I move the Second Reading of the Betting Bill. This Bill is intended to replace the Betting Act of 1926, except in so far as that Act related to or regulated and controlled the totalisator. The Totalisator Act of 1929 has already dealt with that side of betting. This Bill does not deal in any way with the tax on bets. The tax on bets was imposed in a Finance Bill, and if there were to be any changes in regard to-the tax on bets the changes would naturally and properly be effected not in a Bill such as this, but in a Finance Bill.
The 1926 Act was in the nature of an experiment. It provided for the licensing of houses in which bookmakers might carry on the business of cash betting legally, subject to a certain measure of regulation and control. While certain defects came to light, in my opinion that Act on the whole operated moderately successfully. As a result, however, of certain defects which did appear and certain complaints which were made, a Joint Committee of the Dáil and Seanad was appointed to inquire into the working of the Betting Act of 1926, and report what amendments were considered desirable in the existing law in relation to the business of bookmaking. The Committee sat for, I think, sixteen days, and examined a very considerable, number of witnesses, including representatives of the Churches and of Government Departments, Chambers of Commerce, the Press, householders and bookmakers. The Committee were unanimously of opinion that the main principles of the 1926 Act should not be repealed, but that extended power should be given to remedy any abuses that had arisen—that is to say, the Committee were unanimously of opinion that we should not go back to the old position in which cash betting, except on racecourses, was illegal. Personally, I entirely agree with that decision. I think that there were demoralising aspects of illicit betting which had very serious effects, and would continue to have very serious effects. It is impossible to stop a thing like betting, which is not wrong in itself, but only wrong if carried to excess and abused. It is undesirable, generally speaking, to make illegal something which is not wrong in itself and which cannot be stopped. The desirable thing in that case is to regulate it, so far as it can be regulated; to control it and to prevent the growth of abuses in connection with it. Experience has shown in many countries that attempts to stop something which cannot be stopped tend to create great evils, evils of a new sort and evils which affect the purity and efficiency of public administration.
A great number of recommendations were made by this Joint Committee. All the principal recommendations have been included in this Bill. In one or two instances, on further consideration, we did not agree with the Committee and did not include their recommendations in the Bill, but in the great majority of cases we accepted the recommendations of the Committee or accepted them with very slight modifications. If this Bill were to pass in the form in which it is now before the House, the principal changes which would take place would be that persons under the age of eighteen years would be prohibited from betting, and it would also be made an offence to send a person under eighteen years of age into a bookmaker's premises.
The Committee had recommended that the age under which a person should not be allowed to go into a bookmaker's premises should be sixteen. We felt that having two age limits in connection with the matter might lead to some confusion and that it was better to prohibit both betting by persons under eighteen and their entrance into betting premises. As the Committee recommended, the minimum bet under the Bill will be one shilling, and no sums can be paid out in respect of bets during the hours fixed for the holding of horse races in the Saorstát, Great Britain or Northern Ireland. The Bill, as recommended by the Committee, will make it an offence to call odds in a registered premises or to permit overcrowding or loitering in such premises, that having been condemned by the Committee as conduct which, while all right on race courses, was not suitable for the premises in question. It will also be an offence to exhibit in registered premises, so as to be seen from the street, any list of runners or list of prices or sporting papers or any incitement or inducement to bet. It is provided that there shall be certain additional grounds for refusing a certificate of personal fitness to an applicant for a bookmaker's licence—grounds connected with his financial standing and his having previously defaulted, and so forth. There will be additional grounds for refusal of a certificate of suitability of premises—particularly the fact that an excessive number of registered premises already exists in a particular locality. Loitering outside or near the betting premises will be made an offence, and the Gárda will be empowered to deal with it. It is also provided that licences shall expire on a fixed date, as recommended by the Committee. The Ready Money Football Betting Act will, under the Bill, be repealed. That is a matter that was not dealt with by the Committee, but there seems to be an anomaly in the existing law and advantage was taken of the introduction of this Bill to remedy it. It is not proposed to follow the recommendation of the Committee in regard to the licensing of assistants of bookmakers. While there are certain arguments in favour of that course, it was felt that registration and licensing of such assistants might lead to difficulties in prosecution—difficulties in fixing responsibility. It was desired that full responsibility should rest on the bookmaker, and that his responsibility in choosing his assistants should not be interfered with in any way.
Another matter on which we thought, on further consideration, that it was well not to follow the advice of the Committee, was that of split hours. The Committee recommended that registered betting premises should be open for cash bets from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., and from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Although the Committee seemed to think that that would not lead to a revival of street betting, on further examination we had ground for fearing that it would, in fact, do so, and that some illicit organisation might easily be built up, and perhaps it could not be prevented by the police from carrying on betting during those hours in which the premises were closed. We did not insert a section in the Bill providing for split hours.
There are certain other facts in connection with the matter that confirmed us in our disagreement with the Committee. There has been a tendency for racing to take place at a later hour, and, as a matter of fact, it is possible that a larger percentage of bets are made after 3 o'clock now than there were when the Committee had the matter under consideration. Certain figures which we obtained indicated that even in the months of March, April and May, 1929, in the case of one bookmaker, 25 per cent. of the bets were made after three o'clock. If that were so it would be a very conclusive argument against having the premises closed between 3 and 5, as recommended by the Committee.
The Committee recommended that a person in receipt of home assistance should he deprived of relief on account of having been discovered engaged in a betting transaction. We felt that that would be rather Draconic and it was hardly a proper provision for insertion in a Betting Act. We felt that if it were to be put down at all it should be done in an Act amending the laws in regard to poor relief. There seem to be fairly considerable powers at present for supervising those in receipt of outdoor relief. If further powers are required they should be embodied in a special Bill dealing with relief. In any case, there are other forms of expenditure by persons in receipt of home assistance which are as objectionable as betting, and there would be just as good grounds for making them a disqualification for the receipt of relief.
There is the fact, too, that in many cases real hardship might be inflicted on the relatives of the person who carried out the betting transaction rather than on the person himself. On the whole, we felt that the Committee was taking a somewhat strict view of the offence in this matter, and we did not insert any section embodying that recommendation. There was also the recommendation of the Committee that bookmakers should give prescribed and numbered receipts for each cash bet and show the amount received together with the amount of the betting tax to be deducted. It was felt it would be really impracticable to do that because a very considerable proportion of small backers include in their dockets credit bets and it would be impossible to show the total tax which might arise because certain bets would be conditional bets. I think these are the main matters that are worthy of notice in connection with the Bill.