The gaming industry of Ireland is urgently in need of updated regulation contends GLAI director David Hickson, however another year has gone by with scant progress on the issue.
Another year has rolled round with little progress on Ireland’s new casino legislation, with the Gambling Control Bill 2013 left in political purgatory following repeated delays.
The bill, drafted by Alan Shatter as justice minister, has not progressed since November 2013, while David Stanton, the current Minister of State for Justice, had previously informed the Dáil that moves were afoot to have the bill voted on and approved before the end of 2017.
However, it has been suggested that a political tug of war between the Department of Justice and Equality and the civil service over whether the new regulator should be an independent body has hampered progress.
The casino industry in Ireland has been in legal limbo for years which has impacted the development of the sector.
No provision for obtaining a casino licence exists under the 1956 Gambling and Lotteries Act with private members’ clubs providing casino services under a provision originally introduced to allow card-playing in private dwellings.
“The main thrust of our argument is to have a properly licensed regime put in place with an independent regulator,” stated David Hickson, director of the Gaming and Leisure Association of Ireland (GLAI).
“At the moment our law dates back to 1956, so we need to to update the legislation for a whole host of reasons.”
But hope may be on the horizon, Ireland’s main opposition party, Fianna Fáil, has recently proposed its own legislation, the Gambling Control Bill 2017, which is similar on a number of points to its counterpart.
“We would anticipate that, depending on whichever bill gets before the parliament first, there’s no reason for the other party to reject it because both pieces of legislation are very similar,” Hickson continued.
“But it will be interesting to see how that plays out and we’re hoping to see some movement on this in 2018.”
In the meantime, the government is looking to introduce interim legislation aiming to give the industry a temporary framework to adhere to.
Those amendments are tacked on to the wide-ranging Courts and Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill which has now been sent to the Attorney General for scrutiny and drafting of the wording, while a public consultation on the amendments is ongoing.
“The minister is putting forward amendments to the 1956 act in piecemeal form, while I think he’s been encouraged to do to appease those calling for reform, honestly it’s only window dressing,” added Hickson.
“Ireland has the highest losses per capita for online gambling, so the whole online sector needs to be regulated and it’s long overdue.
“Likewise, the national stakes for gaming machines also needs to be updated, the current stakes date back to pre-decriminalisation.
“Hopefully the lesson that they’ve learned from that is that stakes and prizes shouldn’t be set in the primary legislation, they should be established by the regulator and reviewed every three to five years,” he concluded.
A NEW ERA?
New regulatory framework could spur growth, Joe Kelly, partner at A&L Goodbody and International Masters of Gaming Law (IMGL) member, believes the legislation in the pipeline could usher in a new era of growth for Ireland’s gambling firms.
Replacing the current system with a well-defined licensing regime would not only boost confidence for existing businesses, he contents, but would also highlight Ireland’s potential as a destination for international firms.
“The crucial thing is that you will have in place a proper regulatory system – and the enormous advances that this would bring to the sector cannot be overemphasised,” he explained.
“Once the sector is regulated, it means that you have licences, and that will allow businesses to secure proper funding. And once businesses get proper funding, they can start to take high street leases.
“Top-line businesses, blue-chip casino businesses, for instance, in the UK and elsewhere, will come and establish here.”