Wednesday, 2 March 2005
Totalisator (Amendment) Bill 2005: Second Stage.
I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
In June 2000 an interdepartmental group reported on the Gaming and Lotteries Acts 1956 to 1986. It recommended that an age limit of 18 years should apply to the use of gaming machines, the purchase of lottery tickets, the placing of bets with bookmakers and the totalisator, otherwise known as the tote. It also recommended that a new Act should place the responsibility for ensuring that the age limit is strictly enforced on the operators or proprietors of the gaming premises and the vendors of lottery tickets.
In October 2002 in reply to a question to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, the Minister said that the preparation of legislation to implement the report on the Gaming and Lotteries Act was included in the Government's legislative programme and that the Bill was likely to be published in 2003. These were the words of the present Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform — it was part of the legislative programme and was part of Government policy.
In 2003 I raised the matter on the Order of Business in the hope that it would jolt the Government into some action but to date nothing has been forthcoming. It is because of this lack of will and the lack of action that I have been forced to introduce the Bill before the House. I hope this necessary legislation which obviously clears up an anomaly in the law will be supported by all sides of the House. All it seeks is to implement the recommendations of an interdepartmental report.
At present, one must be over 18 years of age to buy a lottery ticket or to place a bet with a bookmaker either in a bookie shop or on the course but any child can have a bet on the tote in the State. Is this correct? How long more are we, as legislators, prepared to accept child gambling because that is what we are doing by allowing the present situation to continue?
A constituent of mine, Frank Hennessy, has devoted many years to studying this subject and campaigning to have the law changed. I have viewed many hours of video in various racecourses and dog tracks throughout the country where children barely out of nappies and children in communion dresses in some cases were having bets on the tote. Are we prepared to accept this? Some may ask where is the harm in having a few euro on the tote. For most children there will probably be no problem but I have spoken with many parents and adults whose lives have been destroyed by gambling and most, if not all, started having a bet on the tote when they were children.
I refer to the review group's report and its comments on compulsive and addictive gambling. The appetite for gambling is perceived to be greatest among those who can least afford it and this requires protection. The serious social and personal consequences of compulsive gambling behaviour remain as relevant now as when the 1956 and 1986 Acts were framed. Personal problems experienced by individuals include various forms of destructive behaviour such as involvement in crime, including theft from employers to finance gambling, incurring large debts, damaged relationships with family and friends, and, in some cases, suicide and attempted suicide.
These are the words of the experts. I am sure that many Members of the House realise that people have lost farms, businesses, homes and marriages because of compulsive gambling. This House should do everything in its power to prevent children and future generations from suffering similar fates. Addiction to alcohol or drugs is a visible addiction but for many addicted to gambling it is much more secretive and less likely to be discovered until much damage has been done.
I will describe how this country compares to other countries where age limits are concerned. In the UK and other European countries a person must be over 18 years to bet on the tote. In the US, the age limit is 21 years. The Minister may be familiar with Lifford dog track where children can bet at will on the tote and yet a few miles across the Border, children are prevented from betting at the Derry dog track because the legislation is in place and is being enforced. This country is therefore out of line with the US, our European neighbours and with our closest neighbours in the UK.
In 1997, all 166 Members of the Dáil were asked by letter whether they agreed that children under 18 years should be permitted to bet on the tote. Some 87 Deputies, including a number of present Ministers, supported a ban on children under 18 being allowed to bet on the tote. Only eight Deputies did not support a ban, 37 sat on the fence and the remaining 30 did not reply. This showed overwhelming support for the type of action which my Bill proposes and overwhelming support from a number of Ministers currently in caring Ministries.
I expect the Government to put its money where its mouth is and support this Bill which will prevent child gambling. I suggest that a similar proportion of Members of both Houses of the current Oireachtas would support the ban on gambling by children under 18 in what is a semi-State body, the tote. According to expert advice, the current law is wrong and it should be changed.
I am not anti-gambling. I enjoy a bet myself and have gone overboard on betting on several occasions. I have often met the Minister at race meetings. The opportunity for children to bet should be done away with. This would drastically reduce the numbers of people who will become addicted to gambling in the future. If this Bill prevents one person from becoming addicted to gambling, it will be worthwhile.
In a recent survey, 100 gamblers were asked at what age they started gambling. Some 92 stated that they began between the ages of eight and 12. Almost to a man and a woman, they wished they had never been allowed to bet as it only brought misery to their lives.
There are vested interests which regard betting as just a bit of fun and who regard me as a killjoy. A former high-ranking member of the Irish Horseracing Authority stated on television that the authority wanted to develop the customers of the future. In my view it is time enough at 18 years of age to develop the customer of the future. The authority should target them with their marketing machinery rather than targeting young children. Any anomaly should be rectified at the earliest possible opportunity. I appeal to the Government and all Members of the House to support this Bill.
The interdepartmental review group report states:
The Review Group is concerned that no age limit applies at present to betting on the totalisator at racecourses and greyhound tracks. Although the Group acknowledges that the 1929 Totalisator Act does not lie within its terms of reference, it is of the view that it is an issue which should, for the sake of consistency be addressed.
This Bill addresses the inconsistency outlined by the review group and is a tangible and constructive way of addressing this problem. I hope the Minister will not reply by stating that the Government plans to introduce its own legislation in the future. The reply from the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform in 2002 stated that the Government planned to introduce legislation in 2003. It is now 2005 and children in communion dresses are still being allowed to place bets, with the possibility that several may become addicted.
I have met many people who have become addicted to gambling because of their proximity to racecourses and dog tracks in particular. A visitor to any race track or dog track will see lines of unaccompanied children, in many instances, being dragged through the mire because a State-run body promotes gambling. I am not a killjoy, I enjoy placing a bet. I want to give these children a fair chance. It should be our prime responsibility as legislators to protect these children and give them that chance.
I second the Bill proposed by my colleague, Senator Cummins. I welcome the Minister to the House. The Government has two options tonight. As Senator Cummins said, an issue of principle is to be determined. The Government can vote the Bill down and the issue will remain off the table for a significant period of time. The Government has sat on this issue since the interdepartmental report was published some years ago.
The other option which is one I recommend to the House is that the Bill be given a Second Reading and be allowed proceed to Committee Stage. The Government could at that stage produce amendments to the initial totalisator legislation established some years ago. The review of the Gaming and Lotteries Act and the report of the interdepartmental group highlighted not just this issue but many other issues. We wish to facilitate the Government this evening in accepting the Bill and allowing it to bring forward its own amendments on Committee Stage.
I ask the Government to consider this suggestion by 7 p.m.
As Senator Cummins noted, many Members, including me, gave commitments in 1997. I was delighted the Senator was able to show me a letter I wrote in 1997 as I could not recall it. Before other Senators express a view they need to be certain about what they said in 1997 as those who wish to have it both ways will be embarrassed.
This is not a laughing matter and anyone who believes it is should address the straightforward issue of whether it is appropriate that those aged under 18 years can go to the tote and bet unlimited sums of money. Those who believe it is right will oppose the Bill, while those who believe it is wrong will support it and allow it to proceed to Committee Stage.
Senator Cummins demonstrated in stark terms that the protection of children is at stake here. Given that we do not accept that children should be able to drink alcohol or have unrestricted access to lottery tickets before reaching the age of 18 years, why should we take a different approach to the tote? I am a strong supporter of the tote which gives better odds than the bookmakers and the profits by and large go to a good cause. As Senator Cummins correctly stated, however, we have a responsibility to protect children and address the problem of gambling by children as well as the more significant problem of gambling by adults.
When I see Senators laugh about an issue it usually means there is a problem; we should not laugh about this matter.
I am glad to hear that because the Senator has not done so thus far. We should deal with the issue in the strongest possible terms. Clearly the Government has a view on the matter given that it commissioned an interdepartmental report which produced stark findings. The Bill offers us an opportunity to implement one such finding.
At a recent meeting of the Committee on Procedures and Privileges I proposed that a sessional order be made to allow for three Private Members' Bills to be taken at any given time by any given group in the House. My sole purpose was to ensure that issues of this nature, which may not get a hearing in the other House due to time constraints and the argy-bargy of party politics, could be raised here. I hope the Seanad, with its long and proud tradition of taking initiatives such as this, addressing them in a serious manner and adopting a firm position, will move beyond Second Stage this evening and bring forward the Remaining Stages.
I welcome the Bill and ask the House to give it a Second Reading. We must address the only issue before us, namely, whether it is right that a child under the age of 18 years should be able to gamble an unlimited amount of money through the tote. This is the issue Senator Cummins has bravely and repeatedly raised on the Order of Business and the debate should focus on it to the exclusion of all other matters.
I thank Senators Cummins and Brian Hayes for their interest in this matter and for providing me with an opportunity to discuss issues relating to two of Ireland's oldest cultural and sporting activities, horse and greyhound racing. The special place both sports hold in the lives of many Irish people is evident in the numbers following racing and attending race meetings in every corner of the country. Bord na gCon estimates that 1.4 million patrons will attend greyhound racing in 2005, while Horse Racing Ireland's strategy is to increase total annual attendances to 1.5 million by 2007.
As well as the enjoyment and entertainment provided to millions of people every year, both sports contribute substantially to the economic and employment sectors. For example, an estimated 17,000 people are in full-time employment and a further 18,000 in part-time employment in the horse racing and bloodstock industries, while an estimated €840 million is generated in gross income by these industries in 2003 alone. Similarly, greyhound racing provides approximately 10,600 full and part-time jobs in the various sectors associated with the sport.
I am pleased that Government support for both sports has been substantial over recent years, particularly since 2001 when the Oireachtas approved legislation creating the horse and greyhound racing fund "for the purpose of giving support to horse and greyhound racing". The rationale of the fund was that horse and greyhound racing needed certainty regarding its funding support on a multi-annual basis and that such funding to develop the industries should be derived from the duty generated from all off-course betting. Prior to this the horse and greyhound racing bodies were funded with annual grant-in-aid allocations from the Department of Agriculture and Food and a fixed fee and 0.3% of turnover from off-course betting. In 2004 the Government introduced regulations to increase the limit of the horse and greyhound racing fund from €254 million to €550 million to continue the fund for a further four years to 2008.
I have outlined these facts merely to underline the importance of both sports in our social and sporting traditions. Both sectors provide opportunities for family groups, parents and children of all ages, to enjoy thrilling races and a meal in convivial surroundings. Both sports, as I have outlined, make significant contributions to our economic well-being and are one of our distinctive characteristics as a nation. Wearing my tourism hat, I am in a position to inform the House that I have heard many reports of foreign visitors, families and larger groups thoroughly enjoying the racing experience at horse and greyhound stadiums here.
Since the establishment of the Totalisator Act, families have enjoyed sociable occasions visiting greyhound and horse racing stadiums. Many of us remember the excitement of placing a 50p or shilling wager on the tote. Spending is effectively controlled and restricted to the funds provided by parents and it would be a shame if this pleasant tradition were to be stopped. I have seen no evidence to suggest that wagering by persons under the age of 18 years on the tote is problematic. It takes place in a controlled environment with parents in attendance. If the proposed restriction is implemented, it will result in parents placing wagers on behalf of their children.
The view has also been expressed that modern society is, in many ways, becoming overly regulated. The key facts are that children should not be admitted without an adult in company and effective control can be maintained by parents by restricting the funds available for wagering.
The Internet has opened the gateway to gambling and the controls on Internet gaming are only as strict as those imposed by parents. Bord na gCon and Horse Racing Ireland are not aware of any significant concerns expressed by parents or the public generally. The current system has served the sport well and the board has indicated there is no need to change the status quo.
The key is control and balance of parental guidance as opposed to another set of restrictive legal impositions.
Persons under 18 years attending horse race meetings do so under the accompaniment and control of their parents and, as such, would also invest with the tote in a controlled social environment. The normal investment in the tote by persons under 18 years is of the order of €1 on selected pools. Persons under 18 investing with the tote are generally confined to holiday festival type race meetings frequented by family groups. There is a concern that introducing the proposed measure would have a negative effect on overall attendances, particularly by family groups, and could have a negative effect on the level of interest in racing among the coming generations.
Since August 1996 the age at which one may marry has increased. However, it is still possible for persons between the ages of 16 and 18 years to make an application to the court for an exemption to the law to be allowed to get married.
Depending on one's perspective, one could describe such an application as a major gamble, merely a flutter or a racing certainty. It is certain, however, that a €1 bet on the tote is of far less import than the decision by two people to get married.
At any given time in horseracing, approximately 25% of the operating terminals on track are of the self-vending type, which are unmanned by tote staff and located in all areas throughout the racecourse. Consequently, the proposed amendment to the Totalisator Act 1929 would render the policing of this amendment to the Act unworkable.
I thank Senator Cummins and his colleagues for raising this matter. However, in the circumstances, I am unable to accept the proposed amendment to the 1929 Totalisator Act. As Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform I noted the observation in the 2000 report, Review of the Gaming and Lotteries Acts 1956-86, that no age limit applies to betting on the tote at racecourses or greyhound tracks. However the report's authors acknowledged that the Totalisator Act did not lie within the terms of reference and merely expressed the view that it is an issue which should, for the sake of consistency, be addressed.
I am opposing the Senator's amending Bill. However, I will pursue my consultations with the statutory bodies responsible for the organisation and management of both horse and greyhound racing, asking them to explore whether further measures within the provisions of the existing legislation are required to meet the Senator's concerns.
I originally come from south Kildare gambling territory and grew up with an interest in horses and backing them. I have no puritanical inheritance about one of the great joys of Irish life. However, I have puritanical views on access to modern cinema, which is in many cases restricted to people over 18 years, and alcohol, which by consensus is also restricted to people over 18 years. Until Senator Cummins raised the matter, I was blissfully unaware that there was no age restriction on tote betting. One of my children, when 16 years old, went with his friends to the dog track in Cork city. The Minister referred to parents being present but they went on their own. They had a wonderful night, spending about a tenner each. It was a million times better than most 16 year olds would have had trying to crawl into a pub or drinking behind walls. In my blissful ignorance I asked him if anyone had objected to their being there, thinking he got away with something against the law. I now discover that was not the case.
For most of us gambling, like alcohol, can be great fun. Whether it is the horses or the dogs, it would not be the same without the fun of a flutter. However, it is undoubtedly true that for some it is a deadly dangerous addiction. Not long ago, Dublin city had a crisis with young people becoming addicted to slot machine gambling. Dublin City Council subsequently banned slot machines. While not a great enthusiast of slot machines, I am not sure if there is much in the world that is not inherently dangerous to other people that should be banned, except for Senator Mansergh's rude remarks about the Labour Party this afternoon.
The alternative to a liberal and open regime on alcohol or gambling is one of protecting people when they cannot handle them. I am not being patronising but society must prevent commercial forces from stealing people's childhood ahead of time. This is distinct from protecting young people from alcohol, drugs, sex or gambling. There is a commercially driven tendency to reduce the term of childhood, whether through the sales of cosmetics, clothes or teenage magazines.
For some people, gambling can become a wholly destructive addiction. South Kildare, as good gambling territory, has well-grounded anecdotes about the deeds of farms being thrown into poker schools at six o'clock in the morning. I do not know if such events happened. However, there is ample evidence of many families driven close to destitution by the addictive gambling of a family member. It is a pity the Minister, in opposition to the nanny state, has nailed his colours to the mast, given his previous incumbency as the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. Such a remarkable reversal of roles must be welcomed.
Other than inconvenience, there is no other convincing argument for not restricting access to this form of serious gambling. Penny slot machines are one matter, but this is serious gambling to people old enough to take responsibility for themselves. The argument that funds might be lost is dangerous and flawed. If the amounts of money gambled by people under 18 years are large enough to reduce the funding available through the tote, then it is a big problem. Young people should not be in a position to gamble that much. If they are, then they are well on the way to serious problems.
Those opposing the Bill argue that the sums of money involved are trivial. If that is the case, then for once we are closing the stable door before the horse has bolted. Laws concerning access to alcohol were created when most people under 18 years had no disposable income and could not afford to drink. This regime persists yet young people now have large disposable incomes. The same will happen in the case of the tote. What objections has the Minister to accepting this Bill in principle? I accept an ongoing study is being conducted, but why can it not run in parallel with this Bill? Slot machine gambling is allowed, through the technology the Minister described, at a race meeting in Leopardstown. However, it is ironic that one is prohibited by the local by-laws in doing the same outside the course. Unless the public is screaming, Governments always put aside and delay Private Members' Bills. Senator Cummins will just be patted on the head and thanked for raising a matter of some concern. I would be disappointed if Senator Cummins started to raise matters which were not of some concern to him. That is not much of a compliment. Is there really a Government consensus that it might be acceptable for people under 18 years of age to have unregulated access to serious gambling? Is there really a Government consensus, discussed and agreed at Cabinet, that it might be okay because for most of us, it would not be?
Since we have an obligation to give people time to grow up and to protect people until they are old enough to make rational choices, to have money of their own and to act independently of their parents, the principle of this legislation, whatever about the detail, should be accepted. I, and the Labour Party, will support it.
Unlike the previous debate on the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2005, I am glad I have the benefit of following Senator Ryan having listened to the wisdom of his views. I welcome the Minister and was glad to hear him give an overview of the importance of the racing and greyhound industry. In general, I commend Members who bring forward Private Members' Bills. In fact, the Minister, as Opposition spokesperson on justice, brought in the most important Private Members' Bill of the past ten years, namely, the Criminal Assets Bureau Bill, or whatever its precise title was at the time. As we have seen recently, it is the most vital legislation in the criminal justice area.
I refer strictly to the under 18s aspect of the Bill which I regard as de minimis. Like Senator Ryan, I did not realise the full legal position. I have not read any article or listened to any radio programme — perhaps I have missed them — referring to this as a serious social problem. I can think of many serious social problems relating, in one way or another, to young people — for example, disorder on the streets late at night, drink, drugs, unwanted pregnancies and so on. This particular problem, however, has never been brought to my attention. Some of the leaders in this House, not least the leader of Senator Cummins's party, found the title of the Bill a bit of a tongue-twister on today's Order of Business but I suppose it relates to the 1929 legislation.
I do not know about Senator Cummins but I cannot remember when I first placed a bet at a racecourse. However, I suspect it was at approximately the age of eight or ten, which is probably true of most people. I admit it was not unsupervised but with parental encouragement and approval. A racecourse is not much fun unless one is a small child running around and playing in the circle with nothing to do with the racing. It is not much fun unless one is able to place a bet.
Racecourses are fairly boring places unless one has an interest in the outcome. What the Minister said about family groups is absolutely right. I am sure there are cases of people in their late teens going in groups and these days the money they have is probably mostly money they have earned. However, I can think of many other ways in which that money might be spent which could create more problems than placing a small bet.
Gambling takes a number of forms and Senator Cummins is quite right that it can be a serious problem and can be addictive both among older and younger people. I fully approved of the ban on slot machines in Dublin city and I believe it helped remove a problem. However, race meetings, by their nature, only take place at intervals and are a controlled environment and one must pay an entry fee. The scope for abuse is, in practice, not too great.
Life is full of anomalies and I do not believe it is necessary to get rid of every anomaly. The report suggested that the reason this is an issue is that for the sake of consistency, this should be addressed. If there was evidence that we were addressing a serious social problem, I would be much more sympathetic. We are all fairly middle aged here, with all due respect to Senator McHugh, and we do not want to give the impression we are always trying to close down things for young people. Attendance at a racecourse is one of the most harmless and enjoyable occupations. It can be enjoyable for a child of eight or ten and I presume Senator Cummins went to racecourses at that age.
I am prepared to remit to the wisdom of the Minister who, along with his Department, will have studied the report. If legislation is to be introduced on foot of the report, then it should deal with several matters rather than this one in isolation. When introducing legislation, one must make the case and I do not believe it has been made.
There should not be a debate tonight. We have in our company Senator Mansergh who is a skilled and experienced debater but there is no issue about which to argue the toss. It is a black and white issue. We are talking about children and young adults under 18 years of age who are not allowed buy a lottery ticket or to go into bookmakers' offices because there is a legal age limit in place. We are talking about gambling among under 18 year olds which is facilitated by a State-sponsored body, namely, the tote. It is a black and white issue and it should not be allowed or encouraged. It is an issue we should seriously consider.
Until young people have a voice, we will have to make decisions for them. Young people cannot vote until they are 18 years of age, so they do not have a voice. What Senator Cummins is trying to do is to act, as best he can, in the interests of the State, families and of young people who are not being provided for by this Government.
I accept there are scout groups and certain councils within schools, but such bodies are not elected democratically. It is not good enough that young people do not have a voice. The National Youth Federation, Foróige and skilled people in the community sector are working on behalf of young people, but that does not mean they have a voice. I am keen to encourage people to appreciate that young people from the age of 14 are young adults. Public representatives must act in a responsible manner, for example by protecting the family and society, until young people are given a democratic voice that can be heard.
It is not good enough for me to talk about giving young people a voice if I cannot suggest a way of doing so. I have proposed a solution to this problem on many occasions in this House. I have discussed with my colleague, Senator Cummins, the question of how the Government can facilitate young people by giving them a democratic say on matters which relate to their daily lives. The Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue, is familiar with the operation of a scheme in County Donegal that gives a voice to young people. Many other Ministers are familiar with the organisation in question because many of them have visited the county in recent months, for some strange reason. Perhaps I should raise this matter on another occasion. The Taoiseach and the Ministers for Education and Science, Arts, Sport and Tourism and Enterprise, Trade and Employment have visited County Donegal in recent times.
Perhaps the Cabinet is to be decentralised to County Donegal. We have had nothing but Ministers in the county over the past six months. I appreciate that I have digressed.
Many Ministers, including the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, are familiar with the work of the Donegal Youth Council, which is a democratically elected body of young people between the ages of 16 and 18 who represent their peers. As legislators, we will have to fill a niche by representing those between the ages of 16 and 18 as best we can until a national body with a democratic mandate is established for them. The Bill introduced by Senator Cummins, in the interests of protecting young people, families and society, is credible and responsible. It is a black and white issue. It is nonsensical to contemplate allowing people under the age of 18 to gamble on the tote, especially given that they are not allowed even to enter an official bookmaker's office.
I ask the Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue, to see sense. I listened to the Minister's earlier comments in my office. As young people are not represented, it is our job as legislators to protect them. The day will come when people between the ages of 14 and 18 will have a national democratic voice. We will listen to them and take on board their points of view on that day, when they will be able to tell us what is in their best interests. Such a system is not in place at the moment, unfortunately. It is important in the interim to fill the gap I have mentioned. Senator Cummins has made a sensible and responsible argument this evening. I will be interested to hear what a responsible and competent man like Senator Leyden, who will be the next distinguished Senator to propose an hypothesis and an argument, has to say on this matter.
I welcome the Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue, to the House. I will not give a full list of my requirements under the sports capital fund, which is funded by the national lottery, at this time. I congratulate the Minister on his excellent work on the sports capital fund, which is of great importance and significance. The Minister has brought a fresh approach to all aspects of his portfolio — arts, sport and tourism. He has been a wonderful Minister and I congratulate him. I was in the other House when he was first elected to it. He has certainly made a great impact on the Government.
I compliment Senator Cummins on having the honour of introducing a Private Members' Bill. I proposed such a Bill, relating to independent radio services, when I was the Opposition spokesman on broadcasting, posts and telegraphs in the 1980s.
It was an excellent Bill. I compliment Senator Cummins on spotting a possible anomaly in this matter. If my party were inclined to support the Bill, I would acknowledge that it is well worded and prepared. I compliment the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel and all those associated with the production of the Bill. They should be commended on their efforts. It is something of a killjoy Bill, however. When I went to Roscommon races as a child, most people paid to get into the inner area, but there was a carnival atmosphere in the outer area, where one would find various sports. The Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue, has been to Roscommon and I will be happy to welcome him back in the near future.
The racecourse in Roscommon has contributed greatly to the economy of Roscommon town and the surrounding areas. It would have been closed in a previous era of rationalisation, however, if it had not been for the intervention of the former Minister, the late, great Brian Lenihan. He has never been given in this House the recognition he deserves for the substantial work he did for County Roscommon. Such credit is also due to other people who served as Deputies for that area. Some of those who represented the Roscommon side of the former Roscommon-Leitrim constituency, for example, might not always have been given the recognition they deserved.
I accept the word of the Minister, who has clarified the matter for me. I appreciate that there are difficulties because bookmakers cannot take bets from those under the age of 18, whereas the tote, which is controlled by the State, can take such bets. I suppose Senator Cummins has introduced a little idea all right. We are in danger of adopting a "nanny state" approach of protecting everybody from themselves. I have been to race meetings at Roscommon, Ballinrobe, Galway and Kilbeggan. Nobody has ever brought this issue to my attention on such occasions. If submissions have been made about this issue, I am sure they have been made to the Minister, but concern has never been expressed to me about a young person going to the races and placing a bet of €1 each way. It is not a big issue. Opposition Members should have more to concern themselves with than this minor affair.
I have complimented the Senator on introducing the Bill, which has been the subject of a great deal of thought and consideration on his part. I am sure the Minister will take into account everything the Senator has said in due course, if this matter comes up for consideration. Where does one draw the line when protecting people?
I am adopting a simple and honest approach. I see young people betting when I go to the races in Roscommon. I am not a gambler — I do not bet at all. I do not understand the suggestion that one will become addicted to gambling if one places a bet of €1. One will normally lose one's bet anyway. One way to ensure one does not become addicted to gambling is to lose one's bets at Roscommon or Kilbeggan races. I do not think the Senator has a case in that regard.
It would be hard to implement the regulations and fines provided for in the Bill. If one is working at a busy race meeting with three minutes to go to the start of the next race, it might not be reasonable to expect one to look through the window to determine the age of the person placing a bet.
Yes, that is a very good point.
To be honest, I have no major difficulty with this issue. In fairness to Senator Cummins, he is serious about it and I do not want to detract from his concerns. If tote betting causes people to become addicted to gambling, the Bill must be regarded as meritorious in its approach.
No, I accept that it has merit but it is going a step too far by protecting everyone from everything. It is very hard to put a finger on the central issue of this Bill. It came out of nowhere and I was quite amazed when I received it. I first believed it was a Government Bill and that it was about raising the cost of the minimum bet at race meetings, allocating extra funding to the racecourses or some such issue.
No, but it is contentious if one does not attain agreement. The Senator brought the Bill to the Minister's attention and the Minister, in his wisdom, can consider it. I am in two minds about it. At this point, I intend to vote against it. As far as I know, we will not be accepting it. However, the issue may arise again, in respect of lotteries, for example.
The lottery Act prohibits people under 18 years from participating in the national lottery. I do not know whether this is observed at all locations. The national lottery also poses a risk because it is very addictive. Scratch cards are very addictive.
I do not genuinely believe that a youth who goes to a rural race meeting with his or her family and places a bet of a few euro under supervision is at risk. In most cases, young people who go to race meetings do not go on their own but under the supervision of their families. It is with the consent of their parents that they place a bet of €1 or €2. I do not know if we should abolish this form of rural fun.
The next activity we will try to ban will be coursing and thereafter we will try to ban racing because the horses are under pressure.
I welcome the Minister to the House and commend my colleague Senator Cummins on his initiative in undertaking the great task of publishing a Private Members' Bill and doing all the necessary research thereon. It is amazing to hear the hypocrisy of the Government. Only two and a half years ago, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform indicated he was willing to examine this area and rectify the anomaly that exists, yet the Government side will vote against this Bill tonight. While I appreciate that the Government might have difficulty with some minor aspects of the Bill, these could all be teased out on Committee Stage. However, it is shooting down the Bill at the very first hurdle.
In June 2000, an interdepartmental group issued a report reviewing the Gaming and Lottery Acts of 1956 and 1986. These Acts are clearly out of date. The group recommended that 18 years be the age at which one can bet at the State tote. I have a difficulty with this age and believe it should be reconsidered. I would prefer if it could be examined on Committee and Remaining Stages rather than being shot down on Second Stage.
We have clear regulations prohibiting the sale of cigarettes to people under 16. We clearly prohibit the sale of alcohol, both in off-licences and pubs, to those aged under 18 and we clearly prohibit the placing of bets at racecourses through bookmakers, yet the tote is completely unregulated. The Minister must agree that this should not be allowed to continue.
Senator Cummins mentioned the negative consequences of gambling at an early age. All Members automatically assume that teenagers or young children place bets of €1 or €2 but I wonder how correct we are in this assumption. It would be interesting to have the relevant statistics.
It is obviously quite dangerous for youths to get into the habit of gambling, especially when they do not have money. It is dangerous enough even for adults, many of whom have destroyed their lives as a result. This is a common sense Bill in that it plans to introduce regulations in this area and remove an anomaly. It is obviously very difficult for the Senators and Deputies from the Border counties, such as Senator McHugh, to witness one rule applying in Donegal, for example, and an altogether different rule applying a few hundred yards across the Border.
The Bill deserves more attention from the Government. Two weeks ago, we noticed that Senator Norris had put considerable work into his Private Members' Bill. It required years of work but the Government kicked it to touch, fudged the issue and, in doing so, destroyed the very purpose of parliamentarians. The purpose of parliamentarians is to legislate, yet when two Members on this side of the House take the initiative to bring forward legislation, the Government's immediate reaction is to torpedo it and ensure it gets no further. It is disingenuous on the part of the Government to vote against this Bill on Second Stage and not allow it to proceed to further Stages, in which the complicated issues involved could be teased out.
Senator Cummins referred to the link with crime, including theft from employers to finance gambling. We are very familiar with such cases in the newspapers and I am sure they only represent the tip of the iceberg. People are obviously incurring considerable debts and suffering from damaged relationships with family and friends as a result of gambling. In some cases, they commit or attempt to commit suicide.
This issue was debated in 1997, at which time the Members of the Dáil were written to on the subject. Almost half of them indicated that they supported a ban, eight were against it and 37 were unsure. I am sure a similar ratio obtains today. It is quite clear there is considerable unease and disquiet. The public and Members of the Dáil would like to see some work being done in this area. It is regrettable that the Government will not even look at Senator Cummins's Bill or table amendments on Committee and Report Stages.
The issue involved is quite simple and yet complicated in its own way. We cannot allow young children to place bets at an unregulated State-run tote while banning them from doing so at bookmakers and banning them from buying cigarettes and from purchasing scratch cards worth €1 through the national lottery. The age issue needs to be reconsidered. The recommended age of 18 might be too old. I would prefer to see a restriction on those under 14. This could be achieved during Committee and Report Stages if the Bill is allowed to proceed. It is very regrettable that the Government has sought to knock this very worthwhile Bill, which has already provoked considerable debate in the House.
Senator Leyden certainly made very little sense in his contribution. If we were to follow his logic, we would allow children to buy cigarettes in shops and alcohol in pubs and off-licences. We clearly do not allow this, for very good reason. The same principle should apply in the case of gambling. Many families affected by the scourge of gambling will not thank this Government in due course.
It is unfortunate that the Government has tried to portray the Opposition members as killjoys when in fact they are fully in favour of people enjoying themselves at race meetings. I regularly go to my local racecourse in Gowran and believe the Cathaoirleach and the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism have also been there quite a few times. I have not seen the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government in attendance but perhaps he will attend on a later date. We are able to enjoy ourselves but we are also aware of the serious damage gambling does to families. That is why it must be controlled and regulated. The Government should reflect on and support this Bill, and if necessary bring forward changes on Committee Stage as it does with every other Bill. It is rare that the first draft of a Bill is perfect.
I welcome the Minister of State and congratulate him on his well-merited appointment. I wish him well in his post. I have followed his record and he is doing a fine job.
I thank Senator Cummins for introducing this Bill. While we may disagree with it on this side of the House, I admire the strength of his feeling on the issue and acknowledge his right to introduce the Bill. There is an anomaly in the 1929 Act which states that a child under 18 years of age may bet on the tote at a racetrack but not on or off course in a bookmaker's shop, and many not buy a lottery ticket. Whether we want to do something about this or believe it is necessary to do so is another issue.
This Bill is a result of an analysis by an interdepartmental group of the gaming and lotteries legislation 1956-86. The group stated in its report that it was not part of its remit to refer to this, apart from considering consistency within the law. If a group attempts to make an issue out of something it will at least investigate its effects on children if that is relevant. The group stated that it did not do that. Its views are based on the whole debate, not on any one issue of real concern. While it may be concerned about this it cannot back that up with any statistical value. There is no evidence that this anomaly causes, or is likely to cause, a problem.
Neither of the bodies that runs the events endorses this amendment because it will be impossible to police since the introduction of automatic vending machines. The organising bodies could not be held responsible for policing those machines. I have heard no call from parents or the public at large expressing concern about this issue.
Children up to the age of 15 years attend race meetings as family events where their parents supervise them. As one who enjoys a flutter and a race meeting, if I had to wait until I was 18 years of age to place my first bet I would never have supported the sport. I would not have known its joy.
We may as well cancel life if we take that approach. I grew up in Galway and one of the highlights of the year was to go to the Galway races with my parents, which we did faithfully every year. We had a few pennies in our pockets to lose or accumulate. Part of the fun was to back a horse without letting one's siblings know which it was until the horses came around the bend and she was either leading the way or in the shake-up.
One's excitement was such that one could not contain oneself and the family discovered which horse one had backed only at the last minute. I cannot imagine what it would have been like if I had to rely on one of my parents to place my bet, thereby losing my bit of independence and the little secret I kept until I wished to release it by way of a yelp or a roar.
That lives with me today as part of the enjoyment I had with my family at a race meeting. I would hate children to lose that opportunity. My nieces and nephews enjoy similar occasions with their parents, my brothers and sisters. It is one of the most enjoyable days out one can have. Many of our neighbours and friends had the same experience and none of us, and none of them, to my knowledge, has ended up in Gamblers Anonymous. While I respect Senator Cummins' opinion and his reasons for putting this Bill before us on a topic which needs to be debated it is not serious enough to require amending legislation.
As the Minister said, racing has been part of Irish culture and Irish life for centuries. We are hailed internationally as being the greatest horse lovers in the world. We probably have the most knowledgeable punters imaginable, as well as the best horses and jockeys. It would be a loss for a child, a teenager or an adult to miss out on enjoying that to the fullest extent.
The Minister also mentioned the economic value of the horse racing industry which employs 17,000 people full time and 18,000 part time while the greyhound industry employs 10,500 people full time and part time.
That generates great income for the Exchequer. I read an article last year about a proposal to allow people play the lotto through their mobile phones. That would be of much greater significance because a child in the comfort of his or her bedroom could bang out lotto tickets on his or her mobile phone without his or her parents' knowledge.
That is more devious than betting on the tote but I do not know whether the plan took off. There are far more devious ways of losing money through gambling than in the comforting situation of being at a race meeting as a child with one's family. While I accept the Senator's right to introduce this Bill I cannot agree with it.
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Batt O'Keeffe. It is very nice to see him back here in the Seanad where I recall his genial and well-informed presence on the Government benches.
I also welcome the introduction of this; it is a healthy development. Over recent sessions several of us have put down Private Members' Bills, which is an important function of the Seanad. That is why it is a pity this is being nipped in the bud this evening. I wish there were some procedure to allow these Bills to proceed.
I fought a tough battle two weeks ago and my Bill is hanging on by its fingernails on the Order Paper. This gives me the opportunity to study what the Minister and contributors from both sides of the House said, and await the final report of the All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution, the outcome of a court case and the response of the Law Reform Commission.
Questions have been raised on both sides of the House tonight. The Government side seems to say it does not appear there is any impact on children but it is obvious we do not know. Some aspects of that ignorance are rather worrying. It is worrying to reply on the basis of the profit motive, or employment considerations when one is dealing with children and in the absence of real information as to the impact on their welfare. However, I am not a complete killjoy. Listening to Senator Kett brought pictures back to my mind not of the Galway races, but of Fairyhouse. It is appropriate in my case because that was where I attended at Easter. Prince Monolulu used to turn up there and sell tips. I put the odd sixpenny bet on the tote. Senator Kett recalled his joy in keeping his investment secret until he saw the horses coming around the corner. I was a little cuter. I recall on one occasion buying a ticket for every horse in the race and waiting until the race had been run and won.
At sixpence a shot, even the Minister of State could afford it. I quietly discarded all the tickets that had not won and when I nonchalantly turned around the corner, everyone wanted to see my tickets. When I said I had not looked at them, they said I got first, second and third. They were so impressed by my racing knowledge that they followed my advice for the remainder of the afternoon with totally disastrous results.
My only other experience was being sent by The Sunday Tribune to Killarney races. I invested heavily in Delia Murphy because I always liked her singing of the Spinning Wheel and various other songs, which included the words "If I were a blackbird I'd whistle and sing". I thought that she deserved some support. When she took a belly flop into the first fence, the decent people in the tote told me to leave it alone. They were very kind because I got some unofficial advice at one point.
While people certainly do not want to be killjoys, there is a question which has not been answered. It cannot morally be answered by the type of criteria the Minister included in his speech. Members on all sides agree with the Minister that there is enjoyment and entertainment involved in racing, which for most people can be completely harmless. However, he said that these sports contribute substantially to the economic and employment sectors. This is not an argument when dealing with the welfare of children. As yet, we do not know what happens in respect of children. The Minister poses it as if he knows.
He said that people under the age of 18 are accompanied by their parents. We do not know that is the case. There has been no factual information produced in the House in that regard. He said that persons under 18 years attending horse race meetings do so under the accompaniment and control of their parents and, as such, would also invest with the tote in a controlled social environment. I do not know if that is the case. I strongly doubt it. No evidence has been placed before the House this evening that this is the case. I would prefer if the Minister said that possibly a significant social factor has been drawn to the attention of the House and he would have it examined, but he did not quite say that. Instead of being concerned about the welfare of children, he is concerned that attendance at the races might be diminished if this requirement was introduced. We are dealing with attendance at the races and the income from that activity. It should give us cause for thought if there is a substantial contribution by children to what is a multi-million euro industry. We should ask are children investing more than €1 each way.
I do not like the sound of the new machines which appear to be dangerous. If one can go to a machine to make a bet, there is no interaction with any human being and there is no supervision whatever. These are precisely the circumstances in which children could be liable to become addicted. In my area of the city, we have been infested with places which are full of one arm bandits and so on. I know that young people, poor people, elderly people and widows have become seriously addicted to these gambling machines and, even though the initial bets are quite small, they have lost considerable sums of money. These people have got themselves into debt and trouble.
My final point is a bit of a clincher, even though it has probably been made by the proposers of the Bill. The interdepartmental review group, which reported in 2000, made it unambiguously clear that an age limit of 18 years should be enforced vigorously. The list it provided included gambling machines in gambling dens, lotto and the tote. If we establish an official body to draw up a report and then blithely ignore that report in the absence of information that supports on a factual basis the Minister's side, we will be in some difficulty. I have no problem supporting Senator Cummins's Bill.
I welcome the publication of the Bill. I am sure Senator Cummins has very honourable and sound reasons for bringing it forward and I commend him on the amount of time he has given to preparing it. It is worded very well and the principle he is seeking to apply is laudable.
Like Senator Norris, I would not like to debate the principle in terms of money, jobs or anything else because the issue is one of practicality. There is a serious problem, but it does not involve the correlation between youth gambling and compulsive gambling in adulthood because we do not have these figures. I agree with Senator Cummins and Senator Norris that we should have these figures. That brings me to the question of the body which was established by the Government to draw up a report on the matter. There is an anomaly which must be examined and addressed. I am not sure how the anomaly should be addressed to safeguard people under the age of 18 from the potential compulsion of addictive gambling in adulthood.
Nevertheless, there is an important principle which must be examined and the Bill is one way of doing so. All the Members who spoke here tonight recalled stories about days of enjoyment, gaiety and fun at the races. Being from the hills, the only fun, enjoyment and gaiety we had was at greyhound meetings. I will now tell a story about the trouble I got into over betting.
It happened in your county, a Chathaoirligh. On one of many occasions when we had fun, enjoyment and gaiety at the greyhound races rather than at Limerick Junction, we had just secured a dog called Feakle's Champion. His name still lingers on in my memory and nightmares. As I thought he was a real champion, I decided to pass on the word to my buddies that he was worth a little flutter. It so happened that a Cork Christian Brother overheard me who had a disposition for gambling. I knew nothing about it because I was just a young fellow at the time.
It appears that the Cork Christian Brother took my word more seriously than some of my school pals and invested rather heavily in Feakle's Champion in the first round before everyone else would discover that he was a real champion. Unfortunately, Feakle's Champion got hit by the other greyhound on the first bend, turning the hare at a coursing meeting, and Feakle's Champion was out of the meeting. I will not disclose how I suffered afterwards. While I did not suffer any physical punishment, I suffered in the school in the subsequent days and weeks for sharing that little secret with my school pals.
I wished to share that tale as it still occasionally lives on in my nightmares. On a more serious note, coming back to the principle involved in this issue, we should seek to safeguard our children from becoming compulsive gamblers. We should establish the incidence of addicted adult compulsive gamblers who were permitted to gamble on the tote when under 18 years of age. I make no apologies for stating that all possible measures to address the issue should be brought forward.
There is a fine line between being a killjoy and providing safeguards for children. Senator Cummins is trying to provide a safeguard and I will not accuse him of being a killjoy. He probably goes to the races more than me, presumably with his family. However, I am concerned that the measure put forward by the Senator could be a bureaucratic nightmare. I listened to the debate in my office and tried to envisage what the situation would be like if this measure were adopted. No law is better than bad law and this measure would be bad law. In my limited experience of going to race meetings, although I am open to correction, there is usually a half hour between races. Usually the last ten minutes or quarter of an hour is spent queuing for the tote and if it is a big meeting, there could be up to 100 people queuing. How would one supervise the queue to enforce Senator Cummins' proposed regulation? It would be a nightmare scenario with massive disruption. With many families present, one would deem many people to be under 18 years of age and would try to identify and challenge them. If even one person decided to confront the challenger and had parental support, there would be chaos and disruption. I wish to speak about the issue of parental supervision shortly, as it has been mentioned several times this evening. I am not speaking about money but about the fun, gaiety and enjoyment of the occasion. Senator Cummins's proposals are not workable.
I am not blaming the voters. That was cynical. I know the Senator did not mean it that way. I am talking about what fundamentally makes law important when we are legislating for young people. We must have their parents on our side. If we do, we have some chance of success for our regulation or new law. In this case, however, I do not believe we would have the parents on our side which is why the Bill will not work.
I welcome the Minister to the House and wish him well in the future. I also wish to compliment and congratulate my colleague Senator Cummins on bringing this important Bill on children gambling on the tote to the House. I spent much of my youth going to race meetings. I did not go because I enjoyed it, but because my father went with his friends. I think I was sent in the back of the car to ensure that they came home at a certain time at night. Hence, I did not particularly like race meetings and thankfully did not start gambling at the time. I now enjoy gambling and have gone to race meetings and greyhound races to enjoy a flutter all my adult life. Someone has said that my downfall in life would be fast women and slow horses.
Hopefully the horses will get faster. I am a lottery agent and by law, anybody under 18 is not allowed to buy a lottery ticket or scratch card. As an owner of an outlet that is a lottery agent, I must enforce this law rigorously. I am sure the full rigours of the law will come down on any lottery agent seen to break the law. Thankfully, we have had no trouble. There were times in the beginning, where parents were in the pub and sent their children in with €5 to ask for lottery tickets or scratch cards, and we had to tell them we could not accept their money. The children would then return to their parents who were initially quite upset. We had to state that we were obliged to enforce the law and could not accept the money unless the parents came in themselves. Senator Fitzgerald has a point in this regard, but it would only apply for the first day or two. Thereafter, the parents learned they could not send their children in for cigarettes or lottery tickets because it is against the law.
Gambling starts for young people between the ages of eight and 12. There is much hypocrisy where people state that parents do not mind. I see many parents at the greyhound track, the racecourse, the football matches or coming in to buy lottery tickets who I would not like to have supervising my child or indeed their own. We must have laws that we stick by. Over the years we saw everyone say that drink-driving was doing no harm. Then, everyone stopped, or the legislation became more effective because people feared losing their licence or insurance. They never thought they might kill themselves, or worse, kill or maim innocent pedestrians. We certainly need laws and legislation to ensure that gambling is not prevalent among young people.
The State and Government are there to protect young people. There is currently an anomaly where they are able to protect them from going into bookmakers or gambling in newsagents. They should also be protected from on-course betting and the tote. The solution is to have children ask their parents to put €1 or €2 on a horse. There is great fun to be had, but legislation must be introduced to protect young, vulnerable and innocent children.
I am not a killjoy. I gamble myself at the racecourse and thankfully it has not affected me — well perhaps it has — but we need protection. In the UK, the age limit is 18 while in the US it is 21 which is somewhat restrictive. We should follow the example of our near neighbours in trying to raise the age to 18 years. Young people are vulnerable and impressionable. Sometimes, we all think we can gamble our way out of our debts, thinking that with one more win we will be able to buy this or that. We have a duty to protect people under 18. I acknowledge the Minister's point that there are 17,000 full-time jobs and 18,000 part-time jobs in the racing industry and in Bord na gCon, but the act of banning young people from putting €1 or €2 over the counter will not affect them.
We are prepared to introduce legislation, which I welcome, that does not allow children into pubs on the grounds that it protects children. We cannot then refuse to introduce similar legislation to protect children in other areas. This Government has introduced draconian legislation which has probably worked out very well and it is now refusing to introduce legislation that will prevent young and impressionable people from gambling on race courses. This is an hypocritical stance and I congratulate Senator Cummins on raising this anomaly in the gambling process. I hope the Government will support this motion because children need to be protected; people can become addicted to gambling, as shown by the existence of Gamblers Anonymous.
Gambling can be great fun and I have seen the bond between parents and children when they go to the racecourse or greyhound stadium and their horse or dog may win. Young people could still place bets through their peers or parents. There should be some restrictions in the area of gambling, because we are leaving ourselves open to charges of hypocrisy if we do nothing.
I listened with interest to the contribution of my colleague, Senator Feighan, to the debate on the Bill. I thought that he would go on to inform the House of his recent, highly successful evening of gambling where I believe he made a substantial profit. At least he did not have to worry about the age limit because it would have been clear to the host or hostess on the night that he was well over 18 years of age.
That Senator Cummins is bringing forward this piece of legislation at least allows me to keep calm because I know of his huge interest in horse racing and the industry. I know of his experience as an on-course bookmaker and I appreciate his concern about children developing a gambling habit at an age that might be a little too young. I appreciate he has done much research and is genuinely concerned about the matter. I was not present for the Minister's response but I have read it. He makes a quite convincing case as to why the problem may not be as profound as Senator Cummins believes. The Bill before us allows us to reflect on the situation and we must take into account the fact that many adults are perhaps spending too much on all forms of gambling — Senator Feighan referred to Gamblers Anonymous, an organisation that is doing great work. It is a bit like entertainment of any sort in life, whether it is alcohol or gambling — it is a question of exercising restraint and moderation.
The Cathaoirleach is aware, as a person who is very involved with horse racing, of the huge numbers of people employed in the industry. Horse racing is almost as old as the nation and is synonymous with it. In a fortnight's time, some of us and tens of thousands of Irish people will be at Cheltenham, the annual mecca for Irish racing fans. Over the course of four days, one will see enormous sporting endeavour and goodwill between Irish and British people. During the years when there was such strife between these two islands, if there was any sport that worked overtime to build bridges, it was the racing industry. Irish, English or French winners at Cheltenham will be cheered home equally by all of the fans because everybody is there to watch the sport. We must try to ensure that whatever we do about this legislation or any legislation covering horse racing, we ensure its continuation as an integral part of Irish life. We must try to ensure we protect the industry and the sport because they do tremendous good.
Senator Cummins feels that people under 18 should not be allowed to place bets with the tote. The Minister is saying the opposite. Perhaps we could consider the possibility of having a maximum bet of €1 or €2 for children under 18. Something like that could be considered. I respect what Senator Cummins has said. He is a great racing fan and while I may have inadvertently suggested he is a bookmaker, I do not think he is. Perhaps he invests with the bookies. At least, he has given us an opportunity to reflect on the situation. I have read the Minister's reply and I will be supporting my party colleague's proposal. However, I think I will be pressing the button with a heavy heart.
I wholeheartedly support the Bill proposed by my colleague, Senator Cummins. I am slightly perplexed by some of the arguments I have heard tonight from those who oppose this legislation. Senator Cummins outlined in his opening remarks the numbers of Members of the other House who have already expressed their support for the idea behind his proposal so it is slightly puzzling to listen to the objections that have been raised. Senator Cummins is basing his proposal on the interdepartmental report on the gaming and the lotteries Acts and I think it is entirely justified.
Senator Fitzgerald's and the Government's central difficulty with the proposed legislation has been the question of how to police it. How is anything policed? How is the sale of alcohol policed? If one walks into a pub in Dublin or any city tonight, particularly the superpubs that could contain more than 1,000 people, how do staff know who is 18 and who is not? They ask for identification if they are doing their job correctly. Surely, it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that the staff of the tote would be in a similar position to ask for identification from people placing bets.
A number of Government speakers raised the issue of the automated machines which will be introduced in a number of different parts of the country over the next couple of months and years. I share Senator Norris's doubts about the introduction of these machines. Providing such easy access to gambling facilities is a retrograde rather than a positive step. It is not a good idea to treat an addiction to gambling lightly and install unmanned machines at different locations. I am not a killjoy and I do not see any problem with people gambling. I have gambled on a number of occasions, although I would not be a regular gambler. Now and then, I have a flutter and I have recently been in the bookies with regard to the by-elections in Kildare and Meath. I backed both Fine Gael candidates to win because I think they will.
It is right and proper that if someone under the age of 18 cannot buy a lottery ticket or gamble through an on-course bookie, he or she should not be allowed to gamble on the tote. It is irresponsible and wrong. I was not familiar with the legislation that governed this area until Senator Cummins brought it to my attention. I compliment him for the work and research he has invested in recent months.
A number of Government speakers have inferred that this proposal would have a negative impact on the racing sector. This is not true, since it would be shocking if Ireland's gambling sector depended on children under the age of 18 years. It is not unreasonable to suggest that a similar barrier existing in other areas should extend to betting and gambling on the tote. I would not have a heavy heart in voting on this, but whether we vote by pressing buttons or walking through lobbies, Senator Cummins' proposal is eminently sensible.
People tend to be cynical about politicians. If they were to read the names and details of the Members of the other House who supported this idea when it was first mooted and then see the other side of this House vote it down, they would see that it is rank hypocrisy of the highest order. I understand that a number of people did not support it then and do not do so now, but for people to change their views in order to vote against this Bill in the name of political expediency makes no sense.
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy de Valera, and thank all the Members who have spoken on the Bill, particularly those on the other side who agreed that something must be done. They are not, however, prepared to act accordingly. I listened to the Minister for Arts, Sports and Tourism speak about the horseracing and greyhound industries and his related responsibilities. I support his views and the industries in question but they cannot be allowed to prosper on the misery of children and parents.
The Minister said racing is a pleasant tradition that he would like to continue. He did not say he would address the situation. In 2002 the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform said he would change the legislation to bring it in line with the recommendations of the interdepartmental group. There is a complete difference of opinion here. The Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue, is saying, in effect, that he is content to support child gambling.
The Minister mentioned that children are in a supervised environment because they are with their parents, but he is in cloud cuckooland if he considers that to be the case. If he were to visit any racing track around the country, especially a dog track, he would find children of six to ten years of age who are unaccompanied. What are we saying to these children? One may ask what they are doing unaccompanied or what their parents are doing. However, it must be asked what we, the legislators, are doing about it. We control the bookmakers and lottery agents but we can do nothing concerning the tote.
The Minister commented on Internet betting, whether we have control over it and whether children can gamble on it. They cannot. To obtain a credit card a person must be 18 years old. In this instance, self-regulation of children betting on-line occurs because they cannot get credit cards.
The Government must introduce legislation in this area. We cannot have it both ways. We cannot prevent children from buying lottery tickets or gambling in the bookies but allow them to bet on the tote regardless of age. That is not realistic. This legislative anomaly has been recognised by Members on the other side of the House but the Minister is not prepared to do anything about it.
I have a list of 87 contributions to this issue by Members of the Dáil in 1997. Four of them are now Ministers, eight are Ministers of State and several are Senators on the other side of the House. They agreed then with what I am proposing but will tell me now that I am wrong and will vote against what they put in writing several years ago. It is hypocritical. We are talking about children's lives. I have seen people that have lost houses, farms and marriages through gambling but this smug Government claims it is a pleasant tradition and is not affecting anyone's lives. It is affecting lives.
I would have lauded the Minister if he had supported this Bill's progress to Committee Stage and introduced his amendments there, but the Government has washed its hands of this. It means people can say that because of its failure to act, child gambling is a policy of this Government.
The Dail Divided:
For the motion: 18 (James Bannon, Paul Bradford, Fergal Browne, Paddy Burke, Ulick Burke, Noel Coonan, Maurice Cummins, Frank Feighan, Michael Finucane, Brian Hayes, Mary Henry, Joe McHugh, David Norris, Kathleen O'Meara, John Paul Phelan, Shane Ross, Brendan Ryan, Sheila Terry)
Against the motion: 25 (Cyprian Brady, Michael Brennan, Peter Callanan, Margaret Cox, Timmy Dooley, Geraldine Feeney, Liam Fitzgerald, Camillus Glynn, John Gerard Hanafin, Brendan Kenneally, Tony Kett, Terry Leyden, Don Lydon, Martin Mansergh, John Minihan, Paschal Mooney, Tom Morrissey, Pat Moylan, Labhrás Ó Murchú, Francis O'Brien, Mary O'Rourke, Ann Ormonde, Eamon Scanlon, Mary White, Diarmuid Wilson)
Tellers: Tá, Senators Cummins and McHugh; Níl, Senators Minihan and Moylan.
Question declared lost.