Wednesday, 11 December 2019
Gaming and Lotteries (Amendment) Bill 2019: [Seanad Bill amended by the Dáil] Report and Final Stages
This is a Seanad Bill that has been amended by the Dáil. In accordance with Standing Order 148, it is deemed to have passed its First, Second and Third Stages in the Seanad and is placed on the Order Paper for Report Stage. On the question "That the Bill be received for final consideration", the Minister of State may explain the purpose of the amendments made by the Dáil. This is looked upon as the report of the Dáil amendments to the Seanad. For Senators' convenience, I have arranged for the printing and circulation of the amendments. The Minister of State will deal separately with the subject matter of each related group of amendments. I have also circulated the proposed grouping in the House and Senators may speak only once on each grouping. I remind Senators that the only matter that may be discussed is the subject matter of each grouping of amendments made by the Dáil.
On page 6, line 34, the first amendment in the group deletes "to be carried on" and substitutes "to be carried on, including whether the gaming is for a charitable or philanthropic purpose.". This new section 9A of the principal Act, as inserted by section 4 of the Bill, provides for a modern but limited approach for gaming under the permit from An Garda Síochána in the relevant district. It allows for gaming for a charitable and philanthropic cause and for profit. It does not differentiate between games or locations as before.
Section 9A sets out the conditions for the application for the gaming permit. The maximum allowed stake is €10 and the maximum prize for any one game is €3,000, conducted in either a single event or multiple events. This would cover, for example, card games, darts, pool tournaments, pub quizzes and so on. The amendment to provide for a section 9A(5)(e) is a straightforward textual addition to require the applicant for a gaming permit to indicate who is the proposed beneficiary of the gaming. Such information would better assist the superintendent to consider the nature and character of the applicant to guard against any potential attempt at fraudulent or criminal usage of gaming permits.
Section 4 would insert a new section 9A in the 1956 Act and it is of some significance. It tidies up the circumstances through which a member of An Garda Síochána or superintendent can issue a permit for gaming. I say the following in the presence of the Minister of State and I hope my remarks are passed not merely to the Minister but to the Commissioner of An Garda Síochána. Around this city now there are gaming arcades, the business of all of which is being conducted unlawfully. As I see it, the amendments described by the Minister of State are in respect of the issuance of permits that under subsection 9A(6)(c) may not be used for promoting "gaming by means of a gaming machine."
If this is the case, this legislation has nothing to do with making lawful that which is manifestly unlawful. Dublin City Council, under the Gaming and Lotteries Act 1956, has not adopted a resolution to permit gaming by machines in this city. Vast sums are being made by the owners of arcades right under our noses. Automated teller machines are established in some of these premises. An Garda Síochána has the power to seize gaming machines being used in breach of the law. Amusement halls of these kinds are flagrantly in breach of criminal law in being operated without licences.
It is shocking that some members of the District Court - the Judiciary - were misled into believing that the existence of a Revenue licence for a machine, which is effectively an excise-raising matter, is somehow authority for the operation of amusement halls in this city. I would be glad for the Minister of State to confirm to me now that the running of those amusement halls in Dublin, Cork and other places where there is no resolution under the relevant part of the 1956 Act to run such an amusement hall with gaming machines in it is a criminal offence and unlawful, and makes them liable to search and seizure of the machines by members of An Garda Síochána. I want to hear this from a Minister as otherwise I will conclude that money is talking in our city and somehow the operators of these amusement halls in the city of Dublin are so powerful financially that nobody will touch them.
If this section, as amended, is adopted, it will have no entitlement contained in it for the operation of gaming machines in this city. The pre-existing law is unaffected by the amendments outlined to us by the Minister of State as being made by Dáil Éireann or the section to be inserted in the principal Act by this legislation.If it is the case that these huge emporia are operating in broad daylight and exploiting the weakest in our communities in flagrant disregard of the Gaming and Lotteries Act 1956, the Minister of State should indicate when an Garda Síochána is going to bring their operations to an end.
All this Bill is doing is bringing the Act of 1956 up to date, nothing else. It is updating certain parts of it. I would expect that the relevant authorities would take note of that and act accordingly. I am not going to pronounce anything as lawful or unlawful; that is not my role. There are other bodies to do that.
Group 2 comprises amendments Nos. 2, 6, 7, 10 and 11. Amendment No. 2 states:
In page 7, lines 35 to 37 deleted and the following substituted: "(e) the conditions referred to in paragraphs (a) and (b) and the name of the intended beneficiary shall be prominently displayed at the normal means of access to the premises proposed to be used;".
Amendment No. 6 is somewhat similar. The amendments to sections 12 and 14 are also somewhat similar. Amendment No. 10, pertaining to section 14, states:
In page 15, line 19, "Every" deleted and the following substituted: "(1) Subject to subsection (2), every".
This is a technical amendment. Amendment No. 11, which is also technical in nature, states:
In page 15, line 30, "issued."." deleted and the following substituted: "issued.
(2) Where the lottery is conducted in a premises, the information referred to in subsection (1) shall be prominently displayed at the normal means of access to the premises proposed to be used.".".
Amendment No. 2 relates to the display of information in respect of gaming under a permit from a Garda superintendent, where the maximum stake is €10 and the maximum prize is €3,000 for the game. However, I am taking the opportunity in amendment No. 2 toreplace the existingsection 4(11)(e). This paragraph required that the holder of the gaming permit could retain not more than 5% of the total proceeds of ticket sales, for expenses. On further consideration of this point, and in the context of the type of gaming involved, if promoted for commercial rather than charitable purposes, I am now of the view that it does not serve a useful purpose. Thus, I propose the deletion of this provision concerning a gaming permit. My amendment proposes to substitute a different section 4(11)(e). This requires the information as to the stakes and prizes and the name of the intended beneficiary to be displayed prominently at the normal means of access to the premises proposed to be used for gaming. This change is intended to facilitate the operators of types of gaming where tickets are not used and, thus, such information could not be printed on them.
Amendments Nos. 6 and 7 are bothtechnical amendments with regard to the public display of information. There is a requirement both in new sections 27B(10)(a), dealing with lottery permits, and 28(10)(b), dealing with lottery licences - inserted into the principal Act by sections 11 and 12 of the Bill - to display the value of each prize and the name of the intended beneficiary on every lottery ticket or coupon. However, it has been brought to my attention that such display may not technically be feasible where the lottery is conducted, for example, by way of bingo. In this case, tickets may be bought in books or, increasingly, played using a mechanical or digital device to mark off the numbers. In this regard, bingo is different from other lotteries, which primarily involve the purchase of a ticket. Thus, amendment No. 6 for section 11 - lottery permits - and amendment No. 7 for section 12 - lottery licences - allow for the prominent public display of the required information at the normal means of access to the place of the event.
Amendment No. 10 concerns section 14 of the Bill, inserting a revised section 33 into the principal Act, concerning information to be displayed on lottery tickets. It is purely a textual amendment to introduce a reference to a new subsection (2) in amendment No. 11.
Amendment No. 11 provides a new subsection (2) in section 33 of the principal Act, allowing for the public display of the necessary information that might otherwise be contained on a ticket but which is difficult to do owing to the circumstances of the lottery.
I am grateful for the remarks the Minister of State made in respect of the last set of amendments insofar as they went. I must state again, however, that this group of amendments is to do with the maximum charges pertaining to entry into gaming and the amount that may be won at gaming. I ask the Minister of State to confirm that the gaming permits to which this legislation refers do not include gaming by a gaming machine. He has officials present who can assist on this. I ask them to confirm that the limits do not apply to any operation of a gaming machine because the permits we are dealing with cannot be issued for gaming by means of such a machine. I ask the Minister of State to confirm that the term "gaming machine" has the meaning provided in the Finance Act 1975 and that anything that looks like a one-armed bandit is a gaming machine and, therefore, the prize limits we are dealing with here are for forms of gaming that do not involve the use of such a machine.
I appreciate that the Minister of State is not here to determine what is lawful or unlawful but he and the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, are the two political heads of the Department under whose aegis gaming and lotteries are controlled in Irish law. In both the cities of Cork and Dublin, the laws are being flagrantly broken. If it is the case that the Garda Commissioner no longer enforces the law, it is a matter for the Minister of State and Minister. If it is the case that he has been told by the Attorney General that he cannot enforce the law, I would like to hear that, but the Department of Justice and Equality cannot escape responsibility simply by saying it is unaware whether what is going on in Dublin is lawful. It is the Minister of State's Department and this is the capital city of the country. Dublin City Council has not adopted a resolution under Part 3 of the 1986 Act. Amusement halls are, therefore, illegal and the use of gaming machines in amusement halls is also illegal. In those circumstances, the Minister of State should go somewhat further and assure me that he will contact the Garda Commissioner and ask him when he proposes to enforce the law. The relationship between the Minister, the Minister of State, as someone with responsibility in this area, and the Garda Commissioner is one that ordains there should be interaction between the Commissioner, who is independent in the implementation of the law, and the Minister and Department.
Where the law is being flagrantly and with massive profit flouted with complete impunity in an open way, right under our noses in Dublin and Cork, the Department must go that little bit further and ask how this has come about, why it is being tolerated and why nothing appears to be done about it. The people who run the gaming arcades and amusement halls are powerful people. They are making a shedload of money out of doing so. If they are allowed to do so while the members of the Government with political responsibility for gaming and lotteries say they do not know whether it is lawful or unlawful, it is, with respect, not sufficient.
Games in this case are cards, darts and so on, not machines. Part 3 deals with the latter. I am referring to different stakes and prizes for licensed gaming machines.This is the first Bill since 1956 that deals with this, as the Senator previously acknowledged. If we can get this passed, I assure Members that we will move on this.
We had a substantial debate in this House and in the Dáil on the issue of the modernisation of the stake and prize amounts for licensed gaming machines set down in section 14 in Part III of the principal Act of 1956. The modulation of such amounts is the only function of the Minister for Justice and Equality.
I have said previously that there was no particular scientific method for deciding what are appropriate and relevant stake and prize amounts for gaming machines. We must, however, take into consideration the passage of time since 1956, as well as the availability of newer types of gambling. Thus, the Bill ,as passed by this House, in section 5, revises section 14 of the principal Act, in two particular aspects – that the maximum stake amount be increased from 3 cent to €10 and the maximum prize amount be increased from 50 cent to €750. Members in the other House felt these amounts might be further revised. Thus, in amendments Nos. 3 and 4, I propose revised amounts of €5 maximum for a stake and €500 maximum for prizes for licensed gaming machines. While these limits may not please everybody, we must be realistic. There is little point in imposing amounts so small that they would be totally ignored.
The new provisions in section 5 allow for adjustment of the limits by way of regulations made by the Minister and this matter will be kept under scrutiny. This new provision means that if there is a problem with them, they can be revised. I believe that the revised figures are realistic and will be acceptable to Senators.
Let us be clear about this. A gaming licence is issued by the Revenue Commissioners. I want the Minister of State to be clear that this is no licence - and I use the term in a neutral sense - or no permission to operate gaming machines in contravention of Part III of the 1956 Act. The Minister of State is providing for new limits on the stakes that can be used for gaming machines, and the amount that can be won on them. Dáil Éireann in its wisdom has reduced that, and I support this decision. We are in a different situation, however, because I am not getting clarity from the Minister of State as to whether any of these machines can be operated in an amusement hall unless the local authority has adopted a resolution under the Gaming and Lotteries Act 1956. I must have some clarity on this. Either what is happening in O'Connell Street and on the quays and on the road out to the airport is permissible on foot of these licences or it is not. The proprietors of these establishments have, to my certain knowledge, gone before unsuspecting District Court judges and waved their licences from the Revenue Commissioners in front of their noses. By doing so, they have completely circumvented the provisions of Part III of the 1956 Act. Is it the understanding of the Department and the Minister of State that Part III of the Act still operates whereby unless the local authority for the area - be it Limerick, Dublin, Cork or wherever - has adopted a resolution under the that Part, gaming machines in amusement halls are unlawful in that local authority area? If that is the Minister of State's understanding, it seems to me that the Bill is being presented on the basis that all of those premises are currently operating unlawfully.
There is no change being made in the 1956 Act with regard to sections 12 and 13 and the motion required to be passed by local authorities. That stands. It is very clear. We are making no change whatsoever in that regard at this time. That may be debated further when we come to deal with setting up a gambling regulator. That is another day's work. The Senator is quite right. The law as it stands says that if there is no council resolution in place, such operations may not be lawful. I cannot comment on or interfere with what happens in the courts, obviously.
Group 4 deals with lotteries held in conjunction with certain events. Amendment No. 5 proposes a minor addition to the wording of a new section 27A(1)(b) of the principal Act, inserted by section 10 of the Bill. That new section concerns lotteries that may take place in the context of a marketing promotion. The maximum prize allowed is €2,500. The amendment makes it clear that there is no charge for taking part other than the purchase of the product, if such is required. A further clarification is to the effect that "no further charge is required for redemption of a prize". The intention in this regard is to prevent the situation whereby a free ticket or coupon is provided. For example, a scratch card is given away in a newspaper, but registration and finding out what a person may have won will incur a charge. This may happen by way of ringing a prize line for a considerable number of minutes, often at premium rates.
I want to be very clear on this. I intend to bring this to the attention of the media in the near future. I intend that the journalist to whose attention I draw to this understands clearly what is happening. It is now proposed to insert a new section 14 in respect of licences granted under Part III of the Act. Is that correct?
I want to be very clear. We have now discussed changing the limits to €10 and to €750 in section 5. We must be absolutely clear in this House, and for the media, because I will later draw their attention to the matter-----
Group 5 covers amendments Nos. 8 and 9. Contrary to certain media coverage, my original proposal in section 12 was entirely motivated by the need to ensure in law, for the first time, that the charitable or philanthropic cause lottery licence holder benefitted significantly from the proceeds. Some doubts had arisen as to whether this was so, particularly where a commercial agent had been engaged to operate the lottery. Lottery licences concern a weekly prize fund from €5,001 to €30,000, or a single annual prize amount of €360,000. I insisted on a minimum of 25% of the proceeds going to the charitable or philanthropic cause. I am pleased that all Deputies and, earlier, Senators agreed with that approach. Previously, the law required no mandated benefit to such causes. It only referred to a maximum of 40% of the proceeds being allowed for expenses. I accepted an amendment on Report Stage in the Dáil to the effect that the lottery can allocate up to 75% of the proceeds to prizes.Previously, I had proposed that up to 50% of proceeds could be allocated in this way. I have no fundamental issue with this new provision. I had proposed that a maximum of 25% of proceeds could be used to meet the expenses involved in the lottery. Such a provision, which marks a reduction on the previous level of 40%, is still included in the section as it stands.