On 21 October 2021, the Minister of State for Law Reform, James Browne TD, published the General Scheme of the Gambling Regulation BillOpens in new window (the "General Scheme"). This provides for the establishment of a new independent statutory body, the Gambling Regulatory Authority of Ireland (the "Authority") which commits to creating a new licencing and regulation regime in Ireland. The establishment of the Authority will be a significant step towards achieving effective regulation of gambling in Ireland, given the current piecemeal and outdated approach to gambling regulation and enforcement in Ireland.
In Ireland, the legal treatment of 'gambling' has primarily fallen into one of two categories – (i) betting regulated by the Betting Act 1931 and the Totalisator Act 1929; or (ii) gaming and lotteries regulated by the Gaming and Lotteries Act 1956.
For many years now, this legislation has been widely regarded as not fit for purpose, particularly in the context of regulating an industry which has rapidly adopted an online platform business model and which pioneers the use and innovation of complex new products and delivery mechanisms.
A number of reform efforts have been made since 2008, but with limited success:
- In 2008, the Irish Casino Committee made recommendations to bring all forms of betting, gaming and lotteries under one legislative roof and to create a clear, modern licensing regime to cover all forms of gambling.
- The Government followed up on these recommendations by publishing the Gambling Control Bill 2013 (the "Gambling Control Bill"). This legislation stalled in the legislative process, needing to be supplemented by temporary measures while industry stakeholders awaited its introduction into law.
- A significant recent change to the regulatory landscape was the Betting (Amendment) Act 2015, which provided for the regulation of remote bookmakers and betting intermediaries for the first time. These piecemeal changes were very much an interim solution and otherwise did not make a meaningful attempt to modernise gambling regulation in Ireland.
- The Gaming and Lotteries (Amendment) Act 2019 similarly made some 'stop-gap' changes to Ireland's gaming and lotteries legislation, streamlining the Gaming and Lotteries Act 1956 and creating new exemptions for promotional giveaways and charitable prize draws.
In March 2019, the Government published the much anticipated Inter-Departmental Working Group's Report on Future Licensing and Regulation of Gambling, a report which led, in turn, to the publication of the General Scheme in October 2021.
Establishment of the Gambling Regulatory Authority
Along with an overhaul of licensing requirements, the most significant aspect of the General Scheme is the proposed establishment of the Authority, which demonstrates governmental momentum to implement the recommendations included in the Inter-Departmental Working Group Report. The Authority will be given the power to:
- Protect individuals online and in person by regulating gambling services and activities including advertising, websites and apps.
- Develop appropriate safeguards to protect individuals from the dangers of gambling and prevent gambling from being a support to crime.
- Develop and enforce licensing and regulatory measures in respect of all gambling activities and services.
In a recent press release, Minister Browne commented that the General Scheme marks "an important milestone towards the effective regulation of gambling in Ireland".
Provisions in relation to compliance and enforcement can be found in Part 4 of the General Scheme. The General Scheme outlines the core powers of the Authority, which will include monitoring compliance with the legislation, to include conducting inspections and issuing associated notices and warnings; conducting, or collaborating on, investigations to detect and prevent non-compliance and possible criminal activity; imposing penalties; and prosecuting offences.
A key feature of the Authority's powers will be the ability to impose sanctions on providers who do not comply with warning notices. The Authority will have wide-ranging sanctioning powers which will include suspending or revoking a licence; compelling internet service providers to block access to an online provider for a period of time; obtaining a court order to close down a provider's operations on a temporary or permanent basis, including the closure of its physical premises; freezing bank accounts or other assets; and blocking advertising by or on behalf of a provider.
Of particular note is the substantial administrative financial sanctions that the Authority may impose, subject to court confirmation. These financial sanctions may, in the case of an individual, range up to €20,000,000 or, where the provider is not an individual, up to € 20,000,000 or 10% of relevant turnover in the financial year preceding the date of the decision or in any year in which the act or acts occasioning the sanction occurred.
The modernisation of gambling legislation will be welcomed by consumers and businesses alike. With €700,000 being allocated to meet the start-up costs of the Authority, it appears that the government is committed to prioritising public safety and well-being in the area.
Once the Bill is introduced and passed into law, it is expected that the Authority will be established and operational by 2023.
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