Seanad debates

Tuesday, 14 May 2024

Gambling Regulation Bill 2022: Second Stage


Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

1:00 pm

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the Minister of State. The debate will proceed in the normal manner, with the Minister of State having 15 minutes, group spokespersons 12 minutes and all other Senators six minutes. I call an Aire Stáit.

Photo of James BrowneJames Browne (Wexford, Fianna Fail)
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I am happy to present the Gambling Regulation Bill to the House. This is an important and necessary Bill to address and regulate gambling in Ireland.I know the Bill has significant support and I look forward to Senators' contributions.

The Internet has made gambling easier to access than was ever thought possible. Everyone, including children, has relatively easy access to gambling sites on phones. Therefore, it is vital to have a robust regulatory environment in which people can enjoy themselves, operators are properly regulated and our children and those vulnerable to problem gambling are protected.

The Bill’s primary objective is to ensure there is a robust and modern regulatory and licensing framework for gambling. It provides for the establishment and statutory functions of a body, to be called “Údarás Rialála Cearrbhachais na hÉireann” or “the Gambling Regulatory Authority of Ireland”. The Bill balances the freedom to gamble while ensuring the protection of children and prevention of harm to those vulnerable to problem gambling. The Bill aims to: ensure that gambling is conducted in a fair and open way so that licensees may operate with certainty; address problem gambling to protect children and regulate gambling advertising; and prevent gambling from being a source of support to crime.

I am conscious that many will have strong views about gambling either way, but Senators will appreciate that legislation must balance all interests. In 2017, it was estimated that the size of the gambling sector was worth approximately €6 billion annually. There is little doubt but that this figure has increased exponentially in the seven years since. Therefore, the industry has a significant impact on our economy and employment. Furthermore, gambling is an important fundraising activity for many charitable and philanthropic organisations. Many people gamble for fun and, for most, it is nothing more than that. However, gambling comes with a risk that exists on a spectrum. Sadly, many who started out gambling for fun have developed problem gambling. The ESRI’s 2023 report on problem gambling highlighted that 3% of our population had an issue with problem gambling, ten times more than previously thought. This underscores the need to meaningfully address problem gambling and its harms and reinforces the need for proper regulation. Therefore, it is vital to establish an appropriately empowered regulator that can operate and respond with speed and agility when considering the scale, complexity and constantly evolving nature of the gambling sector. This Bill provides safeguards to ensure that a balance is struck between appropriately regulating licensees while protecting those vulnerable to problem gambling. Furthermore, preventing gambling as a means of funding criminality must be paramount.

I will now outline the Bill’s main provisions. Part 1 contains standard legislative provisions common to all legislation. Part 2 provides for the establishment, statutory functions and funding of the authority. It will be operationally independent but subject to appropriate oversight. There will be seven members of the authority, including its chairperson, and the Bill provides for the role of a chief executive responsible for the authority’s day-to-day management.

The Bill provides for the establishment and operation of a national gambling exclusion register to allow persons to exclude from gambling online. Where a person registers with the authority, it shall be an offence for a licensee to allow that person to gamble, accept payment from that person for gambling or communicate with that person in a way that encourages or promotes gambling.

Part 2 also provides for the establishment of a social impact fund, financed by mandatory contributions calculated annually on commercial licensees’ turnovers. The fund will finance research and related initiatives to address compulsive and excessive gambling, support awareness raising and educational measures, and support problem gambling treatment activities.

Part 3 sets out the relevant provisions relating to the operation of the authority and the criteria for appointment to the authority, the appeals panel and the adjudication board. Part 4 provides for a number of prohibitions and related offences, for example, providing unlicensed activities. The authority will be empowered to apply for court orders to block Internet access to unlicensed operators and activities and to block advertising by and financial payments to unlicensed providers.

Part 5 provides for a modern framework of licensing gambling, replacing the outdated schemes currently in place. The Bill provides for new betting licences to replace existing bookmaker and totalisator licences and new gaming and lottery licences to replace the respective systems of permits and licences. The Bill provides for the comprehensive licensing and regulation of gaming machines. Those who sell or supply gambling products or related services must also be licensed. The Bill provides for a new licence to permit gaming, lotteries and pool betting for fundraising for charitable or philanthropic purposes, such as local sports clubs and good causes, as well as a new licence for one-off lotteries for prizes up to €360,000 for commercial, charitable or philanthropic purposes.The Bill also provides for a maximum stake and prize limits broadly in line with those introduced in 2020. These may be varied by the authority. Part 5 also provides exemptions from holding licences for lotteries for charitable and philanthropic purposes where the total winnings do not exceed €2,000, or for marketing purposes where the total winnings do not exceed €5,000.

To protect children when considering an application for a licence and the suitability of an applicant's premises, the authority must consider the proximity of the premises to schools and whether gambling is offered locally. The authority must consult with the relevant local authorities and its assessment of premises will not supersede the role of local authorities in determining planning permission.

Part 6 provides critical safeguards concerning the protection of children, gambling advertising, targeted inducements and the regulation of payment methods. The Bill prohibits employing children in gambling activities, allowing a child to gamble and allowing children on premises, with penalties of up to five years for those in breach. The Bill prohibits gambling advertising on on-demand services, television and radio between 5.30 p.m. and 9.30 p.m. This provision implements the unanimous recommendation of the joint committee in its pre-legislative scrutiny report on on-demand services, except where a person has an account with those services and in compliance with the watershed; on social media or video sharing services, except where a person has an account on the service and has subscribed to the licensee's account under that service; and via other forms of electronic communication, such as telephone, text messages or email, unless the recipient consented to receiving such advertising and an acceptable opt-out mechanism is provided. I would also like Senators to note that I intend to bring amendments to exempt charitable and philanthropic licensees, which will include sporting organisations, from these advertising restrictions, while strengthening the Bill to ensure that such exempt licences cannot be abused for personal gain or to bypass the advertising restrictions in the Bill. Amendments will also be brought to ensure these organisations can sell their tickets in shops, door-to-door and on the streets.

The authority may also make supplementary regulations to address gambling advertising on a specific medium, as previously mentioned, and on websites, apps, in print or at specific places or events. Importantly, this part prohibits the use of credit cards to pay for gambling and prohibits the offer of targeted individualised inducements to encourage a person to gamble. It also addresses sponsorship and the supply of branded clothing and merchandise of commercial licensees.

Part 7 of the Bill provides for how the authority addresses complaints and the actions it may take to address alleged contraventions of an obligation by a licensee.

Part 8 of the Bill provides for the authority's statutory powers of compliance and enforcement. The Bill seeks to encourage compliance. Where penalties are appropriate the authority will have robust powers in respect of the imposition of a wide array of sanctions following investigation by its officers. The outcome of an investigation may be referred to an independent adjudication officer for consideration. Where an officer decides the relevant obligation has been contravened one or more administrative sanctions may be imposed, including a financial penalty, the suspension or revocation of a gambling licence or the imposition of a condition on a gambling licence. Financial penalties shall not exceed €20 million or, if greater, 10% of the turnover of the licensee in the financial year. The authority may also apply to the courts for emergency orders where it considers there is an urgent need to protect the public, including protecting any funds they have with the licensee.

Part 9 provides fora range of appeals that may be made by licensees in respect of the authority's decisions.

This is detailed legislation that covers many complex issues in a flexible, modern and principled manner. It has the potential to bring about considerable benefit and clarity for operators and consumers, protections for children and the wider public, and help for those afflicted by the harms caused by excessive and problem gambling. It is long needed. It will save lives and minimise the social and economic damage that gambling causes. There is more work to be done in finalising the legislation but the entire purpose of the various Stages of a Bill is to scrutinise it and amend as necessary. I look forward to engaging with Senators in this respect as the Bill progresses. I commend the Bill to the House.

Photo of Timmy DooleyTimmy Dooley (Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Minister of State for bringing the Bill to the House. Virtually everybody in society recognises the impact of problem gambling on the lives of individuals and their families and communities. It is also incumbent on us, when we try to deal with such a difficult thing, not to end up with unintended consequences of what we seek to do. I am mindful that in his opening remarks the Minister of State identified the threat from the Internet and the great difficulties we have as a society in trying to regulate sites outside the jurisdiction of Ireland or Europe and which are further afield.This may be cause for concern.

The Minister of State has indicated a willingness to look at some issues I wish to raise. Perhaps he can enlighten us further on that. The first issue I wish to raise is one that has been raised with me by a number of owners of horses, trainers and people involved in the point-to-point business, a strong element of which is in my county. Their concerns are the concerns that have been expressed by the racing channels. They believe from media coverage in recent weeks that Racing TV and Sky Sports Racing are seriously worried about their ability to continue broadcasting Irish race meetings to an Irish audience in light of the gambling advertising watershed ban, which is proposed within the regulation. Obviously, this is an issue that encompasses the two aforementioned channels along with RTÉ, TG4 and Virgin Media. They believe these represent key pillars in the ability to market the sport and, importantly, our bloodstock sector. They are seriously worried that if racing were to disappear from our television screens because it would be no longer commercially viable for those channels to broadcast here at home, they believe it would have a detrimental impact on the body at large regarding the Irish horse racing industry and would represent a terrible blow to their livelihoods and local economies. While they are mindful the channels concerned are largely behind paywalls, if somebody using an Internet site opts in or accepts the conditions set by just clicking "Yes", he or she has free access and it is not a competitive environment.

Will the Minister of State give some clarity on any of the amendments he might bring forward to give some comfort to those horse owners, breeders and others involved in the industry that the introduction of this Bill will not take Irish racing from our screens because of the relatively small scale of Irish racing by comparison with the British market and the inability to have two separate channels, one of which excludes betting as is set out in this Bill, as opposed to the situation in the UK? Has the Minister of State spoken to regulators in the UK about how we might work together, recognising that we share so much in common in our joint effort to promote that racing sector and the horse sector in general? It seems to me they are almost interoperable. We see horses being flown from Ireland to the UK every week and horses being flown here for race meetings. Surely we should be looking at this as a whole rather than in isolation if we are to ensure we protect the sector while, at the same time, protecting the most vulnerable, which we all recognise is important.

The simple game of bingo is under pressure as a result of the proposals the Minister of State is introducing and I would like him to address that. Again, while we recognise there is an issue in the gambling sector generally, by virtue of the way bingo operates for elderly people and people who are often alone, if certain limits are imposed as set out, it will have a very negative impact.

The Minister indicated he is bringing forward amendments and it is not until we see those amendments that we will be better able to understand. However, I am concerned the Bill overreaches as it relates to the Irish radio sector. On its current terms, the Bill may significantly limit the ability of broadcasters to run listener competitions. I understand this arises because listener competitions and other matters in which the Minister of State is interested are at risk of being captured under the very broad proposed definitions of "lottery" and "game" under the Bill. Listener competitions will be familiar to all of us. Listeners typically enter them via premium rate phone services, they have the opportunity to be selected to play, and they are able to win by answering a question on air. The existing definitions of "lottery" and "game" are perhaps too broad and, in their broad language, would seem to capture the Dublin city marathon as gambling as it is an activity engaged in by a person on the payment of money by the person and, in return for which, he or she obtains an opportunity to win a prize of money.The prize in the marathon seems to be €15,000 so it could be caught in that €10,000 limit. That may not be the case but that was what was reflected to me recently. If that is the case, obviously we would need to look at it.

These issues have also been raised with me by the GAA, the Federation of Irish Sport, Charities Institute Ireland and others which come under the ministerial ambit of the Minister of State. I will not expand here. Suffice to say that an alternative approach to the definitions of "lottery" and "game" needs to be adapted. Even the Minister of State's decision to change the limit to €10,000 will cause some difficulties for road races, charities and the GAA. If fundraising initiatives are to succeed, prizes need to be of a consequence.

It is counterintuitive if radio broadcasters are prevented from promoting radio bingo or other games of skill or luck during normal hours by the Bill just because the amount runs up. I cannot imagine that this is what the Minister of State intends. An exemption from the operation of the Bill for licensed radio broadcasters is appropriate because there is no cogent public policy basis for treating listener competitions conducted by licensed broadcasters as a form of gambling. Such competitions are already well regulated and there is no evidence of harm arising from the conduct of such competitions. They fund quality local journalism and entertainment.

Broadcasters are already subject to a wide range of existing regulation which contributes to the fair and transparent conduct of competitions by them. Such regulation includes regulation by ComReg and Coimisiún na Meán, the imposition of mandatory spend caps for the industry, self-regulation by the Advertising Standards Authority for Ireland and generous consumer protection regulation. In addition to those consumer protections, broadcasters typically self-impose mechanisms to ensure fairness and transparency, for example, by voluntarily setting spending caps below the mandatory caps and utilising third-party winner selection software. In light of the extensive regulation I have described, requiring the media sector to contribute to the funding of yet another regulator would add to the financial insecurity of broadcasters and contribute to the perception of unevenness in the treatment of the radio sector.

I would like to comment on the absence of evidence of harm. The purposes of the Bill have been described as addressing uncontrolled gambling and problem gambling, protecting children and licensing competitions which are neither uncontrolled nor problematic and from which children are excluded in the first instance. Industry experience with listener competitions is that they generate almost no consumer complaints. The UK provides a useful case study where there is good data available. The evidence provided by the Phone-paid Services Authority, which regulates premium-rate telephony in the UK, shows that while broadcasters are the largest users of premium-rate services, the sector has generated no complaints in the past five years. Similarly, industry experience shows low consumer spend associated with consumer competitions. I am told that there is an average spend per listener of approximately €4.27 per month. The capacity of consumers to bar or to stop premium-rate services on their phones further contributes to the absence of consumer harm.

There is also no evidence of harm for children. First, children are excluded from such competitions. Second, industry experience is that there are almost no complaints regarding children entering listener competitions. Third, listener data suggest that children represent a very small proportion of radio listenership. Finally, most people who provide a phone to a child block premium-rate services on that phone to prevent inappropriate spending. Listener competitions allow consumers to actively engage with and participate in broadcast shows rather than passively consuming their content. They enable two-way communication, fostering a more engaging and personalised experience. Moreover, listener competitions provide a vital source of income for broadcasters that is needed to maintain current services. Unlike gambling, broadcasters play an indispensable role in society and their funding needs to be protected in this area.

I wish to raise a further issue which is not addressed by the proposed Bill. It relates to the operation of the watershed provision, which will limit the time during which gambling advertising can run on radio. I suggest that this limitation is overboard in that it takes a regime that was developed to address the broadcast television sector and applies it to media more generally. The Bill is intended to act as a public health measure. The way in which it will operate is not consistent with how alcohol is dealt with in the broadcast sector under the various pieces of public health legislation relating to alcohol. The Bill requires an amendment to effectively exempt licensed radio broadcasters from the requirement to hold a gambling licence to conduct an activity that will constitute a game or a lottery, where the activity is conducted in connection with their editorial broadcast activities.The Minister of State might allude to that in his response. He might also explain how he plans to get around the competition authority’s issue, which is that the Exchequer and others will compensate RTÉ for loss of funding but will not compensate the rest of the broadcasting sector. It might be useful to get the Minister of State’s thoughts on that.

In conclusion, there are a number of outstanding issues that I would like the Minister of State to address: first, the bingo situation, which I have raised; second, the radio sector and the impact it might have on its operations; and, importantly, the impact this Bill, if passed in its current form, might have on our horse racing sector. I do not need to lecture the Minister of State because he is well aware from his own county. I know he is familiar with the economic impact of horse breeding, horse training and horse racing. It is the same in many counties, particularly throughout Leinster and Munster.

Of course, we all need to address problem gambling, but we need to do so in a manner that does not throw the baby out with the bath water, has a significant impact on harmful gambling and on the lives of young people while, at the same time, maintaining an industry and sector in a manner that is appropriate to their communities.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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I call Senator Keogan.

Photo of Sharon KeoganSharon Keogan (Independent)
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I welcome the Minister of State-----

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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I am sure the Senator will join with me in welcoming the primary school from Drumlish in County Longford. They are most welcome. I thank them for being here today. I hope they enjoy their time in Seanad Éireann. I thank them for listening to this debate. Go raibh míle maith agaibh.

Photo of Sharon KeoganSharon Keogan (Independent)
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The Leas-Cathaoirleach forgot to give them no homework.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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Sorry. There are two things. I forgot to give them no homework. The rule in the Seanad is that a visiting school does not have to do any homework for the rest of the week, so never come on a Thursday.


Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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There has not been a round of applause in here in a long time, so I thank our visitors for the round of applause.

The other thing is that I think Longford is playing in a final. Is it? Yes. You should bet on Longford. That is all I am saying.

Photo of Lynn RuaneLynn Ruane (Independent)
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Due to the nature of the Bill, the Leas-Chathaoirleach might want to withdraw his comment.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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Sorry. Do not bet on Longford. Get your parents to bet on Longford. I thank the Senator for the clarification.

Photo of Sharon KeoganSharon Keogan (Independent)
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The Gambling Regulation Bill 2022 seeks to establish the gambling regulatory authority of Ireland for the purpose of licensing and regulating betting, gaming, certain lotteries and the sale and supply of products and services relating to gambling. When it comes to extending powers of regulation in the private sector, as lawmakers, it is incumbent on us to be conservative in the constraints that we put on any industry.

Problem gambling is, of course, a great concern. I strongly support the intent of the Bill to target activities that encourage problem gambling, particularly in the Internet age, and to protect vulnerable people and children from certain tactics being used by the gaming industry to target them. The Bill addresses concerns around problem gambling, which is certainly an important social issue to address, but we must seriously consider the concerns of the relevant stakeholders in the relevant industries and charities that would be directly impacted here too.

The members of the Charities Institute Ireland, the Federation of Irish Sport and the GAA strongly support the intention of the Gambling Regulation Bill to establish a gambling regulatory authority with powers to control the commercial gambling industry. However, these groups are highly concerned with some apparent unintended consequences of the Bill in its current form and contacted me and no doubt many other Members of the Oireachtas with their concerns. As currently drafted, the Bill creates a watershed by banning any advertising or gambling activities between 5.30 a.m. and 9 p.m., seven days a week. Fundraising campaigns that include raffles and draws are defined as gambling under law. This means that the local GAA raffle, for example, would likely fall under this provision as it is currently drafted in the Bill. Community fundraising of any kind is the lifeblood of institutions such as the GAA and local sporting and charitable groups. The effects of this law could have a catastrophic effect if we do not consider these concerns. Members of the Charities Institute Ireland, the Federation of Irish Sport and the GAA depend on this fundraising to provide essential services and community sports. On their behalf, I have raised their request to be exempted from this advertising watershed since the Bill was first published.Community fundraising is in no way linked to problem gambling so I return to my earlier point that we must be cautious when it comes to extending regulations of any kind to any industry. The problems this law could cause for charities and community groups are clear. We therefore must consider either specific exemptions or removing some constraints in their entirety. The Charities Regulatory Authority already places very significant compliance and regulatory burdens on charities. An additional regulator overseeing these types of fundraising will only harm a wholly unrelated sector, the charities sector. The unintended consequences of this Bill will result in significant financial loss for charities should they be regulated in the same way as commercial gambling companies. Many charities could never meet the costs associated with the financial and legal obligations this Bill would impose on them.

Ronald McDonald House is an example of a charity that is already regulated in respect of financial oversight by the Charities Regulatory Authority and other State body funders. This charity has asked that registered charities and accredited sports clubs be specifically excluded from the proposed ban on advertising between 5.30 a.m. and 9 p.m. Section 144 of the Bill as passed by the Dáil makes an exemption for the "relevant gambling activity for a charitable or philanthropic purpose where the maximum winnings for the activity do not exceed €10,000." I oppose this limit because a charity raffling a car or a GAA fundraiser, which are popular and successful means of fundraising, would be unduly impinged upon. The legislation as currently drafted will mean a loss of approximately €200,000 for Ronald McDonald House Ireland. It costs the charity €800,000 every year to run Ronald McDonald House and so a loss of this size highlights the detrimental impact this Bill would have on its mission and, most importantly, on the families it supports. This potential loss will also put further strain on several Departments as there will be an increase in the level of funding requests from charities and sporting organisations.

The concerns of gambling firms regarding these restrictions are particularly crucial. Both Racing TV and Sky Sports Racing warn that the Bill would make it unviable for them to broadcast in Ireland should the proposed ban between 5.30 a.m. and 9 p.m. become law. In July, prior to the 2024 budget, the tax strategy group, which is chaired by the Department of Finance, released a report suggesting a 0.5% hike in betting duty from the current 2%. In addition, bookmakers are also to be forced to pay a mandatory annual contribution to the social impact fund, yet another State-imposed cost. We cannot impose such costs lightly. These proposals were met with consternation from the industry, just four years after betting duty was doubled from 1% to 2%, a rise that resulted in 100 shop closures and 600 job losses according to the Irish Bookmakers Association. We must look beyond the social good we are trying to achieve to the potential social harm of job losses and business closures while bookmakers remain a stable business in villages, towns and cities.

This Bill creates additional burdens through regulatory and compliance measures that will lead to a downgrade in interest in horse racing and betting. Bookmakers, especially small independent bookmakers, will not want to get involved in a sport that is overburdened with governance, regulation and restrictions on how and when live racing can be viewed, for example. This will lead to a reduction in betting activity and, as a consequence, the yield from betting duty will collapse. We cannot underestimate the impact this will have on small and medium-sized enterprises in this area. It could have serious knock-on effects on struggling racecourses. I have received correspondence from people in the sector who point to similar governance measures in the UK as evidence of the UK Gambling Commission impacting on racing. That sector is in turmoil as a result of the commission's activities in restricting punters.

I have to stress that I have an interest in this matter. I am a director of Bellewstown Racecourse, which is an unpaid role. The new Gambling Regulation Bill will have serious consequences for horse racing across the north east. Many of its new regulations will limit, curtail, restrict and impact ordinary punters who do not have gambling problems. Owners and syndicates support trainers and racecourses with their runners and any restrictions on betting would be disastrous for racing in the north east.We have five racecourses in the north east – Fairyhouse, Navan, Dundalk, Bellewstown and Laytown – and they host 90 race meetings in the year. Racing festivals in the north east are very popular with locals and visitors alike. There are 86 trainers based in the north east and they employ 2,500 staff. The north-east breeders and point-to-point clubs are the backbone of the racing industry, and concerns have been expressed by these about the new gambling Bill.

Up to 50 local independent bookmakers in the north east who operate shops and racecourse pitches will be impacted by the new licensing regulation. Tattersalls Ireland in Fairyhouse is the main venue for horse sales in the north east. It generated €62 million from the sale of 2,500 thousand horses according to the most recent figures. Any dilution in the appeal of horse racing will impact these sales.

The north east is steeped in national hunt history. The legendary Arkle was trained outside Ashbourne, in my area. Two recent winners of the Aintree Grand National, namely Tiger Roll, the winner in 2018 and 2019, and Silver Birch, which won in 2007, were trained by Meath trainer Gordon Elliott. Gavin Cromwell, from Skreen in my area, trained the winner of the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham in 2019. Therefore, horse racing is a vital industry across the north east. We call on the Government not to act in a way that will harm the industry.

We all care about people impacted by gambling and welcome measures that will safeguard them, but this must not be done at the expense of an industry so vital to employment and tourism across the north east and the rest of the country and that creates so much enjoyment for people, the vast majority of whom bet in moderation and go racing. We must be cautious in proceeding with this Bill but I certainly welcome it and look forward to engaging in the debate on the remaining Stages.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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I welcome to the Visitors Gallery a group from the ESB in Tralee who I understand are here to mark the forthcoming retirement of their colleague Hilda Doody. They are most welcome to Seanad Éireann. Not only is Hilda retiring after nearly four decades of service, she is doing so on the June Bank Holiday weekend, the weekend of a wedding in the family. Congratulations. It is going to be a big weekend in Kilflynn. I also welcome Donal O’Connor, Margaret O’Connor, Catherine Walsh, Bernie Keane and Jackie Scanlon. Thank you all for being here. When we have people visiting, we can normally give them something. Mostly, we let school groups off homework, but since Hilda is retiring, the only thing I can give is advice. The only advice I have been given on retirement was from three Moriarty brothers who had a bakery in Kenmare for more than 49 years. When they finished up, they put a lovely handwritten note in the window thanking all their customers, friends and everybody else for their support and they finished with the line, "And now we must learn the art of how to spend time without spending money". When Hilda learns that art, she might inform us all. I thank her for being here today and congratulate her on her retirement. May she have many happy years of it.

Photo of Barry WardBarry Ward (Fine Gael)
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I congratulate the Minister of State on the legislation. This is a very important Bill. It is also a very weighty one, containing 220 sections. The job it is designed to do is a mammoth one, so it is very important.

It is quite shocking that up to now we have not had proper regulation of such an enormous industry. I acknowledge that it is an enormous industry, not just in terms of the companies providing the services but also the ancillary industries that depend on it. Nothing in this legislation should be employed to damage industries, although, having listened to the news headlines this morning, I am conscious that one gambling company enjoyed a 16% increase in its revenue in the first quarter of this year. Those who make extraordinary profits from this industry need to conscious of the damage they could do. They must also be aware of the social impact of what they do.

I particularly welcome the provision in Chapter 4 of a social impact fund, which is a very positive measure and one that will create a little more balance regarding the relative strengths of the industry and those who avail of the services it provides.A number of my colleagues have identified issues, and maybe unintended consequences, which arise from this Bill. The Minister of State has communicated that there will be amendments forthcoming on Committee Stage in this House and I welcome that. I hope they will deal with a lot of the issues that my colleagues have raised.

I wish to raise a couple of those unintended consequences that need to be looked at in the context of Committee Stage in the coming months. I refer to the impact they might have which no one actually wants to see, while at the same time ensuring the regulation of gambling in general in Ireland.

First, I have a question for the Minister of State. I may be exposing my own ignorance in this regard. In section 80 and 81, there is a provision on regulations. Throughout the Bill, there are occasions in which specific monetary limits are included in terms of stakes or winnings or whatever it might be. Reference has been made to them by other speakers already. I am not sure about the wisdom of putting strict monetary limits into the Bill. In my view, that would require an amendment to the Bill further down the line to change those limits as circumstances change, whether that be inflation or otherwise. We do not know what is coming down the line in the future in that regard.

However, there are specific provisions in section 81(2), which is in Part 5, that give the regulator or the authority the power to make regulations with the consent of the Minister to vary the amounts of maximum relevant payments, for example. I do not understand how that works. Maybe the Minister of State can explain, if there is a specific amount listed, and there are a number of specific monetary amounts in the Schedules to the Bill, how they can be varied by regulation if they are in a primary legislative instrument. How can they be varied by a secondary legislative instrument? I am not sure how that works. If it can be done, then I do not have a problem with it.

Generally speaking, we should be establishing a regulator which has real powers, but also real discretion. The regulator will have a huge job. She has been put in place and is ready to hit the ground running which is also welcome. We should be affording her the powers to make decisions that will have a real impact where she needs them to have an impact, rather than having prescriptive measures included in the Bill. Wherever possible, we should be affording her discretion to deal with limits and whatever else it may be in terms of the regulations that she may have the power to deal with.

Bingo is another issue which has also been raised by other speakers. It appears that bingo would be substantially affected by this legislation and I do not believe that is the intention of the Bill because bingo is quite apart from many of the kind of gambling games or activities that are described in the Bill. It is actually a pro-social activity. Often, different generations come together to play in a pretty wholesome and healthy environment and to indulge in a game in which, generally speaking, the stakes are relatively small. There is a danger that some of the restrictions which have been put into the Bill will make the game of bingo unviable for both the provider and the people who actually play it. I hope the Minister of State will give consideration to that important social activity that exists throughout Ireland. I saw a group of retired people playing bingo in the middle of the afternoon in a community centre in Newtownpark Avenue yesterday. It is a lovely event for people to be able to be involved in and I would not want this Bill to restrict its operation.

A number of people have also raised with the Minister of State the impact the Bill will have on charitable raffles that do important fundraising for social and sports clubs throughout the country. Many people have brought that to the Minister's attention and I understand there is a solution coming to that on Committee Stage in terms of amendments and I look forward to that as well.

There is a provision in section 173 which essentially disallows the withdrawal of cash on the premises from an ATM or other such machine. I understand the impetus behind that in a situation where there might be a person with a gambling problem. Much of our approach to regulating gambling has been about creating an environment where those who have a difficulty with problem gambling are not placed in an insidious position where they are tempted, encouraged or preyed upon. Obviously, the danger surrounds people who have a particular problem and who have an ATM next to where they potentially gamble; they could, therefore, continue to take out massive amounts of money to their detriment and potentially the detriment of their families. I understand where this is coming from but there is an unintended consequence coming from that particular provision. To use the example of bingo, an elderly person will potentially be sent out to the street next to the bingo hall where an ATM could legally be provided to withdraw cash to bring it back into the bingo hall. This, therefore, would expose them to other consequences, potentially. That is something that I do not believe is intended with the Bill and I ask the Minister of State to give consideration to that.A concern has been expressed to me by a number of people that some of the provisions in the Bill would have the unfortunate consequence of reducing the offering available to people and then potentially encouraging black market, underground or unregulated gambling activity which, of course, would be illegal. I am wondering to what extent has the Minister of State proofed the elements that are in the Bill to make sure they do not encourage black market gambling or whatever it might be.

The provisions in section 138 of the Bill deal with advertising, including paid advertising, relating to gambling, which is a huge problem. It is a problem that exists in the ordinary broadcast media but, significantly, online as well. I welcome the fact that the Bill tries to deal with that but I wonder, in the context of what I said earlier, if this is a job for the regulator. She could be given the discretion that she needs to deal with advertising in whatever way she thinks appropriate, rather than the Bill being overly prescriptive in respect of the matter and at the risk of potentially having a situation where what is in the Bill is not functional or useful, or, worse, has the opposite effect and restricts certain elements in a way that is not foreseen or intended by the Bill. Perhaps the Minister of State will give consideration to that.

Another element I wanted to mention is the provision of the gambling exclusion register in Chapter 3. That is a welcome and progressive element but I wonder about the practicalities of it. The burden clearly falls on a company, individual or whatever it might be who is providing a gambling service - I do not have a difficulty with that - but consideration should be given to the extent to which it is practicable for them. I do not want to talk about bingo all night but do people coming into a venue-----

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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If it is the Senator's passion, he can talk about bingo.

Photo of Barry WardBarry Ward (Fine Gael)
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-----have to be vetted? How practicable is that? Has consideration been given to how that gambling exclusion register will operate? It is a helpful element, particularly in the context of the potential pitfalls that come with online gambling and placing the obligation on those providing the services to have that in place. It is a very important element but I wonder how functional it is and whether much thought has been applied to that particular consideration.

There is a provision in section 72 of the Bill which essentially makes it legal to cheat at gambling. I know the house always wins and there are obviously people out there who will seek to undo that in a nefarious way. The way the offence is described - it is fairly detailed - and the provision that is made for it, with a penalty of up to five years on indictment, seem to reflect very substantially section 6 of the Criminal Justice (Theft and Fraud Offences) Act 2001, which creates an offence of making a gain or causing a loss by deception. The two are analogous. I wonder if there is a concern that although section 72 makes perfect sense in isolation, it duplicates existing criminal statutes and, therefore, simply will not be used. It may be that the section is unnecessary. Was that considered in the drafting of the Bill? Part 4 sets out a number of offences that would exist in terms of actions by people involved in providing gambling services.

Section 71 prohibits the transfer of licences and other things in certain circumstances. I do not have a problem with that but it does not seem to make any provision for penalties relating to an offence or a contravention of section 71 which potentially would render the section itself, important as it is, absolutely toothless and useless in that regard.

I am not trying to pick holes. On the whole, this is greatly important legislation, as I have said. It is very difficult to regulate a huge industry that not only is worth multiples of millions of euro to people throughout this country, but also takes many different forms, whether it be gambling on sports, games of chance or whatever, or the important provision for local sports clubs, local clubs and organisations to fundraise through their members and communities. There is a difficult balance to be struck in that regard. Putting together legislation such as this takes an enormous amount of work and I want to acknowledge the work that has been done by the Minister of State's officials in that regard. Conscious of the fact that there may be identified unintended consequences in the Bill that will be addressed at later Stages, I wonder if the Minister of State will also give consideration to the issues I have raised and whether we can, perhaps, improve the Bill in addition to what the Minister of State has said.As I said, I am very happy, on behalf of the Fine Gael group, to welcome this legislation. I also welcome what it seeks to do and what it will actually do. I commend it to the House. I look forward to the amendments the Minister of State and others will bring forward on Committee Stage.

Photo of Mark WallMark Wall (Labour)
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I welcome the Minister of State. I welcome opportunity to speak on this very important Bill. I also want to welcome our good friend, Mr. Mark Bradshaw, to the Public Gallery. The Minister of State will be familiar with Mr. Bradshaw's advocacy in respect of gambling addiction over many years. I thank him for his continued support for those who are dealing with gambling addiction.

As I have done previously in this House, I will begin by commending the Minister of State on his work and on that of his Department in respect of this important Bill. This is very important legislation in the context of public health and for a growing number of people. The establishment of a gambling regulator is long overdue. I take this opportunity to wish the CEO designate of the Gambling Regulatory Authority of Ireland, Ms Anne-Marie Caulfield, the very best in her role.

The Minister of State and other colleagues referred earlier to the Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, report compiled by the Gambling Regulatory Authority of Ireland. One of the authority's first tasks was to conduct research to grasp the extent of the problem with gambling in Ireland. As the Minister of State said, the results of these studies were stark for a large number of people. However, they did not surprise many of us in this House who have been raising gambling-related issues over the past four years. The figures basically state, as the Minister of State outlined, that one in 30 people or approximately 130,000 problem gamblers exist in Ireland. They are the reason that we need legislation. Other research we have all read tells us that problem gamblers have an impact on a further six people in their lives, be it family or friends.

Previously, I have read into the record testimonies from individuals whose lives have been destroyed by gambling. Since those debates, I have spoken to many more people who have lost family relationships, homes and jobs simply because of their addiction. Of course, the vast majority of people can gamble without developing an addiction. We in the Labour Party are not against gambling, as we have said previously. Many people gamble within their means and that is important to say, as I have done in this Chamber in previous debates. However, we must protect children and the most vulnerable from addiction. As already stated, that is why the legislation is needed. We currently depend in the main on legislation from the 1950s, when Ireland was a very different place.

For too long, the gambling and marketing companies have normalised gambling in sport, portraying sporting occasions as reasons to gamble rather than to enjoy the skill, atmosphere or occasion of those occasions. They have created these social occasions where young people gamble together and everybody heads home from the pub or the sporting event very happy. Of course, the reality for a growing percentage of our population is far from this expertly created marketing advertisement. One in 30 people gamble alone. A growing number do so on their phones and without the knowledge and support of their loved ones. Indeed, the only time the latter find out about their secret addiction is when the mortgage company writes to say that the mortgage remains unpaid, the bank statement arrives indicating that the holiday savings are gone, as a result of a someone's partner having a complete health breakdown or, in some cases, even the unthinkable happening.

The Minister of State will be aware that I brought legislation to ban gambling advertisements from our televisions, media and social media before this House on behalf of the Labour Party. As I said, the expert marketing companies employed by the gambling companies have created this normalisation of gambling in sport. It was mostly during the Covid period that my office - I am sure it was the same for the Minister of State - was contacted by concerned parents having to explain to their young children, some as young as six, what the gambling advertisement was about. That is completely wrong in every way.

We have pushed for Ireland to join fellow EU countries like Belgium and the Netherlands in banning gambling advertising 24-7. I welcome the fact that this Bill proposes a ban from 5.30 p.m. to 9 p.m., but the problem I have with that is that 9 p.m. is the time when most parents settle in to enjoy some downtime after getting the children ready for bed and when they may go on social media or watch TV. I am informed that this is prime time for many of those with an addiction, and I understand why. I cannot understand why we cannot look at a 24-hour ban. We believe this will give the regulator a chance to look at the market, carry out some badly needed research on gambling advertisements and then decide the best way forward.Perhaps the Minister of State would consider a 24-hour ban.

I have been following the debates at the justice committee and particularly in the Dáil over the recent Stages of this Bill. I noted the Minister of State's response to Deputies on banning credit card betting. I acknowledge that a number of gambling companies have already instigated this measure with their own companies. Perhaps the Minister of State would reassure us once again in the Seanad that this Bill will ban credit card betting. I acknowledge the fact he has already stated that today. It is one thing to bet with whatever money you have and, it is hoped, whatever money you can afford to lose, but it is an entirely different ball game when you are betting with somebody else's money, money you do not even have.

I also welcome the amendments the Minister of State proposed to bring forward on exemptions for charities and sports clubs from advertising much-needed fundraisers. I know he will also give us some clarity in regard to bingo, as other Members have raised in the debate. I look forward to seeing and debating those amendments as we proceed.

An area I want to raise with the Minister of State is the issue of inducements of free bets which, I am aware, was reintroduced by amendments in the Dáil. I and many of the people I have spoken to have serious concerns about inducements. Many gambling companies and gambling addicts will tell of their experience of being contacted by betting firms offering free bets, loyalty cards and trips to sporting events because they are regarded as regular and good customers. They will tell you it is very hard to resist this type of temptation because, like the credit card, it is not their money. They will not have to lie to a loved one and they will get the same rush from accepting them.

I note the amendment being reintroduced cannot target individuals. Who controls that? Why is the Government introducing these inducements? Will there be an age limit on offering free bets to those of a certain age who, it can be argued, will see this as opening a door to gambling, a door where they do not have to use their own money in the first instance? This is a serious concern. I know the Minister of State has considered this over a period of time but I would like him to come back to it tonight. I, for one, and, I hope, colleagues here would ask him to look at the whole area of inducements and free bets. For me it is an issue for people on this gambling legislation. Who will protect the addict or person developing an addiction from switching from one free bet to another or from opening an account with another gambling company? Will we be relying on the gambling companies to police these inducements?

I note in one response the Minister of State indicated that the gambling regulator would patrol what can and could be offered by the companies involved. Has the Minister of State an indication from the regulator at this stage of what way she is thinking? We have concerns that putting back in inducements and free bets will dilute this Bill and its effectiveness. We feel much of the good work on protecting the young and most vulnerable through this Bill will be undone by this amendment. Will the Minister of State comment on the concerns I have just raised? As I said, it is a major concern for many people who have followed the progress of this Bill and who want to see it introduced.

There are other aspects of the Bill I want to comment on in the time remaining. I welcome the setting up of the Gambling Regulatory Authority of Ireland. I followed the discussion in the Dáil and I support the inclusion on the authority of a person with the lived experience of a gambling addiction. While I take on board the response from the Minister of State to the suggestion in the Dáil, I feel a person will only benefit the board in its early inception.

On the social impact fund, the Minister of State might clarify whether there is a time transfer from the current model, in the main operated by the companies themselves, to the new model or will the new social impact fund immediately take over this role? One of the impacts I would like to see from this fund is a national educational piece, through our secondary schools, on gambling and related harm. A number of organisations already provide this and give talks at the moment. The regulator mentioned the area of education, which I believe is vital. I would welcome the Minister of State's thoughts on this. We need to educate young people on the harms of gambling. The social impact fund needs to be used for these purposes. Those in this field at the moment are doing tremendous work. I commend them tonight. I have been to some of the talks and listened to some of the schools on the benefit of those talks. That is the way forward.

I would also like to know the Minister of State's thoughts on those on the front line, whom he mentioned, who are dealing with gambling addiction. They need to be properly funded for those services to be available for those in need to avail of them. I am aware, and no doubt the Minister of State is also, of the great work many of these organisations carry out daily.They need further assistance because they need to be there when the potentially 130,000 people in this country need somebody to turn to. They need to be funded, to be available 24-7 and to be there, as I said, at all times.

I also want to talk, as a colleague did, about the gambling self-exclusion register. I have concerns about how this may work and who will police it. Is the Minister of State's thinking that the companies themselves will police it, or will the gambling regulator oversee or control the gambling self-exclusion register? It is an important part of this legislation. When talking to those with a gambling addiction, this is the one thing they all push for in order that they can self-exclude themselves from gambling addiction. They welcome this part of the Bill but there are concerns about how it will operate.

I hope to table amendments on a number of items I have raised. I thank the Minister of State for his assistance on this Bill and for the conversations I have had with him about it. I believe this is an important Bill coming through this House. It is important for all those whose testimonies I have raised in this House on previous occasions, along with colleagues who have continually raised the issues of gambling harm. There are 130,000 people in this country who may sign up to indicate they have gambling harm at the moment. Through this Bill, we need to protect the most vulnerable. We need to protect children. I welcome the Bill. I would also welcome the Minister of State's response about 24-7 gambling. The issue I find most worrying in this Bill is free bets and inducements. I believe it will be exploited and has been exploited in the past. It is an area of significant concern for those with gambling addictions.

Photo of Paul DalyPaul Daly (Fianna Fail)
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Before we proceed, I welcome our visitors to the Gallery. They are here as guests of Deputy Michael Healy-Rae and Senator Eugene Murphy. Cuirim fáilte rompu.

Photo of Lynn RuaneLynn Ruane (Independent)
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Like others have said, this is important legislation. It is welcome. It has been long awaited. It will completely reform the regulatory landscape for the gambling industry in Ireland. I am glad this Bill has finally made its way to us here in the Seanad. I look forward to working with the Minister of State and my colleagues here in the Upper House to make improvements to the Bill in the amending stages. It has been two years since the Joint Committee on Justice completed its pre-legislative scrutiny of this Bill. I am glad a number of the committee's recommendations have been addressed in the version of the Bill we are considering today. While I appreciate the sense of urgency that exists with regard to enactment of this legislation, I hope we can take some time to tease out any apparent issues or weaknesses in the Bill here in the Seanad over the coming weeks.

It is positive to see gambling becoming more tightly regulated in Ireland, particularly at a time when regulations are being loosened in other big markets and jurisdictions, most notably the United States. It has become incredibly difficult to disentangle the gambling industry from professional sports. It has also become increasingly difficult to disentangle gambling from gaming and gaming from gambling. At the same time, we are also observing surging interest in digital currencies and unbacked crypto assets. While these are more of a financial service, albeit incredibly speculative, they exhibit high levels of volatility and risk that closely resemble gambling activity and which mirror its most acute harms. While there are obviously challenges that come with regulating the industry more tightly, it is important we maintain focus on the individuals who use gambling services or are engaged in gambling activity and how we can protect and safeguard them and reduce the associated harms from problem gambling through robust legislative protections.

We also have to look at strengthening the safeguards for those who are not currently engaged in gambling activity, especially children and young people, as others have said, who we do not want to see develop problem gambling habits or addiction. From looking at the data, we know a significant number of people in Ireland gamble. A report published last October by the ESRI advised that one in 30 Irish adults has a gambling problem, which is a tenfold increase on the equivalent statistic in 2019. The same report stated that an additional 7.1% of adults demonstrate moderate evidence of problem gambling. These figures are stark in and of themselves but do not fully reflect the wider impact of problem gambling on society, including its impact on families, partners, children and friends.Previous speakers referred to the fact that gambling historically took place behind closed doors, notwithstanding widespread unregulated gambling, and that we are now at a point where a significant and growing share of gambling activity takes place online. This obviously poses significant challenges for the public and for us, as legislators. It is something we need to be more mindful of. We have to move from constantly reacting to sectoral and technological developments to being more proactive in terms of keeping speed with those developments and providing for more expedient, rights-based regulations that keep people who use these services safe from harm.

While the Bill offers some protections in terms of the online space, I firmly believe it does not go far enough. I intend to introduce amendments on Committee Stage to bake additional safeguards and rights-based protections into the primary legislation in order to address the shortfall. There is significant concern regarding the amount of data that is captured by, available to and shared between licence holders and that ultimately allows licence holders to target service users who are susceptible or more vulnerable to their messaging. Licence holders will use recommender systems to micro-target individuals, encouraging them ultimately to spend more time and money with their service and to do so more frequently. It is an incredibly problematic and damaging practice which I do not feel is adequately addressed in the Bill's provisions. When we debated the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill in this Chamber in 2022, I and my colleagues in the Civil Engagement Group tabled a number of constructive amendments in respect of the promotion of algorithmic safety and the curtailment of micro-targetting of individuals through recommender systems in online spaces. I intend to table amendments to this Bill which reflect the spirit of and intention behind the amendments tabled in 2022.

A significant issue for me on first reading the Bill was the fact that the only mention of harm is in respect of the degree of harm that is to be considered as the result of a contravention of a relevant obligation under the Bill. The programme for Government contains a commitment to establishing a gambling regulator focused on public safety and well-being, while the Minister of State in November 2022 advised that the focus on preventing harm is of vital importance in this legislation. However, harm goes unmentioned in the Bill in most respects. There is simply not enough weight given to protecting consumers. There are restrictions on advertising and particularly strong and welcome restrictions where those advertisements might be seen by children. There are conditions that ensure that gambling licences are not located near schools. There are functions that allow the authority to refuse applications for gaming licences in respect of games that do not meet the standards the authority has set into effect. These standards should be the focus of those who are advocating against fixed-odds betting terminals and the more inducing, predatory behaviour of gambling licensees.

In the absence of the new authority being given a specific mandate for the protection of consumers and the reduction of harm, my fear is that it will need considerable direction. Barry Grant and Tony O'Reilly, both addiction counsellors with specialist expertise on problem gambling and gambling addiction, stated in their written submission to the Joint Committee on Justice that the authority should mandate a range of responsible gambling initiatives, advocating for the insertion of spending limits, to include bet limits applying to the number of bets per month, time limits applying to the hours spent gambling per week or month, and spend limits on the amount of money one is comfortable losing per month. The only mention of spending limits in the final version of the Bill is the provision to oblige staff of licence holders to allow a relevant participant to set limits on their own spending. Mr. Grant and Mr. O'Reilly also flagged the issue of the access that the gambling industry has to vast amounts of consumer data and the need for these markers of harm to be accessible to the gambling regulatory authority in the form of anonymised, randomised data sets, so that it can adequately safeguard individuals at risk.

My final point relates to the social impact fund that is to be established under the Bill. This is a welcome initiative, but we need greater clarity about the plan for the fund and its implementation.There is major potential for the fund to be utilised in a positive way to increase the level of awareness around the risks and potential harms associated with gambling, to mitigate some of the damage caused by problem gambling and gambling addiction and to facilitate investment in communities that are most acutely affected by problem gambling. When we think of that investment, we must consider that gambling is a multibillion dollar industry. Whatever money will be used to fund the social impact fund, it would really want to mirror the amount made in profits by the industry and not be such a small amount that has to be shared across the whole country. Given that the gambling industry takes in so much money, the social impact fund should really reflect this.

There needs for transparency in respect of the fund in the context of how the moneys are collected and reinvested and the level of adequate oversight, robust monitoring and evaluation to which it will be subject. We must ensure that it has the intended impact.

I have only been able to give a small flavour to some of the concerns I have regarding the Bill. I look forward to working with the Minister of State and my colleagues to tease out these concerns a little more in the weeks ahead. Hopefully, we can engage with the Department before we table amendment for Committee Stage.

Photo of Fintan WarfieldFintan Warfield (Sinn Fein)
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I will begin by acknowledging that this Bill represents a significant step forward in the context of addressing the issue of gambling in Ireland. I take the opportunity to recognise the selfless and tireless work of the countless individuals and families who have highlighted the harms caused by gambling. We are here because they spoke up and refused to allow this harm to continue.

There can be no doubt that an overhaul of the regulation of gambling in the State is long overdue. Research produced by H2 Gambling Capital has continually recorded Ireland as having among the highest gambling losses not only in the EU but across the globe. It is estimated that Irish gamblers lost €1.36 billion in 2020. That is an average of about €300 per adult. When we consider that many people do not participate in gambling, we can see that the average figure per gambler is much higher.

According to the Health Research Board, an estimated 12,000 adults are problem gamblers and a further 125,000 are considered to be at-risk gamblers. In addition, its study shows that more than one in ten men who have gambled in the past year are either at-risk or problem gamblers. This figure increases to one in five among younger cohorts. The study also shows that at-risk problem gambling appears to be more strongly associated with poor social economic status and those who live in areas that are less affluent.

Problem gambling destroys lives, families and communities. Sinn Féin is unequivocal in its firm belief that gambling companies require significant regulation and the presence of an empowered regulator. This Bill in its current form completely oversteps that. As currently drafted, the Bill conflates fundraising lotteries with gambling despite there being no evidence of gambling harm provided there to justify such onerous regulations. Such sweeping measures would see considerable barriers to funding for local sports clubs, hospices, charities, Tidy Towns groups and other community organisations. These same organisations are very often forced to fundraise in the first instance because of a lack of service or a lack of support from the Government.

I put it to the Minster of State that there is broad agreement that gambling companies require significant regulation and the presence of an empowered regulator, but the Bill oversteps in that regard and will cause undue hardship for local organisations just trying to keep the lights on. I again call on the Government to engage with Sinn Féin and others who have expressed very real concerns. I ask the Minister of State to work with us to deliver legislation that will deliver for ordinary people, volunteer organisations, and those in recovery, while preserving jobs and protecting sources of fundraising.

Photo of Paul DalyPaul Daly (Fianna Fail)
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That concludes our round of group spokespersons. All remaining speakers will have six minutes commencing with Senator Cassells.

Photo of Shane CassellsShane Cassells (Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Minister of State for his work on the Bill. I am very happy that this is one of the most significant items of legislation to come before either House. It is in line with the Online Safety and Media Regulation Act 2022 - also delivered during the term of this Oireachtas - which was designed to regulate those other cowboys of the Wild West, namely the social media companies. Indeed, there is a synergy between the social media presence and the pervasiveness of advertising now. The work the Minister of State is doing is aimed at trying to regulate that and the advertising space that is available to them.

I am very glad that the Bill has stayed alive. There was a massive, co-ordinated campaign by the bookmakers against the Minister of State's efforts to protect susceptible people from the evils of gambling. The bookmakers shamelessly got people within the horse racing industry to act on their behalf in recent months and lobby politicians.These multibillion euro operators who profit on people's addiction to their products have HRI, owners, trainers and jockeys all saying this will kill the industry. How will it kill the industry? They are not the only ones. Many of the tabloid newspapers have shamelessly run front-page stories scaremongering and forecasting the death of the Irish horseracing industry. They claim that the bookmakers' advertising money will dry up and that racing television will collapse, which in turn will close racetracks. It is nonsense. Even if it were true, why has HRI become so in hock to the TV companies and to bookmakers' money? Why is not more interested in getting people through the turnstiles and onto the tracks? This Bill and those who advocate for it are not going after people's desire to gamble, participate in or enjoy gambling or enjoy horseracing. It does not impact on horseracing one iota. More to the point, the bookmakers are some of the main advertisers in some of the racing supplements of these papers in a diminishing advertising market. Unbiased media - I think not.

I mention all this and think of the gambling aware advertisement that was run on the big screen at half-time in the Leinster final last Sunday. I looked up and saw the figures of GAA stars Oisín McConville, Conn Kilpatrick from Tyrone and Richie Power from Kilkenny. Ask any of those sportsmen who lost everything about the impact. The TG4 programme "Laochra Gael" documented Richie Power's tribulations with the gambling industry that almost cost him everything in his life.

Why are the bookmakers so worried about not being allowed to advertise? They make enough money - billions - as it is. It is because advertising works, not only in recruiting new young customers to their wares, but also in breaking the resolve of addicts who are in treatment for their addiction and getting them hooked on gambling again. My young sons are sports addicts. They watch Sky Sports News for the football news and scores. They cannot turn on that channel without seeing advertisements for bookmakers before and after every single bulletin, 24-7. These bookmakers' products are not for horseracing. We should say this because many in the horseracing industry are getting upset about this. It is not going after horseracing at all. The advertisements the Minister of State is trying to regulate are not for horseracing. What are they for? They are for online casinos, online roulette wheels and online poker which have nothing to do with the sport of horseracing. They are all to do with online casinos and creating addicts to these new products that have been created by some of the finest minds to impact on susceptible minds. That where the game is at. It is not horseracing or soccer. It is virtual casinos and virtual racing. It is the legal virtual cocaine.

Speaking of the sport of soccer, I support the call of the Football Association of Ireland to increase the betting tax by 1% and for the money raised to be used for sport infrastructure in Ireland to offset some of the evils from this. Horseracing is not the only game in town and should not be the only industry that gains from the betting tax. I support that call and call on the Minister, Deputy McGrath, to do the same.

There were plenty of speakers here and in the Dáil whose speeches the bookmakers would have been delighted with. I would say they are being added to the bookmakers' list of brand ambassadors, along with all the horse trainers and former jockeys they have. I wonder if any of them have sat in a gambling addiction meeting with people who have lost everything and I mean everything. As has been said, 100,000 people in this country are problem gamblers and that is an underestimate. For every gambler, six more people are impacted. That is 600,000 people who are impacted by problem gambling in this country.

Many people spoke in this debate and during the debate in the Dáil about unintended consequences. I welcome that the Minister of State said he has listened to those concerns and that he will bring forward amendments in respect of charities and sporting organisations. It is funny that a lot of them did not hear that last week, according to some of the phone calls that were going around. Critically, this Bill does not impact on people's enjoyment of gambling. Thousands do so responsibly, including myself. I am the worst gambler in Ireland. I love going to Navan and Fairyhouse racecourses. I have met the Cathaoirleach in Fairyhouse many times when I was enjoying the sport of horseracing in my county. The Bill does not impact on that one iota. However, remember this impact. Many can enjoy it responsibly, but many hundreds of thousands cannot and because we have left an industry completely unregulated, the pervasiveness of that advertising is creating a whole new generation of people who are addicted to the products being devised to keep young people hooked.Anyone who would be against that should take a long, hard look at themselves in the mirror. I commend the Minister of State on his work in this respect.

Photo of Joe O'ReillyJoe O'Reilly (Fine Gael)
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I pay tribute to the Minister of State for his tenacity in sticking with the legislation and doing the right thing. I also pay tribute to his officials for producing a very comprehensive Bill.

The Bill is multifaceted. Its big objective is to establish a gambling authority and place the gambling regulator on a statutory footing. The Bill also establishes a social fund and goes through various regulatory matters.

We cannot stress often enough the perniciousness of gambling. It results in family breakdown, financial crises, depression, suicide and a range of mental health issues. The number of people who gamble in this country is frightening: 49% of the population gamble. Obviously, that percentage is a continuum from the small flutter by the bingo goer, described by my colleague, up to problematic individuals. The problematic individuals are, as the Minister of State has said, 3% of the population, which equates to about 100,000 people.

Anyone who has any doubt about the horrible nature of gambling and its awfully addictive qualities should read, and I commend to anyone who has the slightest doubt and anyone with an interest in general affairs to read, a book called Tony 10 by Tony O’Reilly. He is from Carlow town, he was a postman and he became a post office manager based in Wexford. He gambled €10 million and lost it all. His book is called Tony 10 because ten was his number with Paddy Power. It is a very serious and frightening read. I held an online seminar on gambling some months ago and invited him to be the guest speaker. You would not be well after listening to him as his experiences were seriously scary. His family life broke down and everything. Gamblers are in an insidious grip of addiction that knows no bounds, and it is our responsibility as lawmakers to deal with it.

Gambling is very problematic in rural Ireland where community bonds are strong and social spaces are scarce. Gambling establishments frequently serve as gathering places for many people. However, beneath the veneer of camaraderie there is a darker reality. These establishments frequently prey on vulnerable people, enticing them with the promise of quick riches while trapping them in a cycle of debt and despair. The proliferation of free bets and other predatory tactics employed by gambling licence holders exacerbates the problem by bringing unsuspecting outsiders into the web of addiction.

The proliferation of online gambling platforms, particularly through Covid, has created a new frontier of danger, especially for our youth, because that is the way they operate. Children with easy access to smartphones and the Internet are increasingly susceptible to the allure of online gambling. It is anonymous, easily accessible and fosters addiction with disastrous consequences. As I said in an informal conversation with a colleague here earlier, gambling is unlike other addictions in that it does not become visible until all the harm is done, which is a real issue. The chronic culture of gambling permeates every facet of society.

Having outlined all that, I will turn to the Bill. One big aspect is credit cards, and I ask the Minister of State to clarify where we stand on the use of credit cards. As my colleague Senator Wall said so eloquently, it is tragic that somebody would gamble their own money but it would be shocking that they might borrow potential family income to do it, so the credit card issue is important.On-site ATMs at gambling venues cannot be used. That is also important.

It is great that the Bill provides that there will not be credit for customers. This measure is critical in preventing people from falling into the trap of debt-fuelled gambling, which is where many have fallen. Mr. Tony O'Reilly, Mr. Oisín McConville and everyone else who goes public on this issue point to the fact that they could accumulate debts. This is a common-sense provision that will shield individuals and businesses.

Importantly, the Bill addresses gambling advertising. If I understand the Bill correctly, there will be no social media advertising and, between the hours of 5.30 a.m. and 9 p.m., no radio or television advertising. These are critical provisions. Children and young people should not be exposed to that kind of gambling advertising. In fact, it is questionable whether such advertising should be allowed after 9 p.m. either.

The Bill simplifies the process for applying for gambling licences, allowing legitimate operators to access the market while weeding out predatory entities. Despite this, charitable organisations will be able to run their raffles and fundraisers and continue their good work in their communities, so let us get rid of that red herring. It is a nonsense to suggest the contrary.

Together, these measures mark a significant step. The blocking of online illegal gambling is important. The provisions relating to advertising to children and gambling advertising on all social media more generally, sporting events sponsored by gambling companies, limiting lodgements, and monitoring and intervening as people’s problem gambling develops are important. It is difficult to address the Bill comprehensively in such a short time, but I welcome it. Will the Minister of State address the issue of credit cards? This Bill is a credit to him and the Department. We should have been doing this ten years ago, but better late than never.

Photo of Rónán MullenRónán Mullen (Independent)
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Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit go dtí an Teach. I echo what has been said by many other Senators in welcoming this Bill generally. I wish the best of luck to Ms Anne Marie Caulfield, the CEO designate of this body, to be called Údarás Rialála Cearrbhachais na hÉireann or the Gambling Regulatory Authority of Ireland. She has an important role and function and I have no doubt that she is more than equal to the task, given her career to date.

This is an important issue that we have to get to grips with in our society. The purpose of the Bill is to help address problem gambling and, above all, assign powers to the already-appointed gambling regulator. The regulator will preside over the implementation of this legislation. By international standards, the Irish gamble in significant numbers – we are higher than the EU average – and it is vital that the State take necessary steps to help gambling addicts and preventing gambling in the first place.

Regarding the figure of one in 30 Irish adults being problem gamblers, the report from the ESRI on this matter was interesting. It appeared to be ten times the number given in 2019. According to the ESRI, this difference is down to the survey method. Given the spend on gambling that people reported in the sample of nearly 3,000 adults, the ESRI is confident in the stability or accuracy of the estimate of one in 30 adults. That estimate represents 130,000 people with problem gambling. Given that they report spending more than €1,000 per month on gambling, that comes to approximately €1.5 billion in problem gambling per year or one quarter of the total spend on gambling. As such, this is a significant industry and a significant problem within that industry.

While I have questions to ask of the Minister of State, I thoroughly support efforts to tackle gambling. It is important to say that, as the ESRI report shows, the No. 1 place gambling is happening is the national lottery and the EuroMillions, followed by scratch cards in second place, horse racing in third and greyhound racing in fourth.This legislation does not deal with the national lottery, the EuroMillions draw or scratchcards and this is regrettable. It seems this is to be regulated by Department of Public Expenditure, National Development Plan Delivery and Reform but many will wonder whether, in fact, the main problem bullet is being dodged inappropriately, whether the main problem is not being grasped and whether we should proceed to tackle that first. Like most people, from watching TV I can tell the House there is saturation advertising of the national lottery and it has to be addressed. It is no argument to say it is making money for the State. This approach has no integrity. Ideally we would be starting there.

I have no vested interest but like others I have heard the concerns of people involved in bingo. Those concerned by the legislation should be entitled to put the necessary questions. Certainly my experience of bingo is, to quote Senator Ward's eloquent speech, that it is a very pro-social activity. I was looking at the figures for where problem gamblers spend their money according to an ESRI report for the previous four weeks. A small enough percentage of problem gamblers, at 26.7%, spend on bingo. This is way behind the figures for lotteries at 73%, scratch cards at 65%, sports betting at 59%, horse and dog betting 50%, slot machines at 42% and gambling between friends at 27%. In raising some of the concerns that have been raised with me from the bingo perspective, all of us, including the Minister of State, know what the concern is. It is that the limit on the amount that may be placed as a bet could hit a relatively positive social activity in which gambling of some kind takes place. This should be addressed. At the very least, the limits on the participants' entrance fee booklets are giving concern. I know it will not affect charities, which will be exempt, but it could affect small local fundraising activities and I would like the Minister of State to address that. In any event, is this not classically an area that the Minister of State would leave to the gambling regulator to deal with? Are we overregulating through primary legislation at this point? That is something I would like the Minister of State to address, particularly from the perspective of the concerns expressed by bingo operators and others who operate small local fundraising activities. In the end, bingo is mainly a social amenity.

The next issue I would like to raise is the question of gambling advertisements and the times they are shown. I confess to having some sympathy with what my friend and colleague from the Labour Party Senator Wall said as to whether banning it at all hours should be considered. In any event, the other side of this question is whether people will have to take down bingo posters outside the parish hall at 4.30 a.m. and put them up after 9 p.m., when all bingo games finish before 10 p.m.? Is this again a case of overregulating through primary legislation? Would it be best to take a step back to introduce an amendment that would leave this to the regulator to decide in a way that is satisfactory to all and targets where the harm is really being done? That is what we would all want to see in the legislation.

Will the Minister of State clarify whether all electronic transactions will be banned or will it be simply credit card transactions? I can think of circumstances where it would not be inappropriate to allow people to use a debit card to make a modest payment. I would like the Minister of State to address that issue.

Photo of Paul DalyPaul Daly (Fianna Fail)
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As we are speaking about the lottery and advertising, it is ironic and appropriate that I welcome Dorothy and Paul Coyle to the Chamber from Lough Ree Access for All. Ballyleague, Lanesboro is on the Longford side of it. They are well known to us all from the good causes national lottery advertisement on the television.

Photo of Robbie GallagherRobbie Gallagher (Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the Minister of State back to the Chamber to discuss this very important issue.I pay tribute to the Minister of State and his officials for the significant amount of work they have invested in this legislation, which is fairly comprehensive and detailed. I commend him on tackling this very important issue. Our legislation needs updating. It is very much behind the curve with regard to gambling and the curse of gambling.

We must take a step back and reflect on those who suffer from addiction in this area. I have met them. The wreckage it brings into their lives and the lives of their families and those closest to them is truly shocking. The State has a responsibility to act in this regard. I commend those who were addicted and have come forward to tell their stories publicly on their courage in laying out to everyone the implications and harm of excessive gambling for individuals, their families and those closest to them. I commend those who work in this area to help those with addiction. They are performing a great service. There is a social impact fund. Regarding the disbursement of money from this area, I would like specific attention to be paid to education and greater emphasis on the harm gambling can cause through schools and voluntary organisations such as Cluain Mhuire that assist people in these difficult situations. These organisations are struggling for funding. The social impact fund has the potential to bring much-needed resources to those organisations to help them to carry on the good work they are doing.

I know some concerns have been raised about the impact this might have on sporting organisations such as GAA, soccer, athletics or rugby clubs or other sporting bodies, voluntary bodies and church collections. The Minister of State has gone to extreme lengths to reassure people that this is certainly not the intention of the Bill. I know from my conversations with him that he intends to bring forward amendments that will address the concerns that many people have raised regarding the impact this might have on those bodies and the good work they do from a fund-raising perspective, much of which would not survive without this avenue. It is important that we reassure those individuals, many of whom have contacted all of us in this Chamber to voice their concerns that this Bill will have serious implications. I would like to repeat the message the Minister of State gave to me, which is that by the time this legislation goes through both Houses, those sporting bodies will have nothing to fear. The Minister of State helped to make that very clear. I have no doubt that he will use the platform he has in this House this afternoon to again reassure those sporting bodies that this is certainly not the intent of this legislation. That will become clear by the time this legislation goes through this House and goes back to the Lower House with the amendments passed in this House. I have no doubt Members will bring forward amendments and I know my concerns are shared by many Members of the House. I have no doubt that the Minister of State will reflect on them and as he already stated, he will reassure those individuals that they have nothing to fear from this Bill.

Some Members have stated their concerns while others have highlighted gambling and what it can do to individuals and their families. I will not rehash or repeat that. Despite the negativity portrayed by some individuals, particularly those from the Lower House, and the argument that this was going to be a sledgehammer to crack a nut, I am comforted that it is not.It certainly is not and I am reassured by that. I am looking forward to this legislation, with the appropriate amendments, travelling through this House and indeed through the Lower House and to whenever it becomes the law of the land. I commend the Minister of State again on his excellent work in this particular area. Go raibh maith aige.

Photo of Regina DohertyRegina Doherty (Fine Gael)
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I thank the Acting Chair. I thank my colleague, Senator Ahearn, for allowing me to go ahead of him.

I say "well done" to the Minister of State on this Bill because it is a long time in the making and I know how much work and effort he has put into it in the past number of years. I want to say at the outset that it will certainly be a very positive legacy once it is passed.

I very much support this Bill. I am probably in the lucky position in that I do not know very many people who have had gambling addictions, despite the statistics we have heard from colleagues here earlier on. Of the ones I know, it is one of the most insidious addictions. I am quite sure there is no good addiction but it is one of the most insidious addictions I have ever seen anyone suffer from. There is a programme on Netflix at the moment which very much brings it home. I know it is a television programme but it is called "Cleaning Up". It is about a young woman who cleans offices and is completely addicted to casinos on her phone. As Senator Cassells said, it is absolutely heartbreaking to watch that depiction of how much of a grip it has on her. She has not a bean in her pocket and will do absolutely everything she has to do to get money to feed that addiction. We must do whatever we can do regardless of how many agencies tell us the Bill is bad and that we should not go that far; we absolutely need to go as far as we need to to ensure that we get people the help that we can and curb whatever access big business - which is what it is - has here to get access to people using the Internet these days.

The Minister of State might have a look at one area though if he does not mind. I come from a bingo family. My nanny played bingo when I was a kid. She had a lorry load of grandchildren and we probably got presents from her because she would win a few bob. As Senator Mullen has said, it was one of the most sociable things they did in the day when people did not have a great deal of money. It was not a case of going out and winning big.

My own father, God rest him, was a big bingo advocate. We would go to the White House every Thursday evening and the three women who would sit beside Daddy, bought a pot of tea and brought their own biscuits in their pockets. It is not about winning big snowballs but is about having somewhere to go every week which does not cost the earth and where one can have the bit of craic and win a few bob. I ask that the Minister of State reconsider the €10 cap he is speaking about particularly with regard to bingo.

Again, other colleagues spoke about the national lottery. I am not entirely sure if "Telly Bingo" is included in this Bill or not. I ask the Minister of State to have a look at the Bill if it is. During the Covid-19 period when everything shut down, "Telly Bingo" was an enormous lifeline in our household. Daddy would go up and not just buy for the live "Telly Bingo" but he would buy a second round of bingo for the Plus draws because it would give him something else to do of an afternoon where there was nowhere else to go and nothing else to do. For many people, that is the only entertainment they have. I am not sure if that is considered addiction or is just a social outlet but the €10 bet curb will have a significant impact on those people who have nothing else to do except to go to their local bingo halls on a Sunday or Thursday night, or to do "Telly Bingo" once a week.

I ask the Minister of State to look at the overall cap. Could he also be a little bit clearer for me on what the actual scope of the regulator would be? What are the limits of oversight that will be available to them? Are we hindering their ability to react and to be responsive because we are putting stuff in primary legislation or should we allow them to have the powers to be able to regulate with the Minister of State's office through statutory instrument, as and when they see something working, not working or that needs to be changed? I would love to hear further comments on that please.

Photo of Paul DalyPaul Daly (Fianna Fail)
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Our next contributor is Senator Ahearn, to complete his little flip-flop which has saved a great deal of time.

Photo of Garret AhearnGarret Ahearn (Fine Gael)
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The Minister of State is very welcome to the Chamber. I firstly acknowledge the amount of work he has done on this incredibly important piece of legislation. There are so many addictions people can have from drugs, to alcohol, to gambling and to loads of things, but the one which can be hidden the most is gambling. We need to put in as many measures as possible to create as much of a deterrent as possible, particularly for young people and people who are vulnerable, to get into gambling. That is what this Bill does and it is to be hugely welcomed. People may raise points of concern or seek clarity as we are all in the same boat and want to bring in legislation to help people from falling into the precarious position of addiction to gambling.

In light of this, the issue of bingo has been raised by a number of Senators, including Senators Ward and Doherty. I have been approached by a number of people about this. Even today tipperarylive.iefrom The Nationalisthad a story about Gortnahoe bingo hall having a large payout coming in the next couple of nights for a big bingo session. Every time I come to Dublin I pass the sign for the bingo in Crumlin. They are hardly classed as people who are gambling addicts. These are people who often go out just one night in the week. They ask that the Minister of State look at the €10 cap that is being proposed. One of the other concerns on which we might get clarity is in terms of signage and advertising for bingo events. There are big advertisements outside bingo halls to promote it on particular nights. What can be done about this?

Other people have also mentioned that some of this legislation could be done by the regulator who has been appointed. The legislation could be a bit lighter and let the regulator regulate more stringently. This could certainly be the case for the GAA, the Federation of Irish Sport and the Charities Institute of Ireland, which have been speaking about their concerns about charities and fundraisers. We all know of GAA clubs, sports clubs and organisations that do raffles and draws and we must make sure they are exempt from it. I know the Minister of State is on the record as saying he will bring forward an amendment in the Seanad and I look forward to it. We will be able to tease it out a bit more. It just shows the Minister of State's engagement on being open to listening to organisations involved with it.

Another point that has been mentioned by a number of speakers is electronic usage. There is one racetrack in the country that is quite important; Dundalk Stadium has horse and dog racing. It only has electronic payments. Are we essentially saying it would have to go to cash-only payment as opposed to electronic payment? This would mean that people in the restaurant there could not tap to pay. Most people our age and younger use their phone as their wallet. Essentially they would not be able to tap and would have to have cash on them.

The real question I have is about the racing industry. I come from Tipperary where there is a large element of the equine industry. It is very important for regional employment and our local economy in Tipperary. No one is suggesting, as has been mentioned here previously, that the racing industry will be finished because of this legislation. I would not like it to be thought that people are bringing concerns to the floor of the House because of this suggestion. No one is suggesting this. I have no problem with the ban on advertising between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m. The question I have is with regard to having the ban on paid platforms such as Racing TV, At The Races or Sky Sports, where people must apply for a subscription and they have to be over 18, have a credit card and must give personal information.

There are examples of other countries that have done this. Australia is a very good example, where laws are in place on time bans for advertising online gambling but paid TV stations are exempt. Australia is bringing through a law at present to have a 24-hour ban on advertisement on normal TV channels. Having a 24-hour ban was raised earlier on the other side of the House. There would be no problem with this if, like in Australia, racing stations or sports stations are exempt. The problem with not exempting them is that the channels Racing UK and At The Races show Irish racing. If they cannot fund this through advertisement, and an obvious part of advertisement is what we are speaking about, they will choose to show UK racing instead of Irish racing. There is no certainty that Irish TV channels would be able to show these races as an alternative. I suggest that we look at it further and perhaps look at the Australian model where it has been done successfully in recent years. Perhaps we can tease this out further on Committee Stage.

Photo of Tim LombardTim Lombard (Fine Gael)
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It is great to have the Minister of State in the Chamber and I compliment him for bringing forward this legislation and staying with it. It is significant. Will the Minister of State give me his view on the timeline for enacting this legislation? We have a political timebomb in many ways and there will be a change at some stage. The Minister of State might give us an indication as to when he thinks the Bill will be passed. Will it be before or after the summer? What amendments does he think he will make? It is very important legislation.

There are issues with lottos in GAA clubs. I am sure the Minister of State will bring forward appropriate amendments that will be suitable. I have no doubt that they will be appropriate.

Last Thursday week I had the opportunity to go to a seminar on gambling hosted by Tracton GAA club. It was run by Tabor Lodge in my parish. It was one of the most frightening nights of my life. It went through the statistics on alcohol, drugs and gambling addiction. It also addressed gaming which, in its opinion, is a potential gateway to gambling. As a father of two young lads who are nine years of age and who are very keen on their computer games it frightened me as a parent. Will the Minister of State give me his view on this issue and whether there is a need for us to do something with regard to gaming as a gateway to getting involved in gambling?

The news this morning included a story that a significant betting operation - I will not name the company - saw its first quarter profits increase by 46%. This gives us the indication of the epidemic we are dealing with at present. If the profits of an online gambling company for the first quarter have increased by this margin then we have a significant issue to deal with. I would use the word "epidemic". This is why the legislation, which is decades in the making, is so important. This is why I absolutely fully support the Minister of State, and whatever amendments he brings forward I will fully support. His heart is in the right place on this.

How we deal with this is the biggest issue we have as parents and as a society. I want to ask about the phone. How do we deal with the big issue of how gambling is now a constant threat on the phone? I got the Luas back to the train station last Wednesday week and a young lad was on his phone. Before we got to the station he had lost €40 gambling on the phone. It was a frightening experience to watch. Maybe I am a country bumpkin but it was absolutely bizarre. How will we engage with this type of gambling whereby someone can lose €40 when travelling between Heuston Station and Connolly Station? This is what we are dealing with. This is no longer about people going to a bookie and doing what they do. It will take a great change. I believe the word to use is "epidemic". The statistics we received that night from Tabor Lodge have frightened me.

There will have to be a special awareness of what the phone has brought to the industry and how access has absolutely killed it. The access is the ultimate thing. Because of the access we have, unfortunately people can potentially gamble 24-hours a day with multiple credit cards and multiple accounts. It is bizarre to say the very least. Organisations such as Tabor Lodge, and even GAA clubs such as Tracton GAA club which supported Tabor Lodge in putting on the talk, need to be supported also. Without a shadow of a doubt many of the parents who sat around that room were in shock at the end of it. This is where we need to go. Parents were left with a completely different view of what is happening with their kids and how they could potentially be involved and be affected by this. We got testimony of how lives are being ruined by this issue.

This is the most courageous piece of legislation I have seen in an awfully long time. The Minister of State has my full support. I am looking forward to seeing the legislation passed. When does the Minister of State think the President will sign it?

Photo of Emer CurrieEmer Currie (Fine Gael)
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The Minister of State is very welcome. It is a testament to the legislation that so many Senators want to contribute on Second Stage.This is flagship legislation from this Government. We have reached the point where we are getting into the nitty-gritty; we are in the final stretch. It is now about tying it all together. The construct is in place and the support is there. I hope we are now at the point of tying up loose ends. The hardest thing the Minister of State has to do right now is probably to distinguish between activities that drive problem gambling and those that do not and to make sure revenue from responsible fundraising is protected.

In general, I am strongly in favour of the legislation. We have to provide protections from what has essentially become a betting shop or casino in a person's pocket. Over the past 15 years, gambling has become normalised. I say that as somebody who worked on advertising pitches for gambling companies when I worked in advertising and marketing when I was younger before I fully understood the extent of the damage that the advertising, marketing and accessibility of gambling does. The company I worked for was not successful, but the essential purpose of those advertising briefs was to turn the betting shop from a retail space that was taboo to enter into a welcoming and open place. They have normalised gambling to such an extent that we are now seeing massive profits in the sector.

Gambling is a highly addictive behaviour. We need sensible protections against it. The status quocannot continue. We must address the imbalance that has been created. There has to be a cultural shift and parameters have to be put on gambling. Of course, we are not going to go from one extreme to the other. As already stated, this is about targeting activities that result in problem gambling rather than the likes of bingo or benevolent betting. One in 30 adults have a gambling problem while a further 7.1% show moderate evidence of problem gambling. Irish people have the fourth highest gambling losses in Europe and the fourteenth globally.

The Minister of State has been kind enough to facilitate a meeting with Gambling with Lives for my office. The organisation was set up in Northern Ireland and the UK. Parents and families who have been affected by the loss of loved ones as a result of gambling came together and have done brilliant work in increasing awareness and educating people, but the organisation needs a foothold to continue to do that. It needs support and the social impact fund presents an opportunity for the group. How quickly will the social impact fund be up and running? It is really important that the fund be independent and have absolutely no engagement whatsoever with the industry. It must be driven by people and organisations who are going to put money into research, awareness, education and prevention and undo the harm that has been done over the last two decades. That social impact fund has to be completely transparent to gain the confidence of the Committee of Public Accounts and everyone else.

On fundraising, St. Francis Hospice in Blanchardstown was recently designated as a section 39 body. It was formerly been a section 38 body. It depended on fundraising to cover core services. I wish to flag with the Minister of State that we must ensure that such organisations are supported. They either should not have to rely on fundraising to such an extent or their fundraising efforts should be protected. I am not entirely clear on the limits that have been mentioned, whether they form part of the primary legislation and how extensive they are. Some clarity on that would be good.

Obviously, extensive powers are provided for in the legislation. It is at a critical stage. I fully support what is being done but the Minister of State should not underestimate how important it is to get the balance right. On reading the legislation, it certainly looks like we are heading in the right direction.

Photo of Malcolm ByrneMalcolm Byrne (Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Minister of State for coming to the House to deal with this legislation and I praise him for how personally invested he has been. It is a very significant piece of work, and I thank him for engaging. The number of contributions here reflects the very legitimate concerns in this House but also among the wider community. This has taken a long time to come into being. As the Minister of State will recall, I raised the fact with him before that, when Senator McDowell was Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform prior to the 2007 general election, he talked about setting up a similar gambling regulator. He might also recall that the Senator promised that the office of that gambling regulator would be based in Gorey. I know that some people are accused of making election promises on various issues from time to time. I am not going to ask the Minister of State to commit to locating the regulator in Gorey but it shows that we have been waiting since that time for legislation as comprehensive as this Bill to come into being. Like Senator Lombard, I believe it would useful if the Minister of State could indicate the timeframe in which he sees this legislation being enacted. I would hope to see it enacted before the summer.

Enjoying a good flutter is a perfectly legitimate activity, but a number of colleagues have spoken about the problem of addiction. This was really brought home to me over a decade ago when I happened to be in a bar with a number of friends. I was stunned at the number of people who were not watching the game but who were spending the whole time not betting on the outcome of the game, but on particular incidents happening within it. As people have said, your mobile phone has now become the new vehicle for betting. It is critical that the new regulator have the research function that has been spoken about to look at where gambling is going. It must be remembered that it is not just going to continue on in the mobile phone space. We are going to see the betting companies and others seek to exploit the metaverse and other digital spaces. The regulator has to be prepared to look at new digital environments in which these companies will seek to target new users. The new technologies out there will provide them with many opportunities.

As the Minister of State will be aware, it is also critical to note the difference in the regulation of the casinos, bookies' shops and so on that operate within our local communities. There is certainly a perception, which I would argue is a reality, that some forms of betting establishments and casinos are exempt from any form of regulation or rules while others adhere to everything, particularly the conditions laid down quite clearly by local authorities. The same licensing rules and strict requirements have to apply right across the board. People cannot be allowed to set up private clubs to get around some of the rules and regulations that are in place. I appreciate the history of allowing planning permission for some of these institutions but it is still important that local authorities have a role in determining where bookies' shops, casinos and so on may be built within any of our communities.Several colleagues have mentioned bingo, local club lotteries and such activities, and, dare I say, political parties' annual draws. All of these are important for the functioning of our communities but there has been some confusion. The Minister of State has tried to clear up a lot of it. Much of it has been spread deliberately by members of Sinn Féin to try to undermine this legislation. That misinformation does not help in the discussion of the legislation. The Minister of State has done a very good job in that regard. It is critical, not just in enacting this legislation, to have a communications exercise so local organisations, whether the GAA club, local family resource centre or local bingo, will have clear information on how it will operate. In virtually every case, there will be no impact on how these organisations' activities continue on the ground. For my sins, I have occasionally called the bingo in Gorey Little Theatre and therefore I am aware it is not only a very important fundraiser but also a very important social activity in the community. Several people have asked whether the new rules will have an impact on bingo, so a communications exercise is needed. I strongly support this Bill and commend the Minister of State on all the work he and his officials have done to bring it to this Stage.

Photo of John CumminsJohn Cummins (Fine Gael)
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I thank the Minister of State for being here and taking this legislation through the Dáil and into the Seanad. I appreciate that he has been here for a very long time this afternoon, so I will not use all my time. The programme for Government committed to establishing a gambling regulator. That is the main thrust of what we are trying to achieve in the legislation. We need to cover gambling online, remotely and in person, and, of course, put the appropriate regulations in place.

Problem gambling is a scourge on society. Of that, I have no doubt. The havoc it wreaks on families is untold and often not spoken about. The devastating impact it can have is truly frightening. Equally, the vast majority of people are able to bet responsibly. I would like to consider myself as being in that vast majority. We need to be careful in the drafting of any legislation, however. I am not suggesting the Minister of State and his officials have not been, but we need to be careful to achieve balance and protect vulnerable people like children and those with problem gambling issues while not impacting those who can lay a responsible bet on a sports event every now and then, who are probably among the vast majority. Some have spoken about the local soccer or GAA club in this regard. I would appreciate it if the Minister of State clarified these matters in his concluding remarks.

Could he also address inadvertent advertising, particularly at racetracks? At the racetrack in Tramore, several amendments have been made in this respect, particularly regarding advertising hoardings in the background, such as those over the shoulder of somebody presenting a programme. Could the Minister of State clarify the position and reassure us that the activity in question will still be permitted and not affect anything? Where racetracks have a televised event and have on-track sponsors that are not covered in the legislation, it is a case of ensuring they are not caught up in what we are trying to do here. Racetracks are companies in their own right and if they have a funding shortfall, they will be in the door to the Minister of State's colleague looking for it to be made up. The horse racing industry is very valuable in my constituency, Waterford, and that of the Minister of State, Wexford.

The thrust of this Bill, which is to regulate the gambling industry, is incredibly important, but we need to sense-check it and ensure there are no unintended consequences for safe and appropriate betting, associated sports tracks and so on. Could the Minister of State touch on those matters and any amendments he intends to introduce?

Photo of James BrowneJames Browne (Wexford, Fianna Fail)
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We have been waiting a long time for this legislation. Efforts have been made over the past 20 years to properly regulate gambling in this country, but often to no avail. It is important that we finally have a Bill with genuine momentum behind it, but, leaving aside regulation and licensing for a moment, one that also seeks to address the harms caused by excessive and problem gambling.

In preparing this Bill, it has been my priority to ensure it is as future-proofed as possible and can take account of new and emerging technologies and practices used by the sector in providing gambling activities and services. That is why many of the sections create a baseline but allow the regulator to make recommendations to the Minister to tighten things up, as necessary, by way of statutory instrument.

As I mentioned in my opening remarks, the primary objective of the Bill is to protect the public by establishing a framework for a robust regulatory and licensing regime for the gambling sector in Ireland. It provides for important matters such as the establishment of statutory functions of a body to be known as Údarás Rialála Cearrbhachais na hÉireann or the Gambling Regulatory Authority of Ireland, with responsibility for licensing and regulating gambling in the State, the prohibition of the participation of children in gambling or their being employed in the gambling industry, and the establishment of a national gambling exclusion register and the social impact fund. There are to be obligations on licensees and others related to gambling advertising, promotion and sponsorship, particularly to address the widespread proliferation of gambling advertising online and on social media to safeguard persons participating in gambling. Also achieved will be the banning of credit cards as a means of payment for gambling, as well as the regulation of targeted incentives and inducements.

The Bill provides for several other protections, including the comprehensive licensing and regulation of gaming machines so the authority will be able to determine what types of gaming machines will be permitted for use in the State, and an obligation on licensees to establish and maintain dedicated segregated customer accounts to protect the customers' funds and, in addition to banning payment for gambling by credit card, provide the authority with the ability to prohibit any form of payment or customer account scheme or a feature of a customer account scheme that may contribute to excessive or compulsive gambling. The authority will have the ability to set limits on the amounts of money that may be lodged when gambling online and limits on the number of lodgements a person may make with licensees within a particular timeframe. There will be requirements on licensees to provide information to people gambling online while they are playing to inform them of their winnings and losses, as well as many others that I cannot outline in the House because time does not allow it.

In addition, it is my intention to make amendments on Committee Stage to exempt charitable and philanthropic licensees, including philanthropic sports licensees, from the advertising provisions in the Bill, and ensure that charitable and philanthropic licensees cannot be abused for personal gain or used to bypass the advertising restrictions within the Bill. In this regard, I think of many of the alcohol companies with their 0.0-type advertising. We can anticipate attempts to bypass by companies in the gambling industry, so we are going to include measures to prevent them. I intend to include further protections and safeguards, such as making it an obligation on a licensee, tied to their licence, not to unreasonably refuse the payment of winnings; clarify the scope and application of some of the sections in the Bill; address some technical matters and corrections in the Bill; to provide for transitional arrangements in respect of existing gambling legislation; and address standard issues such as repeals and necessary consequential amendments to other legislation.

The Bill addresses the imperative to comprehensively reform the regulatory and licensing regime for gambling in the State.It provides supports to those who need them most as a result of the harm caused by gambling. The debate has highlighted a number of the concerns that it will certainly be addressing.

I want to address a number of key issues. The Bill will regulate an activity that there has been no attempt to regulate since the 1950s but that is causing tsunami of social problems in our society. Gambling is not what it was 20 years ago. Extraordinary damage is being done to our society and to individuals, families and communities. As Senator Doherty stated, it is an insidious type of addiction. We can see people with an alcohol or drug addiction descending into that. Very often, the first time anybody knows that someone has a gambling addiction is when the sheriff is at the door, gardaí are at the door or the house is being repossessed. They have serious mental health issues, and some may take their own lives. It is a nasty addiction that creeps up on people. Most people gamble safely. It is a risky activity, however, and it is on a spectrum. It is bit like alcohol. Nobody starts off with a gambling addiction. They bet safely and bet for fun at the beginning and then move along that spectrum. We need to protect people. There are those who suggest that we only need to treat the people who are addicts. However, those people did not start out as addicts. They became addicts and moved along the spectrum. We need to identify where people are vulnerable on the risk spectrum.

Those involved in bingo have raised a slight change in wording relating to the €10 bet which could affect them because of the nature of their books. We have engaged with them and we will amend that if necessary in order to ensure that bingo can continue as heretofore. We do not want people having to keep track of someone having played bingo on a Tuesday night not being able to play bingo on a Wednesday night or having played in Dublin cannot play in Tipperary. Obviously, we do not want that situation. We are examining the matter to ensure that is not the case.

I flagged the amendment we will introduce relating to charities, including sporting organisations. The ban on gambling advertising for those with licences does not apply to, for example, a charity running a fun run. Most of us will have engaged with Pieta House. I do not think it has actually any gambling activities. It does not stop organisations with a licence putting Pieta House on its shirts. It stops them putting a gambling company on their shirts, which they do not do, of course.

I do not agree with the Senator who proposed that radio would be completely exempt from the legislation. It would mean that holding a radio licence could become the most valuable asset in the State and would exempt the holder from the anti-money laundering, anti-terrorist financing and child protection measures and all other measures in the legislation. I would not favour them being exempt.

We have gone to extraordinary lengths in the legislation to ensure that the horse racing and greyhound racing sector is protected. For example, we could have put blanket bans on sponsorship. We have put provisions into the legislation to ensure that what we call incidental advertising does not impact on the showing of horse racing. Therefore, anything that can be seen at a horse race today can still be seen after the legislation passes. A hoarding that might be at the back of a track, naming a race after a gambling company or people from gambling companies appearing to say what the odds are can all still be shown. There is no impact in showing, for example, Premier League football where there might be a sponsor on a jersey or something like that. There is no impact on the horse racing industry.

I wish to make clear that where we might be banning the withdrawal of cash or the presence of children on premises, there is no issue with having children somewhere like a racecourse, provided it is does not target children, affect the ability to withdraw cash and things of that nature.

Some in the horse racing sector has asked that racing channels would, in effect, be given a monopoly on showing gambling advertisements in the Republic. At the moment, it is two British TV stations. That exemption would not be for anything related to horse racing but anything to do with gambling. As Senator Cassells pointed out, most of those ads are for casinos, online gambling, poker or whatever the case may be. If we were to give two TV stations a monopoly on gambling advertising into the country, it would not survive under competition law. This would give them an extraordinary monopoly providing enormous financial worth to those companies.

They are subscription channels just as Sky Movies is a subscription channel. There is no end to subscription channels anymore. It is not something that would work in this State. It would not survive under the EU TRIS directive. I do not think the Irish State giving a monopoly on gambling advertising into a European Union state to two third-country TV stations would survive. It is completely untrue that there is any kind of technical impediment from them showing different advertisements in two different states. It does not stand up to any kind of scrutiny. In fact, TV stations now have the software to show two people in two houses beside each other different ads at the same time. Therefore, there is no technical difficulty there.

Senator Ward raised issues relating to the provisions in sections 80 and 81 regarding regulations and mandatory limits. We are satisfied that these are only baselines. The Attorney General has advised us that we can do it by putting in the baselines and giving the regulator the power to make recommendations to the Minister, who can make changes by way of statutory instrument.

We have very powerful regulations to tackle the black market, such as take-down notices, blocking and confiscation of funding.

A number of Senators referred to the protection of children. The legislation provides that anybody who breaks the law and is found targeting children within could face up to eight years imprisonment, which is a very serious penalty.

A number of other issues were also raised, but I think I have dealt with the most key ones. I would be happy to respond to any other matters at a later date. As I said, we will introduce a number of significant amendments. I am very glad that this legislation survived the Dáil. It contains 220 sections. A number of issues need to be clarified and resolved. However, that is the whole purpose of having ten different Stages in the Dáil and Seanad. It allows us to test, prove, challenge and work on it. I fundamentally disagree with the parties that simply voted to kill the Bill in the Dáil, which would have meant we simply would not have been here discussing it. That was a completely wrong approach. I look forward to engaging with Senators as we go along and making further improvements.

Question put and agreed to.

Photo of Mark WallMark Wall (Labour)
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When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

Photo of Robbie GallagherRobbie Gallagher (Fianna Fail)
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Next Tuesday.

Photo of Mark WallMark Wall (Labour)
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Is that agreed? Agreed.

Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 21 May 2024.

Photo of Mark WallMark Wall (Labour)
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When is it proposed to sit again?

Photo of Robbie GallagherRobbie Gallagher (Fianna Fail)
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Tomorrow morning at 10.30.

Cuireadh an Seanad ar athló ar 5.38 p.m. go dtí 10.30 a.m., Dé Céadaoin, an 15 Bealtaine 2024.

The Seanad adjourned at 5.38 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 15 May 2024.