in the community buys an expensive ticket as a way of contributing to the hospice. It is a big draw. The hospice sells lots of tickets. The prize-winning tickets are drawn in public. As I listen to the Minister of State, I have no idea what he is intending with regard to such raffles.
The Minister of State was giving examples of big sums. He chose to mention the sum of €30,000 in his contribution. I did not pick it - he did. The Minister of State and his officials need to sit down and think this out. The Minister of State has referred to charities on many occasions. Do events that are being carried on by charities meet the definition the Minister of State is providing for in this Bill? Our Lady's Children's Hospital in Crumlin engages in a great deal of fundraising to pay for treatments given to babies with various conditions and to keep pace with medical developments. There is a huge amount of charitable activity in this country. The Minister of State is throwing much of it into some doubt. There are raffles at most fundraisers. In the case of a very high-level fundraiser, it might cost €100 for a raffle ticket. Is the Fine Gael fundraiser €100 a ticket as well? It seems from the Minister of State's reaction that this might not be the case. I thought it was. I understand there are people who buy €1,000 worth of tickets at Fine Gael fundraisers.
I ask the Minister of State to give more consideration to what he is talking about. He has managed to confuse everybody. He is going to say party lotteries do not fall into this. That is probably what his officials are saying to him at the moment. Why not? Are we not entitled to have information about that kind of lottery? For some reason, the people in the bingo hall seem to deserve a deeper and higher level of regulation. I read in a newspaper that a Fine Gael draw raised hundreds of thousands of euro. Such sums of money are very significant. The Fianna Fáil draw could raise similar amounts of money.
We need a fair and level playing pitch. There are people in working class communities in Dublin, Cork and throughout the country who, as we have heard, play an occasional game of bingo. This provision would be similar to using a sledge-hammer to crack a nut. We need to hear chapter and verse on how it will affect the people who run bingo events and are happy to donate to charity. If, as hinted by the Minister of State, there are firms about which the Government has concerns he should tell us of the suspected wrongdoing or misappropriation of funding by these organisations. I would like him to elaborate on his commentary in that regard. I do not know how many bingo halls the Minister of State has visited but I am sure he has been in at least one with his mother or granny at some stage. Why is he so worried about some of the operators? Is it that they are not reliable, trustworthy or honest? The people we are talking about who are operating in community centres around the country are doing their best for the local communities and they are happy to organise events and to have the funding raised contribute back to the communities.
As I said earlier, currently all around Ireland community centres are desperately fundraising for the necessary fire inspections that they have to undergo under the new regulations being introduced by the Minister of State's colleague, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone, and rightly so. However, the money for those inspections has to be raised by voluntary organisations. We are not getting reasonable, detailed answers that we can pass on to explain the Minister of State's vision in terms of the new rules. The Minister of State might clarify in his response if he intends to bring in detailed regulations in regard to what is contained in this legislation and, if so, will he commit to putting those regulations before the House so that they can be debated as well?
I am, again, seeking clarification on the rollover jackpots. For example, Béal Átha an Ghaorthaidh, Ballingeary, which is not in my constituency, currently has a lottery jackpot of €15,000. It was €14,800 last week and, as it was not won, it is increasing by €200 this week. I may have misheard the Minister of State when he spoke about rollover jackpots previously. I am seeking clarification on whether the GAA club that runs that lottery is now required to apply for a licence.
I am not sure of the history of this particular lottery but my understanding is that under section 26(a) if the total prize is under €1,000 it would not have to apply for a permit or a licence but by dint of a rollover mechanism it now has to apply for a licence. I am seeking clarification on whether it has to make a weekly application or if it is a once off process once it goes over the terms of section 26(a) if that is what its intention was in the first instance? I hope that makes sense.
No, I will let the Deputy in later. I have a list, to which I must adhere. This debate started before I took the Chair. I ask Deputies to be a little focused in their questions because we have not made progress. Many Members have already contributed. I will relatively soon stop allowing in those who have already been in many times. I call Deputy Michael Healy-Rae, who will be followed by Deputy Shortall and then Deputy Ellis.
The words most used this evening by Members from different parties are "clarification", "misunderstanding" and "confusion". That is what is out in the public domain. I have listened attentively to what the Minister of State had to say. There are aspects of this legislation that are fine. What is being proposed is well-intentioned and acceptable. It is difficult to speak to the Minister of State when he is a conversation with somebody else so I will wait until he has finished.
There are aspects of this legislation that are acceptable and well-intentioned but when it comes to bingo there is too much that can be interpreted in the wrong way. It has been rightly stated here already that the purpose of this legislation is to target particular organisers. Would it not be easier to exempt bingo from the legislation? Why can the Minister of State not do that?
I do not see why it cannot be done. The Minister of State need only go back to the drawing board and amend the Bill to exempt bingo from it. I have not been asked to lobby for monster bingo events. I was aware of them before today because friends of mine have attended monster bingo events in the South Court Hotel in Limerick and the Breaffy House Resort in County Mayo, in the spring and in the autumn. The Minister of State will recall that earlier I referenced what is known as "bingo week". It is held in County Mayo in the spring and in the autumn. Can anybody here tell me what is wrong with attending a monster bingo event, which people often do on a week's holiday? It is akin to another person going to Cheltenham or the Galway races. If people are not going to Knock to pray they might be going to the Breaffy House Resort in Mayo to play bingo. What is wrong with that?
The impression one gets from this debate is that we all support the small bingo operations in community halls, which we do. I do not see why we should give the impression that, as legislators, we are out to get at the monster bingo events. There are thousands of people who adore monster events such as bingo week and the type of event I attended in the INEC in The Gleneagle Hotel in Killarney four or five weeks ago, which was great. There is nothing wrong with that. While there are many aspects of this legislation that are fine, the Minister of State needs to amend it to exempt bingo operations. When I put that proposal to the Minister of State earlier he shook his head as if to indicate he could not do it. Perhaps when he has an opportunity he will explain why he cannot exempt bingo from the legislation, be that small or big bingo operations. I do not understand why the Minister of State cannot do that.
The Minister of State said in his response that there is so much push-back on this issue he can only imagine what might happen when it comes to dealing with the heavy stuff. It might have been better if he had started off with the heavy stuff such as the element of gambling that is problematic and causing huge social problems, particularly within families. It would have been better if he had done that. That would entail having a proper regulator and the introduction of other limits.
The really problematic side of gambling is online, in the main, and in the privacy of people's homes where they can get rid of thousands of euro in a very short space of time with no checks and balances. There is no positive side to that whatever. It is a pity the Minister of State has not taken on that aspect of gaming and gambling. Had he set about doing that, he would have had the support of the House.
There is a lack of understanding in this regard - I do not know where it is coming from, perhaps from the Department - on the distinction between the different kinds of bingo. Some of it is charitable and some commercial but the fact that it has been operating on a non-charitable basis does not make it bad. It is a commercial operation that provides a social outlet for people who are happy to buy their few books and go along a few nights a week. It is a good social outlet for lots of people. There is an element of taking one's chance and so on but it is predominantly social. There has been a complete failure to appreciate the distinction between commercial bingo and charitable bingo for fundraising purposes, which operates on a smaller scale and what the Minister of State is doing to control the latter sounds quite reasonable. What he is not legislating for and what he does not seem to have taken into consideration is commercial bingo, which is a very big activity in the Dublin area. It operates throughout my constituency and many others, and I am sure that is also the case in other large population centres. That he has not made that distinction is the problem and he needs to do that. The Minister of State has stated that no commercial bingo is allowed in this country but why is that the case? There is commercial bingo in Northern Ireland and throughout the UK. I am not saying these operations are in any way philanthropic; they are not. It is a commercial activity and it is legitimate.
Yes, it is a business but it is an entertainment business without too many downsides to it. Why not regulate it properly and deal with it in a different way? I am not aware that the Minister of State was seeking to take a contribution for charity from any other commercial entertainment activity or business but if he wants to do that, he should do so in a reasonable way. Can he tell me another commercial activity where the Government came along and said it was taking 25% of its proceeds to go to charity? I do not think that he would do that in any other area. The problem is that there is not adequate legislation to define what bingo is, other than in respect of charitable and fundraising activities. There is a separate commercial activity but the law does not recognise the reality of that. The Minister of State would have been better off had he made that distinction between the two very different kinds of bingo, which is where the problem arises. What effort was made to look at how the issue is dealt with elsewhere, particularly across the Border and across the water? We would not be in this difficulty had he done so. It is reasonable, because it works in the UK and Northern Ireland . Consequently, why not recognise the reality that this is a commercial operation and regulate it accordingly?
Dublin North-West stretches across and includes Cabra and Whitehall. Most of those who go to these bingo halls, most of whom are elderly, do so to go out. I do not consider it a form of gambling; I just see it as a form of entertainment for most of them. My mother is not well but she used to do it.
I seek clarity on the figure of €5,000 per week. My local soccer club holds a draw, which goes up to €8,000 and €10,000. Is the €5,000 weekly, that is, it would not affect the draw if the €8,000 was carrying over?
Deputy Martin Kenny suggested a possible change to the effect that the 50% would be taken up to 75%. That might solve some of the problems people have raised in respect of prizes. I agree with others on the amount going to charity. From what I can gather, very little was going to charity and while I accept some should, I am not sure that it should be 25%. I seek an answer to this issue because this has been an ongoing practice.
Will some of the bigger companies argue that they have been employing many people and if the legislation reduces their margins, they will cut back on staff? That will put an end to some bingo halls. I am worried about these issues, which have been raised with me.
Some bingo halls have one-armed bandits. I assume the plan is to ban them completely. I have not heard of what will happen on this. Some of these halls do not make a lot of money and while it is gambling, many of the people who use them do not go out very much. They might just throw in a coin but are not what I would call real gamblers. Is it intended to ban the machines in the halls?
I note that many Deputies get what we are trying to do and that the vast majority of small operations, those under €5,000, will not be impacted at all. Incidentally, the Bill allows the Minister of the day to amend those figures. It will not need primary legislation, which was one of the issues with the 1956 Act. They got stuck in time and there was no way of changing but we have included a section in this Bill that will enable the Minister of the day to change some of these figures by regulation if necessary. It would have to come before the House to be approved but if there is a problem that has not been foreseen that can be done, although that is not possible in respect of the percentages. The figures of €5,000, €30,000 and the stake in prizes for the machine can be amended by statutory instrument with the approval of the House, if necessary.
I reiterate that under current law, commercial bingo is not allowed. If someone goes to the courts because he or she wants to run bingo or a lottery - and bingo has been identified in the courts as a lottery - he or she must do it for a charity. That is the law as it stands and most colleagues here agree with that. The big issue causing a problem here is the percentage the charity should get. I have suggested 25% and that 25% of the takings would go to run the thing, which is quite a large amount of money. While getting 25% of the takings is a lot of money; at present those concerned are taking up to 40%, which is huge, and then there would be 50% for the prizes. At the moment, prizes comprise approximately 60% although I know we have spoken about 75% and so on. There is a facility to top up.
There were a few questions about roll-overs. At the moment, and this will not change, if a prize goes over €5,000, one needs to get a licence from the court because one is running an event for which a licence from the court is clearly demanded and that is it. That is clear.
The lottery licence lasts for 12 months, as per the legislation. Deputy Naughten asked about that.
The national lottery was mentioned by Deputy Burton and that comes under the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. There is the National Lottery Act 2013 and we specifically did not bring that under this legislation as we wanted to keep it tight to these matters.
Yes. The Government's intention is to bring in a regulator for the rest of the industry but it is a mammoth task. We have much work done on it but it is a very large and complex area. This is a minor piece of legislation and look at all the confusion it has caused. I will not get into discussing the major pieces of legislation now as there has been enough said on it.
Deputy Naughten asked about issues being flagged and they were. I know officials got letters, etc., about these matters, particularly the provision implementing a 25% share for charity. We made the decision early that this was the way to go. Until now the issue has not been raised, although I take the point that this is the reason for debate on the various Stages. No amendments were tabled by anybody to make changes. I note Deputy Ellis's comments on the 75% provision. It will not make a massive difference at the end of the day.
There is a possibility it could be topped up anyway. I am slow to go down this road and I am not sure we can in any event. We have not examined this carefully or concisely so I would be concerned about unforeseen consequences. I put it to Deputy Martin Kenny that there is not much difference between that and the 50% provision, which can be topped up to make it attractive. I know that is what he is getting at. There is no issue. This only applies to those operations with a fund of over €5,000, so the vast majority of small operators, clubs and related organisations will not see an impact. We are demanding that the large agents that run bingo on a semi-commercial basis, according to Deputy Shortall, pay towards charity and we are not bringing in commercial bingo at this time. I take the point that it exists in other places.
I am concerned that operators like that could muscle in and shut down the small operators. There is a risk and we must be very careful if we allow large corporations and wealthy businesses to start moving into the area. They could have an impact on local charities, bingo or lotteries that we are all concerned about tonight. We want to proceed.
In one city there was an attempt to bring this about and there was much concern from small organisations and clubs. Deputy Burton spoke about charities and trying to raise money for hospitals and hospices. They would be affected by the large, shiny and glitzy professional operation moving in to suck up all the business. I am concerned about that so I would be very slow to go down that route.
I know it is different but they would operate in the same space. One can imagine a large, perhaps multinational, corporation that Deputy Shortall seems to want to allow to move into an area and it could shut down the small, local charities working very hard on a voluntary basis.
There is 25% going to the charity, which might be the same group. The organisation can only give back a maximum of 50%. That is the issue and it is why Deputy Martin Kenny's amendment is so important. With all due respect, the Minister of State has said he could not consider the amendment on the 75% provision because we have not examined it carefully. We would not be here this evening if the matter had been examined carefully and had not been a problem up to now.
I have a specific question related to what I asked earlier. If a group gets a licence, can it go back to a permit once the pot goes below €5,000? If a group gets a permit for the year and the jackpot goes over €5,000, it must go to court and get a licence. When the prize goes below the €5,000 threshold again, is the group allowed to revert back to the permit or is it stuck with the licence for 12 months? Will the Minister of State clarify that?
I have a final point.
It is clear the rollover would not be part of the cap because the money would not be taken in on the night. The permit exists for 12 months. Regardless of whether a group gets a second or third licence, the permit is there for 12 months once granted. The permit can be used to run the lottery under €5,000 and if it is over €5,000, a licence is required. That is fairly clear. I am satisfied the 50% provision is enough and it is the proposal I have included. There were no amendments put forward on Committee or Report Stages to change this, including from me. I am happy to stay with it.
The Minister is aware I submitted an amendment on this matter on Committee Stage. It relates to the maximum stake that can be put in for gaming operations. The law is currently archaic as the maximum stake is currently 6p and the maximum prize is 10 shillings. On Committee Stage the Bill provided for increasing the maximum stake to €10 and the maximum prize to €750. Fianna Fáil suggested in an amendment a maximum stake of €2 and a maximum prize of €250. This was discussed on Committee Stage and I am glad the Minister took on board some of the arguments that were being made at the time. The proposal now being put forward by the Minister of State is that the maximum stake would be €5, with a maximum prize of €500.
I agree that although this is far from perfect, it is a reasonable compromise. We have problems with serious gambling addiction in the country. The question was asked on Committee Stage as to whether there is much of a difference between somebody putting €10 or €5 into a machine but there probably is. That is why we proposed an amendment seeking the amount of €2. We will support the amendment before us as a reasonable compromise, with a maximum stake of €5 and a maximum prize of €500.
When one considers the type of gambling being done online, people are gambling vast amounts above that. There needs to be some equality of treatment between gambling online and gambling in amusement arcades. It is appropriate that we regularise what is happening in arcades and amend the archaic law that is currently in place.
I accept the lower the stake the better in some cases where people have a problem with gambling. However, whatever we bring forward in legislation should at least be logical and in line with what is happening in the real world. In that context, having the stake at a maximum of €500 brings us back into line with what is happening. If the amount is too low, it will be breached all the time, and there is no point in doing that. Having it at this level is logical. I support amendments Nos. 6 and 7.
I believe the figures are ill-advised. Depending on how the machines are structured, we will have people doing what happens on these types of machines in other jurisdictions. They will not play for one €5 stake and one €500 prize. They could be playing for ten €5 stakes and ten €500 prizes. This is an incredible incentive to engage in mad gambling with a view of winning for a problem gambler. Gamblers do not necessarily have the outlook the Minister of State has on gambling. A person might well envisage if he or she were to spend an hour or two on one of these machines not only would he or she win a €500 prize but he or she could win ten €500 prizes. When people are caught up in mad gambling, that is the way they think. That is what is happening with online gambling. I presume these figures are probably influenced by the fact that people can gamble away vast sums online.
The Minister of State may have done this but if he has not, he should talk to some of the young people on GAA teams and other sports people who find themselves heavily addicted to gambling and to the notion of large prizes, which he is inserting here. What he has put forward here is utterly and completely wrong and destructive.
When I was a Minister, I instituted the first study on gambling. I have also had an opportunity to meet people in a number of organisations throughout the country who deal with gambling addictions and, for families, problem gambling is probably the worst addiction of all. People will gamble away the house, farm, business and family savings. We have no mechanisms to deal with problem gambling other than a small number of specialist facilities that will take people usually on the basis of them having private health insurance.
I urge the Minister of State to reconsider this proposal. The Labour Party does not accept it. The proposal could cause great harm to people with problem gambling issues and their families who often find their family home, everything they posses, their farm or business has gone because of the gambler. Many young people in different sporting organisations have come out and explained what has happened regarding their problem gambling. If the Minister of State were to speak to any of them, they would give him a different take on this proposal.
I want to point out there are very few areas where stakes and prizes are controlled by legislation but this is one of them. The stakes and prizes, for instance, are far in excess of what is proposed or possible for the national lottery. One can go down to the national lottery and gamble away to one's heart's content. Deputy Burton was defending the national lottery earlier.
One can go into a bookie's office and place a wager. This particular area is the one area where we are legislating to control the amount that can be put on. This has not been changed since 1956. The current position is ludicrous in that the amount is so small, it is being ignored all over the place, as Deputy O'Callaghan said. There is no scientific method for us to know which is the best thing to do. We have also inserted in the legislation a provision whereby a Minister in the future can reduce or increases these amounts by way of a statutory instrument in consultation with the Houses. If the €5 stake is too much and is seen to be a problem, the Minister of the day can bring in a statutory instrument and change it swiftly without having to resort to primary legislation. The same applies to stakes or prizes. I believe that is a good provision.
We had a good debate on this on Committee Stage. I listened carefully to what colleagues had to say and to what Senators had to say when we debated the Bill in the Seanad. As Deputy O'Callaghan said, this is a good compromise. However, if it proves to be unworkable or if causes an issue further down the road, it will be easy for the Minister of the day to change it quickly without too much fuss and without having to go through what we are doing here.
We propose revised amounts of a maximum stake of €5 and a maximum prize of €500. It is not compulsory or even expected that somebody would do that. It may not please everybody but there is little point in putting in amounts so small that they will be ignored and, therefore, this is what we propose.
As Deputy Bruton rightly said, it is not clear that physical gaming machines will be a significant feature in the future. Gaming can just as easily be done online or on a mobile device. The regulator, who will be established before too long, will have to take on board the issue of mobile online gambling, which is becoming much more of a serious issue. I recognise that, as others do.
I also recognise a small number of people, regardless of what amounts we might set for gambling machines, will be vulnerable to addictive behaviour and the temptation to play quickly but we are not in a position to impose technical requirements in respect of gaming machines at this time. Any such technical requirements will have to await consideration in our proposed comprehensive reform of gambling licensing and regulation.
I move amendment No. 8:
In page 10, line 27, to delete “product concerned.” and substitute the following:
“product concerned (if such is required) and there is no additional charge for the redemption of a prize.”.
This amendment proposes a minor addition to the wording of the new section 27A(1)(b) of the principal Act inserted by section 10 of the Bill. The new section concerns lotteries that may take place in the context of a marketing promotion. The amendment is intended to ensure a person being requested to or seeking to participate in this particular type of lottery is clear on whether there is a purchase requirement for participation. A further clarification makes it clear that no further charge is required for redemption of a prize. The intention in this regard is to prevent the situation whereby a free ticket or coupon is provided, for example, a scratch card given away by a newspaper but registration and finding out what a person may have won will incur a charge. For example, this can happen by way of ringing a prize line for a considerable number of minutes often at premium rates and it costs a lot of money, which was not envisaged initially.
I move amendment No. 9:
In page 12, line 14, to delete “coupon;” and substitute the following:
“coupon or, where the lottery is conducted in a premises, such information shall be prominently displayed at the normal means of access to the premises proposed to be used;”.
I move amendment No. 10:
In page 14, line 14, to delete “coupon;” and substitute the following: “coupon or, where the lottery is conducted in a premises, such information shall be prominently displayed at the normal means of access to the premises proposed to be used;”.
The Minister has agreed to this and we request the recommital of section 12 to discuss the issue that has been debated.
We have it pretty much debated. We just want to formally move the amendment we discussed earlier. We seek to recommit the Bill in respect of section 12.
We have an understanding from the Minister of State that we will go to Committee Stage to discuss this. We discussed it as we went through the amendments but we seek to move a small amendment from the floor. We ask to amend line 24 on page 14 of the Bill, which relates to the proposed section 28(10)(e) of the 1956 Act. This says "not more than 50 per cent of the total proceeds shall be allocated to prizes". We propose changing that figure to 75%. That will put everything in place.
The other figures will not have to be changed because the other figure involved is "not more than 25 per cent", which means that less than 25% can be retained. As little as 5% could be retained, which would allow the prize fund to account for up to 70%. That would alleviate many of the concerns people have. It is a very simple amendment that changes the "50" to "75". That tiny amendment would speed up the passage of the Bill.
I am very slow to accept this. It will mean that promoters may get nothing, or 0%, if 75% were to go on prizes, as is the intention of the amendment. We have not seen this amendment before now. I am very slow to accept it at this Stage. It would be unsafe to do so without giving it due consideration. I am not prepared to accept it.
I understand what the Minister of State has said. He said that it could mean the promoter retained nothing. The amended text would, however, read "not more than 75 per cent". It can therefore be less. It would allow the promoter to decide how to distribute that 75% of the takings. He or she could decide to retain 5%, 20% or whatever, and to give out the rest in prizes. That is the root of the problem. The Bill is too explicit as to the level at which the prizes are set. If we change that and allow a little flexibility, everything will be freed up. This will also protect the core central point which the Minister of State has made and with which we all concur, which is that 25% should go to good causes and charities. That is still protected but we would at least have agreement that it would be entirely up to the promoter as to how the remainder is divided.
I support Deputy Martin Kenny's amendment. He has made it quite clear that this is a simple technical amendment which allows up to 75% of takings to be given out as prizes. This is the issue which groups around the country have raised. They have said that the cap of 50% is too low and that it needs to be more flexible. Moving the figure to 75% still protects the Minister of State's desire for 25% of takings to go to charity. None of us disputes that aspect of the Bill. We want to facilitate him in that respect. We are asking that the promoter be given discretion to give out 60%, 65%, 70% or 75% of takings on the door in prize money. That is the one issue that has been articulated to each and every one of us across the country with regard to this specific issue. This small technical alteration will address the issue and allow this Bill to proceed. I hope the Minister of State can now consider it.
As I said, I am very slow to accept this amendment at this time because of the unforeseen consequences that might arise. We have not had a chance to examine this carefully. It is unsafe to make changes like this without notice at this Stage of the legislative process, at one minute to midnight, as it were. I am very slow to move away from what we have. As I said earlier, the main point of this measure is to make the prize more attractive. That is what is behind this. There is nothing stopping the organisation or semi-commercial business running the game from topping up the prize to make it more attractive, if that is its intention. I am quite slow, however, to move away from what we have at this time.
I will be very brief. That is the reason we objected to the taking of Report Stage today. If the Minister of State had allowed a bit more time to look at this Bill, it could have been considered further. It was the Minister of State who decided to take Report Stage tonight. As I have said before, the reason that there are ten Stages to passing legislation is to allow for consideration of Bills. This issue was only flagged with us in the last 24 to 48 hours. We are putting forward what we believe is a constructive solution to this issue which protects the integrity of the Bill, which aims to ensure that 25% of takings go to charities. Our amendment facilitates that. Rather than dividing the House on this issue, I urge the Minister of State to accept the amendment.
I raised this issue with the Taoiseach earlier today and he made it clear that his interest and the interest of the Government is in the 25% for charity. The Minister of State has obtained the agreement of the House for that but he is imposing these rules without knowing how costs are structured in this business, whether games are run by voluntary organisations, semi-professional organisations, or professional organisations. He is tying a noose around his own neck because, in a commercial operation, hiring a hall, advertising a game, and employing staff might easily run to a significant percentage of takings whereas if it was an entirely voluntary local thing, those costs may be far lower because people are giving their services voluntarily. The Minister of State is not trying to ban the semi-commercial lotteries which people outside the gate were talking about yesterday but, if he wants his 25% for charity, he should stick with that.
If needs be, why not commission a study of profit margins and earnings in the industry so that the Minister of State and his officials actually know what they are talking about and can tell us the sensible thing to do? The Minister of State has no basis for his figures of 25%, 25% and 50%, or 40% and 35%. The Minister of State does not know, as he has just told us.
We agree on so much here that we should not fall out on the smallest detail. This provision is irrelevant to the legislation the Minister of State is bringing forward. We are considering the takings of a lottery or a bingo in one week. We are saying that 25% of those takings should go to charity. We are saying it should be up to whatever person, organisation or company is running the bingo game to decide how much of the remaining 75% to put into the prize fund and how much to keep for themselves or spend on running the business. The operator may have a good week when it needs to use less than 50% for prize money. There may be a week when there is a small crowd at the bingo hall and the operator needs to put 75% into the prize money. This provision would give operators the flexibility to do that. By giving them that flexibility, the Minister of State would be allowing operators to top up the prize fund from their own money, just as he has described. However, this would put that choice in the legislation rather than just suggesting it as an alternative. We need to be explicit about what people can do and be explicit in giving them flexibility. That is what we are asking for. I appeal to the Minister of State because I know he is a reasonable person. We all want to do the right thing here. The reasonable approach is to accept this small amendment and then we can move forward together.
There is obviously a benefit in putting forward amendments in time to consider them. We have not had a huge amount of time to consider this. The only issue I can see is that we are dealing with conditions that will apply to a lottery licence granted by the District Court. These conditions will apply in cases where the prizes are between €5,000 and €30,000 a week. These are the large-scale bingo events Deputy Michael Healy-Rae was talking about earlier.
I understand the point made by Deputy Naughten. The 25% referred to in paragraph (d) of the conditions is not incompatible with the figures of 75% and 25% in paragraph (e). I know it can be read intelligently, but it is a bit odd for two paragraphs to have a total percentage adding up to 125%. I know it can be read in a sensible way. However, if the Minister of State is happy to go with it I will go along with it. I will be interested to hear what the Minister of State has to say. A lot of these big bingo events are run by operators. There is no doubt about that. The Minister of State has told us they get 40%. That sounds like far too much to me. He has attempted to limit it to 25% here. If it can be reduced further, that is fine. I will be guided by the Minister of State.
Deputy Kenny hit the nail on the head when he said that the key to the success of bingo operations is offering consistent prize money on a weekly basis. However, there are nights when the turnout can be very low. That is where the issue of ensuring consistency in the prize money arises. That is why I think consideration should be given to this request.
I am quite slow, but we have had discussions on this. We are interested in ensuring that charities get a fair share. We are all agreed on the 25% figure. Deputy Kenny and others are suggesting that if there are no running costs involved, the operator should be able to roll some of its own 25% into the prize money to make the bingo game more attractive. I am arguing that operators should be able to top that up themselves anyway.
The commercial operators can do the same if they want to, but the chances are that they will not. We have already reduced their share from 40% to 25%. This legislation will go to the Seanad next week anyway if we get through our business tonight, as I hope we will. There seems to be consensus across the House that this is the right thing to do. We have argued the toss here. We do not have an awful lot of time, but I do not wish to divide the House. This should help larger community organisations that surpass the €5,000 mark and meet running costs from their own bank account anyway. Rather than having to top prize money up from their funds, they can use this provision if they wish. With that in mind I am persuaded by colleagues, including Independents as well as Members from the Labour Party, Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil. We have considered this ourselves and I am persuaded by the debate. That is what debate is about. I will accept the amendment as proposed in order to allow a share of 75% instead of 50%.
I move amendment No. 11:
In page 14, line 26, to delete “purpose.” and substitute the following: “purpose,
(f) the allocation of the proceeds referred to in paragraphs (d) and (e) shall be made within one month from the date of the holding of the lottery.”.
This was not discussed on Committee Stage. I understand that the Leas-Cheann Comhairle can recommit it as we are now on Committee Stage. This amendment will insert a new subsection 10(f) to provide further clarity in the context of the new payment matrix for the proceeds of the lottery. It allows for a time period of up to a month for the allocation of the various amounts permitted for each category of cost and benefit in the new matrix. The amendment also serves to emphasise that the clear and greater responsibility is on the lottery licence holder. It is for the charity or philanthropic cause, rather than an agent, to decide on these payment matters. The amendment should ensure proper accountability and help to avoid situations involving licences of convenience which might be largely operated for the benefit of an agent.
I move amendment No. 13:
In page 15, line 30, to delete “issued.”. and substitute the following: “issued.
(2) Where the lottery is conducted in a premises, the information referred to in subsection (1) shall be prominently displayed at the normal means of access to the premises proposed to be used.”.”.