Irish Minister outlines scope of ‘extremely powerful’ regulator

James Browne, the Republic of Ireland’s Minister of State for Justice, has outlined the scope of an ‘extremely powerful’ gambling regulator in the country, but a Labour Senator has called for earlier action.

Reported by The Irish Times, Browne detailed that ‘comprehensive legislation’ will support the creation and operations of an ‘extremely powerful’ regulator – which will be launched by the end of 2021, and will have a primary focus on public health and wellbeing.

The Minister further detailed that the legislation to establish the regulator will be introduced in September, whilst the watchdog will employ 100 people and maintain the power to develop regulations and codes of standards, and will also be able to impose fines when in cases of non-compliance.

Irish legislators passed the ‘Interim Gaming and Lotteries Act’ in 2021, the main objective of which is to modernise the country’s gambling legislation, dating back to 1931 and 1956.

“It’s really important to understand that it is not simply a regulator but they will have a public health remit as their primary focus in every decision and recommendation they will make,” Browne remarked.

Earlier this year, when addressing the Seanad Éireann, Browne argued that Ireland’s regulatory oversight is ‘inconsistent’ and fragmented due to being ‘spread widely across a range of departments and agencies’. 

Under the current plans, the regulator will be appointed by the end of this year. However, Senator Mark Wall of the Irish labour Party has stated that Ireland ‘cannot wait that long to ban gambling advertising’, whilst also criticising the absence of a watershed for betting marketing.

“What really disturbs me most is that there is no watershed on gambling advertising in this country,” the Kildare Senator commented. “And our children and young adults are being exposed to a highly addictive behaviour. 

“We have so many stories of children as young as six, especially when they were being homeschooled, asking their parents what these ads were all about.”

Wall further pointed to Ireland’s annual average gambling spend of €9.8 billion, which he stated marked the country out as ‘the world’s seventh biggest spenders on gambling per head’.

The Irish Labour Party introduced a Bill to the Oireachtas in February of this year, the Gambling (Prohibition of Advertising) Bill 2021, with the intention of implementing a blanket ban on televised gambling advertisements.

These calls have been echoed by two of Ireland’s leading sporting authorities, the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) and Gaelic Players Association (GPA), which both argued for a ban on advertising as well as a general severing of ties between sports and betting.

Wall added that he regularly receives calls from constituents, who he stated: “Simply want to be able to watch their favourite sport without having to wade through advertisement after advertisement encouraging them to gamble.”

Meanwhile, President of Ireland Michael D Higgins – a member of the Labour Party until his election as head of state in 2011 – described sports betting as a ‘scourge’ and criticised ‘dangerous’ gambling advertising in a statement released this weekend.

Addressing the issue of gaming advertising, Browne observed that it would be ‘challenging to find a way of effectively banning advertising where we’re having so much coming in from other countries’, due to a packed sports schedule of daily horse racing and both domestic and international top-flight competitions broadcast on weekends.

However, he added that Irish administrators will be monitoring the results of the UK gambling review, which he noted ‘will certainly put the issue of sponsorship of sport on the table’.

Across the Irish Sea, the issue of sports sponsorships by betting companies has taken centre stage in the debate surrounding the overhaul of the 2005 Gambling Act

A potential ban on partnerships between professional sports clubs and operators has been touted as ‘the most likely outcome’ of the review, whilst the notion reportedly has the support of Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his cabinet.

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