Tuesday, 11 June 2019
Gaming and Lotteries (Amendment) Bill 2019: Report and Final Stages
I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality, Deputy Stanton. Before we commence, I remind Senators that a Senator may speak only once on Report Stage, except the proposer of an amendment who may reply to the discussion on it. Each non-Government amendment must be seconded.
Amendment No. 1 is in the name of Senators Craughwell and Boyhan.
I move amendment No. 1:
In page 5, lines 19 and 20, to delete all words from and including "Betting" in line 19 down to and including line 20 and substitute the following:"Betting Act 1931;
'remote gaming' means gaming in which persons participate by the use of remote communication;
'remote gaming machine' means any instrument of gaming which is facilitated by remote communication;
'remote communication' means communication using—(a) internet,
(d) radio, or
(e) any other kind of electronic or other technology for facilitating communication;".".
I am sorry I missed Committee Stage, as a result of which my amendments Nos. 2 to 6, inclusive, were ruled out of order. Unfortunately, I had to attend a committee meeting.
The purpose of this amendment is to include those organisations which carry on gambling and betting online, by telephone, through television sets, via radio and by way of other types of electronic betting. I have received legal advice that the Bill as drafted would make promotion of all gambling without a gaming permit illegal. As the definition of gaming in the Bill is not limited in its scope and clearly extends to any gaming activity, whether land based or via private members' clubs, retail bookmakers or online, the effect would be to make online gambling and retail bookmakers illegal. Will the Minister comment on that legal advice?
As I said, the amendment seeks to bring online operators under the remit of the regulations that will apply to terrestrial betting. The Minister accepts that the online system now accounts for a much larger share of betting in this country than was the case in the past. Indeed, recent studies show that housewives and househusbands who are at home all day are spending fortunes online.One cannot switch on a TV set after 10 p.m. or 11 p.m. without being enticed to get involved in bingo, roulette and all sorts of gambling. In 2015, when I first spoke on gambling in this House in the previous Seanad, I made the point that it had gotten out of control online. There was no control mechanism. I introduced amendments providing for time limits so that a user could not be online for longer than, say, an hour. I sought Government health warnings on betting slips and other measures. Every Senator in this House spoke in favour of the amendments I brought forward but they were voted down. I am still unable to rationalise that.
I am trying to make sure that everybody involved in gaming or gambling is brought under the same umbrella and are all subject to the control of the Minister of the day or of the legislation. The amendment seeks to include the following:
Betting Act 1931;
‘remote gaming’ means gaming in which persons participate by the use of remote communication;
‘remote gaming machine’ means any instrument of gaming which is facilitated by remote communication;
‘remote communication’ means communication using—(a) internet,
(d) radio, or
(e) any other kind of electronic or other technology for facilitating communication;
The Minister of State and I have discussed this many times and I know he is deeply concerned about it. With the rate at which technology is moving forward, God knows where we will be in five years. We hear the horror stories of people waking up in the middle of the night, taking a smartphone out from under the pillow and using it for gaming and gambling. That is what we are trying to address here. I will leave it at that and see what the Minister of State's response is.
I am happy to second Senator Craughwell's amendment. There are one or two points to which I want to draw the Minister of State's attention. I was coming over to this House from my other place of work and in Cuffe Street I found myself sitting behind a van. I will not use names because I do not want to abuse my position. It was from a city outside of Dublin. The name of the business included the word "casino" and it had a .ie web address. The back of the van advertised slots, roulette, poker, jackpot and multigames and featured a huge picture of a roulette wheel which covered both doors. Two things occurred to me when I saw that van. First, it shows how flagrant the abuse of the Gaming and Lotteries Act 1956 is. On the back of the van was geographical information referring to Athy, Carlow, Cork, Dublin, Mallow, Naas, Waterford and Wexford. It occurred to me that to the best of my knowledge, the District Court has authorised gaming to be carried on by way of machines in none of those places. As such, the reference to slots was strange.
Senator Norris and I have remarked to each other that in Dublin the number of casinos featuring gaming machines has exploded. This activity is flagrant and takes place right before the eyes of the public. Even under the existing law, all of the machines in question are liable to be seized and removed by members of An Garda Síochána in my view. Huge money must be made from them. In England there has been debate about fixed-odds betting terminals and setting maximum stakes for them, which has been the subject of controversy. Their availability in so many places in England is frightening. I thought we had a law which prohibited all of that. I wonder what the Garda Commissioner, the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Department of Justice and Equality is going to do to enforce the law and close these places down. As far as I can recall, in the last 20 years Dublin City Council has never adopted a resolution which would permit such places to operate in the city. I do not believe that Cork, Mallow, Athy, Naas, Wexford or Waterford have adopted resolutions to that effect either. However, all of these operations seem to be carried on illegally and flagrantly, such that this multicoloured van with a sophisticated paint scheme was driving through our streets, clearly servicing such bodies in several locations where it is a criminal offence to operate slot machines and gaming arcades of the kind in question.
I support this Bill and I oppose the unsuccessful efforts to amend it to make more people victims to the undoubtedly addictive nature of gaming machines. I fully recognise that what Senator Craughwell has said to the House is correct. A Sky TV customer cannot fail to be struck by the vast amount of advertising of various bingo and online roulette games which seem to be permissible in the UK. My own experience is this. I have no particular objection to controlled online gambling on horse racing or football matches if it enhances the pleasure that football and racing fans get from those sports, which appears to be the case. However, I strongly object to a situation where we have established a law giving members of local authorities the right to determine whether gaming machines should be permitted to operate in their functional areas and that law is utterly ignored and trampled upon by people who must be making a fortune from doing so, while the powers of An Garda Síochána in respect of such machines simply are not enforced.
I do not want to comment on it, but I know this has come before the courts in recent times. It has been a long time since this became apparent. I regret to say that in some cases, some members of the district Judiciary have been codded by people claiming to have licences from the Revenue Commissioners in circumstances where no such licences could or should be made available because the local authority had made no resolution under the relevant part of the Gaming and Lotteries Act 1956. Whatever the case is, I wish this Bill every fair passage and I ask the Minister of State to take Senator Craughwell's point on board.
I am a bit surprised that this amendment has been proposed. I do not recall the amendment being proposed or even discussed on Committee Stage. Normally it would be raised on Committee Stage and would then be debated on Report Stage. I am a bit perplexed by that.
I recall some discussion, not all of it approving, of the fact that gambling is increasingly moving online from traditional land-based manifestations. This brings significant regulatory challenges that must be addressed in our proposed major reform. This is not a minor matter, as colleagues will surely agree. It is a major issue. We are talking about establishing a totally independent regulator, as has been done in other jurisdictions, not an office in the Department of Justice and Equality. That regulator could employ up to 120 people with various skills and would cost a large amount of money to establish. This is serious business. The legislation to make it happen, on which we are working at the moment, is quite complex. However, we can all appreciate that Senators in 1956 would not have foreseen the advent of the Internet - television was then in its infancy - or the provision of gaming services by remote means.The gaming envisaged was local in nature and taking place in carnivals, shows, circuses and so on, and through local lotteries and bingo. Licensed gaming by machines was provided under certain conditions in amusement halls for minimal stakes and prizes. One of the provisions of the Bill is to increase those amounts to more sensible levels. I am not, however, providing for a radical move away from the architecture of the Gaming and Lotteries Act 1956. As I stated on Second and Committee Stages, the Bill seeks to address certain deficiencies with regard to the conduct of gaming and lottery activities, currently comprehended by and regulated under the 1956 Act.
The Bill proposes a number of interim reform measures for the licensing and regulation of gaming and lottery activities concerned by the 1956 Act, pending the development of comprehensive reform of gambling laws.
There is no proposal in this Bill to repeal sections 12 and 13 to end local authority involvement in passing resolutions to permit gaming in their area. That is not here even though I note that some Senators would like to include it. I am, however, not proposing that.
Senators will note the recommendations contained in the Report of the Working Group on the Future Licensing and Regulation of Gambling, approved by Government on 20 March of this year, would transfer all future responsibility for licensing of all forms of gaming to a new gambling regulatory authority. At that time, and with new regulations in place, the involvement of the local authorities and other bodies currently concerned would cease. That is what we will bring forward in the future, but that is not here now.
We will debate that provision at that time. I would be interested to hear what colleagues have to say about it, but at that time. That is not what we are doing here.
It would appear that the thrust of the Senators’ amendment, and having regard to other proposed amendments ruled not in order, would effectively allow a free for all approach to online gaming. This is what the proposed amendments would do. The proposed widening of the scope of the 1956 Act at this point to enable persons to engage in remote gaming would happen in advance of any modern regulatory reform. We have to be careful to not open the door at this stage. The playing of gaming machines by remote means would totally undermine the provisions of the 1956 Act, which only provides for their physical playing in a licensed gaming or amusement hall, in areas where a local authority resolution allowing gaming is in force. There is no licensing pathway for remote gaming under the 1956 Act and I would be concerned about the lack of regulatory oversight that is envisaged by the Senators, particularly with regard to player protection, identification of problem gamblers, prevention of underage gambling and other issues. The proposed new gambling regulatory authority upon its establishment will deal with the licensing and regulation of gambling of all kinds, including remote gambling. I suggest that we refrain from considering any extension of the provisions of the 1956 Act to encompass remote gaming in the absence of the establishment of such a dedicated regulatory authority for gambling.
I now turn to the issue of the drafting of the Bill, and I know that Senator McDowell will appreciate this. The Senators’ proposed insertions in the Bill would create uncertainty as the terms sought to be included do not appear anywhere in the text of the Bill or of the 1956 Act. The proposed amendments would include definitions but they do not do anything or appear anywhere else in the legislation, and therefore would not have any impact, so why do it? What would be the point? I am not in a position to accept the Senators’ amendment. It would not assist in the limited reform of the 1956 Act and might risk unintended consequences. I appreciate the Senators' sincerity and real interest in this issue but I do not believe this is the way to do it. I ask them to consider withdrawing the amendment at this time. We will be back with the major reforms at a later stage.
I appreciate the Minister of State's bona fides on this. I am trying to achieve a level playing pitch for terrestrial and the extra-terrestrial organisations. When we discuss the various gaming houses in town there will be a migration from organisations where human beings are watching what is happening and able to intervene where they see compulsive gambling and gaming. Consider the reports from Paddy Power that show that in 2014, for example, some 77% of its profits were made online. This is what I am trying to do. There are 45,000 people in Ireland who are addicted to gambling. I believe the Minister of State is saying that he intends to come back to deal with this in a further Bill at a later stage. Will the Minister of State guarantee that he will not impact negatively on those organisations that operate in Dublin today? I do not refer to the slot machine guys who operate outside the law. I refer to the various clubs that operate within the law in the State. Are they going to be protected in this scenario? They have some concerns over and above the issues I have expressed here. We have to deal with the online concerns. The Minister of State has admitted this. Perhaps this is not the place to do it but before I make up my mind whether to press the amendment or not, will the Minister of State indicate how soon it will be before we find a solution?
Private members clubs are currently not covered by the law. We know this. There is no intention in the proposals being brought forward by this Bill to have any impact on those clubs. That is not the intention. Beyond that, the Senator will be aware that I have been very open on the intention of establishing a regulator. I have changed that from being an office in the Department of Justice and Equality to being an independent regulator. I beefed up the proposal and gained Government approval. We had a year long inter-departmental working group, which looked at every aspect of this. I can assure the Senators that it is extraordinarily complicated, and Senator McDowell has already alluded to that. It is not easy. As soon as that report was cleared by Government I published it so everyone could have sight of it, read it and give us feedback on it. We had an open day at Farmleigh House recently to which all the interested groups were invited, and they did attend. I believe there were 120 people there. We held a one day seminar on this issue. The work goes on. We are now updating the 2013 heads of the Bill so we can bring forward the legislation, hopefully in the autumn, for the consideration of the Houses and establish it. I reiterate that the definitions the Senator's amendment proposes to insert into the Bill do not appear anywhere else in the text of the Bill or the 1956 Act. With respect, those definitions would not do anything but they may cause uncertainty. They will not have any impact anywhere when they are not referenced anywhere else in the legislation. I hope the Senator can accept my bona fides here. Again, the Senator will be aware that when we bring forward legislation to the Houses in the autumn, Senators - and the Deputies in the other House - can amend and change and make suggestions, to which I am very open. Any advice we can get on this will be welcome at that time.
I move amendment No. 7:
In page 20, between lines 13 and 14, to insert the following:“(2) Section 7 of the Betting Act 1931 is amended by the insertion of the following section
after section 7E:“Condition attaching to licences issued under the Act of 1931(3) Section 16 of the Betting Act 1931 is amended by the substitution of the following for subsection (2)(b):7F. (1) This section applies to any bookmaker’s licence, remote bookmaker’s licence and remote betting intermediary’s licence issued under this Act.(2) A licence to which this section applies shall, by virtue of this subsection, be subject to the condition that nothing may be done, either directly or indirectly, in reliance on such licence in relation to any bet on the outcome or results of a lottery game.
(3) Subsection (2) shall apply to all licences, including a licence issued before this section comes into force, with effect from the date on which this section is commenced.
(4) In this section, the term ‘lottery game’ has the meaning given to such term under the National Lottery Act 2013.”.“(b) the holder of a licence under this Act has contravened sections 7D, 7E, 7F or 23.”.”.
I thank Senator McDowell for seconding the amendment which seeks to strengthen the purpose of the Act in regard to companies taking bets based on the outcome of the national lottery. This seeks to divert funds away from the national lottery fund that seeks to support all communities across the State. It is an excellent fund and this is why I bring this amendment forward. I hope the Minister of State will accept the amendment.
We held an extensive debate on the issue then. As I stated then, I have no function in regard to the national lottery, its regulation or licensing. That is a matter for the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform under the National Lottery Act 2013.In that Act, the Minister did not provide for any prohibition on bookmakers, be they land based or remote, on offering bets on any or all of the numbers drawn in the national lottery each week. I must take my guidance in this matter from the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform who very recently reiterated his position opposing this proposal. There appears to be no particular evidence that betting on lottery numbers is undermining funding for good causes currently or that it threatens the profitability of the national lottery operator in the long term, which, I must point out, is now a private company. There is no evidence to show this other betting is having any impact on the good causes or the profitability of the private company.
Senator Mark Daly in his Committee Stage contribution made comments to the effect that betting on lottery numbers leads to a loss of revenue to the Exchequer with no tax paid on such bets. That is not correct. Licensed online and remote bookmakers offering bets on lottery numbers and all licensed Irish betting shops must pay tax on every bet that they take. They must pay the current necessary licence fee. Bookmakers' shops also contribute to the Exchequer by providing many jobs in towns and villages all over Ireland. The product offered in betting shops also differs. Bookmakers offer bets on one, two, three, four or five numbers being drawn, which is not possible with the national lottery. I further understand that bookmakers do not offer bets on the whole six or seven numbers, as the national lottery does. Online operators offer bets on the outcome of the national lottery, Euromillions and other lotteries, with players having to choose the corresponding numbers relating to those draws. The product offered in betting shops differs, where bookmakers offer bets on one, two, three, four or five numbers being drawn. In terms of cost to customers, bookmakers accept bets of 0.05 cent and upwards whereas the national lottery minimum stake is €5 for two lines without the plus option. The essence of the Senator's proposal appears to be to enhance the monopoly position of the private operator of the national lottery by ending the possibility for licensed bookmakers, land based and remote, to offer bets on the outcome of the Irish national lottery draws. The Senator's proposals would, however, allow offered bets by licensed land based or online bookmakers on any other lottery, just not the Irish one.
I expressed a concern on Committee Stage that accepting this amendment might lead to further demands from the national lottery, perhaps seeking to prohibit the local lotteries that support our sports clubs and community organisations. A similar argument to that made by the Senator could be made that they also impact on the turnover of the national lottery. The local football, rugby or hurling club that has a lottery could be said to impact on the national lottery. For the reasons I have outlined, the Government is not in a position to support this proposal.
I totally get where Senator Clifford-Lee is coming from with this amendment. The national lottery's relationship with the people of Ireland is twofold. In the first instance, hundreds of thousands of people play the lotto every week who would not dream of going into a betting shop and do not bet online. Practically every old age pensioner in the country plays the lotto. The second point is that there is not a town or village in the country that has not benefitted from national lottery funding since its inception in 1986 under the late Jim Mitchell, who was communications Minister at the time. I spoke against the privatisation of the national lottery in the previous term. Unfortunately, the economic circumstances back then were of a nature that this was an opportunity to raise €400 million or €500 million in one go. The Government in its wisdom went for it. I did not agree with it. I did not believe the national lottery should have been handed over to a private company. It is interesting to hear the Minister of State speak about the private company that is running the national lottery and giving it a competitive advantage over others. Had it not been privatised we would not be talking about it as a private company but that is neither here nor there. We are where we are.
I share the sentiments expressed by Senator Clifford-Lee in her amendment but I also see logic of the Minister of State's position in terms of giving a company that was privatised a competitive advantage over others.
Senator Clifford-Lee's amendment, in subsection (4), defines "lottery gain" as having the meaning given to the term under the National Lottery Act 2013. That is not confined to national lottery gains. It is a generic description of what amounts to a lottery gain and it does not have to be run by the national lottery. In fairness to the Senator, her amendment would cover non-national lotteries.
Colm Burke, Paddy Burke, Jerry Buttimer, Maria Byrne, Paudie Coffey, Martin Conway, Frank Feighan, Maura Hopkins, Billy Lawless, Anthony Lawlor, Ian Marshall, Gabrielle McFadden, Michelle Mulherin, Catherine Noone, Pádraig Ó Céidigh, Kieran O'Donnell, Joe O'Reilly, James Reilly, Neale Richmond.
The Minister of State has indicated that in the proposed new legislation on gambling regulation the Government intends to remove from local authorities any function in respect of whether gaming machines operate in their jurisdiction. I believe that is a valuable power for local government to have. I would be against excluding local authority members having a veto over gaming machines in their area.
I agree with Senator McDowell on that point, as I indicated on Second or Committee Stage. We cannot take away the local knowledge. I do not think that is the import of what the Minister of State intends to do. Rather than take power away from local government, we should be retaining certain functions for local government. In his earlier contribution Senator McDowell spoke about the proliferation of casinos and gaming machines in Dublin. The same could be said of other parts of the country, in particular around Cork city. I appeal to the Minister of State, and I am not saying that because I am a Member of this House or looking to keep councillors happy, but because this is genuinely important. When we were campaigning for the mayoral election in the plebiscite we talked about keeping power local and having accountability and transparency at local level. I earnestly believe that in the context of this Bill, the Minister of State has done a supreme job both in his previous incarnation as Chairman of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice and Equality and now as a Minister of State in this area. He deserves gargantuan praise and credit for what he has done, how he has steered this through and managed to bring a lot of people together. We cannot allow - I was about to say the Custom House-----
The point I was making is that we must not re-centralise power. We must decentralise it and give it back to the authorities at local level. That is my point in the context of what we are doing here. I agree with Senator McDowell. I will conclude on those brief remarks.
I thank the Senators for their consideration of this Bill. It is an interim measure as I said at the start. I would like to have gone much further but the establishment of a gambling regulator is a major task, extraordinarily resource intensive and very complicated and I want to get it right. We have done a great deal of work on this to date. I will listen to what Senators have to say on any proposal. I welcome suggestions, proposals and ideas on how we might proceed because nobody has the monopoly on wisdom here. We will bring forward the heads of the Bill in the autumn and will consider it in the committee and so on.
This Gaming and Lotteries (Amendment) Bill 2019 will help the promotion of local gaming and lotteries. Senators have said that local gaming and lotteries help clubs and organisations. We want to get that right. Local clubs and community groups depend on their lotteries.
With respect to the references to the slot machines and so on, it is up to the Revenue Commissioners and the Garda to implement the law. That is their job. I know they-----
-----have been more active in that regard recently than in the past.
It is my intention to progress this Bill as fast as I can through the other House to ensure its enactment, hopefully before the end of this session. I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach and the Senators for their consideration of it.