The topic of problem gambling has taken centre stage in the Irish Oireachtas, as Senators debated the introduction of Ireland’s independent gambling regulator set for 2023.
Under the terms of the ‘Interim Gaming and Lotteries Act’, passed in December 2020, the government will conduct a large overhaul of Irish gambling regulations in 2021, with the aim of modernising existing legislation that dates back to 1931 and 1956.
Beginning the proceedings of its latest debate, Deputy James Browne, Minister of State at the Department of Justice, underscored the importance of establishing the principal duties of an independent regulatory body that will oversee Irish gambling in 2023.
Addressing the Seanad Éireann, Deputy Browne argued that Ireland’s current regulatory framework is fragmented, due to being ‘spread widely across a range of departments and agencies,’ in turn facilitating ‘an inconsistent regulatory environment’.
Continuing, the Deputy stated that: “The new regulator will, when fully operational, assume all of the current gambling licensing and regulatory responsibilities as well as new and more extensive enforcement duties.”
Further detailing the regulator’s scope to Senators, he remarked: “When it is established, the regulator will have the necessary enforcement powers for licensing and powers to take action where individuals or operators fail to follow rules and regulations.
“Its key objectives will be as follows: to prevent gambling from being a source or support to crime; to ensure that gambling is conducted in a fair and open way for companies to make decisions in certainty; and to require the promotion of safe and responsible gambling, and to combat problem gambling.”
However, when taking questions from Senators, some argued that the introduction of the independent regulatory body should take place sooner rather than later in 2023.
Senator Alice-Mary Higgins, an Independent legislator from Dublin, stated her belief that the regulator should become operational earlier than 2023 due to the ‘perfect storm’ created by the pandemic for those suffering from problem gambling related harm.
“Lack of regulation means we are getting all-hours and all-locations advertising, which is a concern,” Senator Higgins remarked. “We know we can take action to address this, as we did when we placed constraints in legislation on the advertising and sale of alcohol.”
Other Senators also shared their opinions, and outlined what they believed the jurisdiction and responsibilities of the new regulator should be.
Fiona O’Loughlin, a Fianna Fáil Senator for Kildare, said: “The regulator should cover the industry, issue fines, conduct research and operate a social fund funded by the industry to help individuals who are suffering from gambling addiction.”
She added: “A modern and effectively regulated gambling environment must provide enhanced consumer protection for players while limiting to the greatest extent possible the harmful effects on young people and those who may be susceptible to addiction.”