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I want to welcome you all to this Seminar on the future licensing and regulation of gambling in Ireland. The Seminar is an important waypoint on our progression of the comprehensive reform of our antiquated gambling legislation.
My intention for the Seminar is that it would focus on the Report of the Inter-Departmental Working Group on the Future Licensing and Regulation of Gambling in Ireland approved by Government and published on 20 March last. The Report contains a lengthy number of recommendations.
The Government in January 2018 established the Working Group. I chaired the work of the Group, and ppractically every Department was represented. Between February 2018 and January 2019, the Group reviewed the provisions of the General Scheme of the Gambling Control Bill 2013 to determine if they remained fit for purpose in light of the significant developments in the gambling industry, both domestic and international, in the intervening period. Many of those Departmental representatives are here today. I again thank them for their hard work and expect that they will contribute as necessary to the discussions today.
The Working Group examined in a comprehensive way the current arrangements for all aspects of gambling control. It acknowledged the antiquity of our licensing and regulatory approach. The Working Group devoted considerable effort to examining:
- the modalities, including resource implications, of the establishment of an independent regulatory authority for gambling
- whether the number of proposed licensing categories for gambling activities might be rationalised from those recommended in the 2013 Scheme, given the increasing move to online gambling.
- the issue of advertising, sponsorship and promotion of gambling products and activities and examined a range of possible options on the future approach to regulating these activities.
- efforts in combatting money laundering attempts through gambling activities and possible attempts at “match fixing”. It considered that maintaining integrity in sports betting was of critical importance.
- the current minimal effective protection for consumers of gambling products, including the development of an alternative dispute resolution mechanism.
- the raised public awareness of the issue of problem gambling and the harms caused to individuals, families and communities in this regard.
The primary recommendation in the Group’s Report is, of course, for the establishment of an independent regulatory authority for gambling. The authority, in addition to the obvious functions, would contain sports integrity, anti-money laundering and consumer protection units in respect of gambling activities. The establishment of effective modern licensing, regulation and enforcement of the Irish gambling industry will require significant resources. A gambling regulatory authority will have to be, to a large degree, ultimately self-financing, with income from application and licence fees as well as fines imposed on operators.
The Group recommended a rationalisation of the number of licensing categories. These would involve licensing terms and conditions that would be clear, fair, legitimate and transparent to all. This includes provisions designed to prevent unfair practices by gambling operators through certain types of gambling offers. The Group recognised that revised licence fees – likely greater than those currently applying now - will be imposed.
Measures to protect vulnerable persons, or those prone to addiction, in the context of gambling, were recommended by the Working Group. These include age restrictions, staff training, self-exclusion measures and possible controls on advertising, promotions and sponsorship. A further critical recommendation is the establishment of a Social Fund supported by industry levies. This Fund would be managed by the new regulatory authority with mandatory contributions as part of licensing conditions. While the authority might use some of the funding for direct information and prevention campaigns, expenditure on treatment programmes should be dealt with by relevant health professionals.
We have a wide range of interested and concerned parties and experts with us today. I look forward to your engaged participation and attention to the themes chosen for our panel discussions.
I wish to thank all panellists for accepting our invitation to participate at the Seminar. In particular, we are joined by experts actively engaged in the licensing and regulation of gambling in France, Malta and the UK.
We want the experts here today to consider the recommendations in the Working Group Report, which reviewed the proposals in the 2013 General Scheme of the Gambling Control Bill. I want to hear your views as to whether this charts an effective way forward. We welcome any ideas, comments or criticisms you might offer.
In the course of our discussions today, we should be clear headed and realistic as to what we want and what is possible given the human condition, the continuous evolution of technology related to gambling and justifications of any potential restrictions on individuals’ freedoms.
Gambling activity is of considerable economic impact in Ireland. Our best estimate of the annual turnover of the Irish gambling market is between €6 billion and €8 billion. It may well be more. The gambling industry is large, growing and evolving from a largely land-based manifestation to an online one.
I have personally been engaged with the issue of gambling regulation for a number of years. I chaired the Oireachtas Justice Committee hearings on the General Scheme of the Gambling Control Bill in September 2013. We did not get a lot of traction then, if truth be told. In the intervening period, gambling in Ireland evolved significantly. I felt that the 2013 Scheme needed to be reviewed to ensure that legislation would be fit for purpose on-line and into the future. Since 2017, the new Gambling Policy Division of my Department has been working hard to conduct research on all facets of gambling. My officials also visited gambling regulators in the UK, Malta and France as part of the process.They regularly attend relevant conferences in Europe. We want to learn from others.
Implementing the recommendations in the Report offers the best opportunity of a modern and effective approach to the licensing and regulation of a fast growing and evolving gambling industry. The proposed comprehensive reform will be of significant impact. Without a new regulatory authority, sufficiently resourced, there is no prospect of progressing modern licensing and regulation.
We are now engaged in comprehensive reform. There is little or no scope for incremental reform of regulation of gambling – there are effectively no realistic pre-existing structures to build on.
We have four panel topics for the Seminar today. These broadly reflect the critical Chapters of the Working Group Report.
I also wish to welcome the representative of the Structural Reform Support Service of the European Commission today. He will briefly detail how the Commission contracted McCann Fitzgerald to conduct a research project on the Establishment of Modern Regulatory Environment and Authority for Gambling Activities in Ireland. We are grateful for the support provided. McCann Fitzgerald will update us on the progress of the project, which commenced in early December 2018 and is expected to conclude by mid-summer 2019 - during the Panel 2 discussions.
While I have on a number of occasions expressed my frustration at the slow pace of development in this area, I do believe that we now have a very good blueprint in this Report to work towards reform. It is the central focus of the work of this Seminar today.
Establishing the gambling regulatory authority, as an independent statutory body under the auspices of the Department of Justice and Equality, is the key recommendation of the Working Group. Proper regulation is costly in terms of resources. This will be so for gambling. However, as I stated earlier, the ultimate aim is that the regulatory authority will be self-financing through fees and levies imposed on licensed gambling operators, but this will take some time. We have colleagues from France, Malta and the UK join us today. They will tell us of their experiences of regulation. They represent organisations equipped with considerable resources.
Gambling licensing and regulation is a complex area. The industry has huge economic impact. However, we in Ireland are effectively starting with a clean slate but we already have practically all known forms of gambling already widely available and being availed of.
It is not my intention, in these introductory remarks, to go into a detailed consideration of the issues. That will happen through our panel discussions and the question and answer sessions.
A final thought. What we are essentially about and what I expect today’s discussions to advance is the development of the best, most effective regime for the appropriate licensing and regulation of all gambling activities available in Ireland. If we can achieve this, we can achieve better consumer protection and, critically, better ways of addressing problem gambling and treating persons with addiction. However, we will not achieve the latter objective without the former arrangements being in place. I would also stress the point that, even in jurisdictions where there is appropriate licensing and regulation in place, there are still incidences of problem gambling.
Can I also reiterate my earlier calls for written submissions that you may wish to make after today and after further consideration of the recommendations in the Report. Such submissions can be forwarded to the Gambling Policy Division in my Department.
I would prefer this approach, as we will likely not be in a position to facilitate requests for numerous bilateral meetings over the next while.
I look forward to an interesting and engaging discussion today. I hope to be here as long as parliamentary business will allow.
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