Gambling Control Bill 2013

What is the aim of Ireland’s new gambling legislation?

The Gambling Control Bill 2013 aims to provide for a comprehensive new licensing and regulatory framework for gambling both land based and online to protect the vulnerable and bring legal certainty to the sector. The Bill proposes that anyone offering a gambling service in the State will be required to hold a gambling licence. It also sets out arrangements for the licensing of land based casinos, stating that the number of casinos in the State be limited to 40 with no casino being permitted to have more than 15 tables. Criteria will be published that will be taken into account in determining whether locations are prima facie appropriate and the geographic distribution of same. It will be possible for such casinos to hold Intoxicating Liquor Licences subject to full and complete separation between the area which is licenced under the Intoxicating Liquor Act and the area to be used as a casino.

The Bill, which extends to the licensing of on-line and electronic gambling, will repeal and replace all existing arrangements for the regulation of betting, gaming, bingo and lotteries (except for the National Lottery) and will also relax the rule that bingo always has to be for charitable or philanthropic purposes.

On enactment the Gambling Control Bill will replace much of the present legislation, in particular the Betting Act 1931 and the Gaming and Lotteries Act 1956. It will provide a unified legal basis as well as streamlined and more effective administrative procedures. It will be possible to adjust and respond more quickly to technological developments.

The proposals in the Scheme are guided by the widely accepted principles of gambling regulation, i.e. to ensure:

  • fairness in the conduct of gambling;
    • the protection of vulnerable persons, including children, from risks to their well-being arising from gambling;
    • the avoidance of circumstances where gambling could, inadvertently or otherwise, facilitate or enable criminal or illegal activity; and
    • consumer choice and protection.

The Scheme proposes that the Minister for Justice & Equality is to be the sole licensing authority and regulator. The Minister’s executive functions are to be carried out on his/her behalf by a new dedicated Office located within the Department of Justice and Equality.

The Minister, as the licensing authority, will be empowered to issue licenses for all forms of gambling, including casinos and remote services (e.g. betting over the internet).

In addition to licensing, the Minister as regulator will have the responsibility for monitoring the gambling industry and for the enforcement of the provisions of the new Act’s provisions.

Licence holders and operators of gambling services will be expected to demonstrate by the manner in which they operate a commitment to actively implement and promote the objectives of the new legislation.

Minister Shatter, said “this legislation has the twin objective of effectively regulating the new and dynamic gambling sector that has emerged in recent years, while also providing the opportunity to introduce important new measures to protect vulnerable adults and young people. The updated legislation and new regulatory regime will provide for a consistent interpretation and application of the law across all areas of gambling and as a result, it will bring legal certainty to the area. I believe this Bill will give Ireland a well regulated gambling system that will be recognised as such internationally.”

The Office of Gambling Control in Ireland refers to the Executive Office established in the Minister’s Department in accordance with Part 2 of the Gambling Control Bill 2013, General Scheme July 2013, and references to “Office” or “OGCI” shall be read as reference to that Executive Office.

Why is there a need to update the gambling legislation in Ireland to include online gambling?

It is important to understand the social impact of future developments in technology and gaming products. The social policy aspect is critical because developments in technologies and products can have potentially significant negative social impacts unless properly understood and appropriately regulated. Technological advances are facilitating an increasing convergence of different gambling products available to consumers (including children) via an increasing array of platforms. Any such mechanism will need to have a much broader remit than social policy which will have to consider the implications of the approval of remote gambling technologies.

The Casino Committee of the Department of Justice and Equality considers that, given the continued convergence in gambling product and platforms as well as the transformative role of technology such as the internet, there is a need to ensure tactical and strategic national agencies in this area.

Minister Shatter stated, “Under the new law, anyone offering a gambling service to anyone in the State, by whatever means and regardless of whether the operator is based in the State or elsewhere, must have a licence. A new executive agency will act as both the licensing authority and regulator for the sector, and will have responsibility for checking compliance and in enforcing the law generally. The agency will be self-financing, from licence fees and other charges.”

It might be noted that, in some jurisdictions there is a trend towards reducing the number of agencies involved in this area in order to ensure greater coherence in national policies. The Gambling Commission in Great Britain is a recent example as it has responsibility for casinos, bingo, gaming machines and lotteries (with the exception of the National Lottery) and from 2007 the regulation of betting (with the exception of spread betting) and remote gambling, as well as helping to protect children and vulnerable people.

Minister Shatter stressed that the new legislation will give added protection to all customers, “I am committed in particular to ensuring that there are effective and robust safeguards in place to protect young people and those for whom gambling has become a problem. The Bill introduces a range of new measures including the introduction of age restrictions; staff training; controls on advertising, promotions and sponsorship; the establishment of a new Social Gambling Fund to assist with treatment services; a new complaints procedure for consumers; and new arrangements to assist consumers seeking compensation from a licence holder.” Operators will be required to maintain adequate financial reserves to cover customer entitlements.

What are the different types of Licences available under the proposed legislation?

There are 43 different categories of Licenses proposed see http://www.justice.ie/en/JELR/Gambling%20Control%20Bill%202013.pdf/Files/Gambling%20Control%20Bill%202013.pdf at p. 78-80. These licences range from land based betting and gaming outlets to remote betting licences. According to the Gambling Control Bill 2013, General Scheme, July 2013 where a facility:

i)                    is located in the State and

ii)                  it is a facility without which a remote gambling service could not be made available to players but

iii)                where the services in question is not available to players located in the State;

that facility

i)                    does not require a licence under this Act,

ii)                  but it must register with the OGCI (and pay such fees as may be required);

iii)                is subject to Part 4 of this Act and it shall facilitate the OGCI in discharging its functions under that Part,

iv)                may also be the subject of compliance requirements under Head 12.

The Minister, as the licensing authority, will be empowered to issue licences for all forms of gambling, including casinos and remote services (e.g. betting over the internet).

In this Act “remote gambling” means gambling in which persons participate by the use of remote communication.

What other proposals are put forward in the Bill?

The legislation now being prepared will include a full ban on fixed odds betting terminals, or FOBT, as they are generally known.

The Minister has identified as a major priority the need to ensure gambling operations do not come under the control of organised criminal gangs. For this reason, he is including detailed arrangements to check on the suitability of all licenced operators, including close liaison with the Gardaí, checks on criminal records and arrangements for contacting regulators and law enforcement bodies abroad.  There will be a new complaints and compensation procedure and gambling contracts will in future be enforceable in law.

How will the Bill adapt to new innovations in the gambling sector?

Technological change more than any other factor has accounted for the expansion in gambling in recent years. Minister Shatter continued, “I will ensure that the new law will have the flexibility necessary to deal with the rapid and continuous innovation, in the public interest. The Bill will, for example, include powers to prohibit or restrict certain games or equipment if they are harmful, including devices and games that are not yet in use”.

Are there any concerns /issues with the Bill?

Some opponents feel that the level of activity which could be conducted in a casino under the proposed legislation is too low both in terms of the maximum number of tables (15) and the cap on the number of gaming machines so as to make the premises commercially non-viable.

What is the next step in the process of the Bill? When is the law likely to come into force?

The only document released to date is the “Gambling Control Bill 2013, General Scheme, July 2013”. This is not actually the Bill itself. This document has no legal effect. It contains proposals for the licensing and regulation of gambling in Ireland. Draft legislation will be prepared on the basis of these proposals, for presentation to the Oireachtas and enactment. While the Tote is not covered by the Scheme, it is intended to include it in due course, following further examination.

The Scheme must now be sent to the Attorney General’s Office for formal legal drafting into a Bill. This process could take 12 months. It is not known whether there will be a further public consultation on the matter.

1 August 2013

For further information please contact

Lorraine Compton

T: +353 1 234 2678

E: lorraine.compton@comptonsolicitors.ie