The long-anticipated Gambling Regulation Bill 2022 (the “Bill”) was published last December and proposed substantial overhauls to the current legislative regime governing gambling in Ireland (see our previous briefing on the introduction of the Bill here). The Bill went before the Select Committee on Justice (the “Committee”) on 11 July 2023 and while a large swath of the amendments were of a technical nature, a number of interesting considerations were raised during the discussion which sheds some light on the direction of travel for the Bill.  In this briefing we outline some areas of interest that were discussed and some issues which were flagged as requiring further consideration.

Highlights from the Committee

  • Bingo will not be treated as an independent form of gambling activity: A suggestion that bingo fall outside the definition of a ‘lottery’ under the Bill was rejected. However Minister James Browne (the “Minister”) who is responsible for the Bill, did agree to keep the operation of the Bill, once enacted, under review and if necessary, consider whether an independent and distinct bingo licence ought to be introduced.
  • The proposed expansion of the definition of ‘gaming’ to align with the definition in the United Kingdom was rejected: It was argued that the definition currently included in the Bill is not sufficient to govern modern gaming, However the Minister argued that the definition of ‘gaming’ in the Bill aligns with Irish regulatory needs, provides the Gambling Regulatory Authority of Ireland (the “GRAI”) with sufficient flexibility and is an appropriate definition to be incorporated in the Bill.
  • Private Members Clubs will be in scope: It was confirmed that Private Members Clubs will be covered by the Bill and will accordingly require a licence to carry out gambling activities.
  • There will not be a carve out for registered charities: A proposed amendment seeking to exclude registered charitable organisations which are regulated by the Charities Regulator from the scope of the Bill was rejected on the basis that the purpose of the Bill is designed to regulate a particular behaviour, not just specific operators.
  • The scope of entities who may apply for gambling licences for charitable and philanthropic purposes is broader than the concept of charitable organisations under the Charities Act 2009: To do otherwise would mean that sports clubs and community development companies throughout the country would be prevented from applying for such licences for their fundraising events which is not the intention of the Bill.
  • It was clarified that suppliers of gambling products or gambling related services will require a licence under the Bill: Suppliers will require a Business-to-Business licence to supply such products and gambling relating services to licensees within the State (regardless of whether the supplier is established inside or outside the State), to persons outside of the State and to the operator of the National Lottery.
  • A proposal for a total ban on the advertisement of gambling was rejected: It was suggested that the imposition of a watershed failed to go far enough to protect those most vulnerable and that it was an advertising “free-for-all” after 9pm. However, attention was drawn both to the strict criteria the Bill places on the advertisement of gambling generally and on the ability of the new regulator, the GRAI to make further regulations in that regard.
  • Composition of the GRAI: It was proposed that the GRAI have at least one member with lived experience of gambling addiction and that a limitation be placed on the number of members of the GRAI who have been recently employed in the industry. While these amendments were not accepted, the Minister agreed to consider them prior to Report Stage.
  • A proposal a list of the factors for calculation for contributions by licensees to the Social Impact Fund be included in the Bill was lost: The Minister argued that the flexibility of the existing drafting of the Bill was sufficient.
  • Prohibition on Credit Card Gambling: There was discussion around the requirement to strike an appropriate balance between preventing individuals from gambling with money they do not have and the impact on fundraising activities in the charitable sector where payments are often made by credit card.
  • Maximum entry prices to participate in respect of gambling licences for charitable and philanthropic purposes have been removed: As initially drafted, the Bill sought to limit the maximum relevant payment for participating in activities under all gambling licences for charitable and philanthropic purposes, including for a once-off activity at €10. The Bill has now been amended to remove any limit on the maximum payments for participation in gambling for charitable and philanthropic purposes.

It is also noteworthy that the fact the National Lottery is not in the scope of this Bill was discussed and it was suggested that the inequality between the restrictions that the Bill will place on private operators and the lack of similar limitations placed on the National Lottery must be addressed. While the governance of the National Lottery falls outside the scope of the Minister’s remit, the Committee noted its intention to write to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform in relation to the juxtaposition.

The Minister also confirmed that the Bill was informed by the experience of gambling regulation in other jurisdictions and that the Minister had met with the UK Gambling Commission and his Department has endeavoured to leverage the UK Gambling Commission’s learnings in the preparation of the Bill.

There were also a number of issues flagged by the Minister which, while not discussed at Committee Stage, may be brought at Report Stage. The issues include:

  • The need to introduce extensive transitional provisions for the Bill which acknowledge the complexity of the legislation and State bodies currently involved in the governance of gambling in Ireland;
  • Clarifications of some aspects of the Bill, including in respect of advertising, inducements to promotion, amusement machines, the use of certain terminology and the obligations in relation to maintaining segregated customer accounts;
  • Amendments to certain provisions of the Bill to remove potential loopholes that have been identified through discussions with various stakeholders and the Office of the Attorney General;
  • Amendments to address a number of criminal investigation, prosecutorial and sentencing issues that have been identified by the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions;
  • Specific considerations in respect of the regulation of the Tote; and
  • Further consideration of the Bill’s approach to sponsorship to ensure that it does not inadvertently affect the ability of persons to make donations or contributions to charity.

We will continue to closely monitor the development of the Bill and to consider the likely impact for our clients. Given the impending summer recess, it is likely that Report Stage will not occur until the Autumn. While the timeline for enactment of the Bill was not discussed, in our view it would be optimistic for the Bill to be enacted and take substantial effect before 2024, particularly given the Minister’s acknowledgement that bespoke transitional provisions will be required.

The authors would like to thank Suzanne Flynn for her contribution to this briefing