"That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
I am sharing time with Deputies Jack Chambers, O'Loughlin, Michael McGrath, Cassells and Aylward. I am speaking for five minutes.
"That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
I am sharing time with Deputies Jack Chambers, O'Loughlin, Michael McGrath, Cassells and Aylward. I am speaking for five minutes.
I will not be interrupting.
We have organised the time among ourselves.
I welcome the opportunity to open the Second Stage debate on the Gambling Control Bill 2018. As Members will be aware, this legislation was introduced to the House by my colleague, Deputy Rabbitte, on 21 February last. I commend Deputy Rabbitte and Deputy Jack Chambers, who have been instrumental in moving this legislation forward and bringing it to Second Stage here today.
It is instructive to note that the legislation dealing with gambling in Ireland dates back to the Betting Act 1931 and the Gaming and Lotteries Act 1956. That reveals the extent to which the current laws governing gambling are archaic. I do not believe that anyone in this House believes that the laws do not need to be updated or that new regulations do not need to be introduced. Any person who travels around Ireland will know that gambling is a very substantial and significant business. Most small towns and, indeed, large towns have many bookies' shops and there is also the opportunity for people to gamble online. It is a business that has an enormous turnover and there are significant profits from it.
I wish to note at the outset that Fianna Fáil fully recognises that many people in Ireland enjoy themselves gambling. They do not have a problem in respect of gambling. They like to bet on a horse or a football match. It provides entertainment and does not have any negative consequences for them, other than losing small amounts of money. However, that ignores the fact that many people in this country have significant gambling addictions. It is important, and the responsibility of this House, to ensure that legislation is introduced to provide some assistance for those individuals.
When it comes to introducing any legislation it is important that we look at the available research dealing with the particular social area we are trying to regulate. We have done this prior to introducing this legislation. Research was conducted in June 2015 by an academic in University College Dublin, Dr. Crystal Fulton, and it indicates there is a significant problem with gambling addiction in Ireland. Research carried out by GambleAware, which was referred to in the research I just mentioned, shows that an estimated 28,000 to 40,000 people in Ireland suffer from a gambling disorder. That is a huge number of people. We also know from international research that single men under the age of 35 are particularly affected by gambling addiction. That is a cohort of individuals in our society for which we need to do something. Many individuals - men between the ages of 20 and 35 - have significant social problems, one of which is gambling. It is simply irresponsible of this House to ignore that problem and not to try to regulate the area.
We all know individuals who have suffered from gambling addictions. In many respects, gambling addiction is no different from any other addiction, such as a drug or alcohol addiction. It can and does have a devastating impact on individuals' relationships. It can have devastating impacts on marriages, on friendships and on other family relationships. It also results in people's behaviour becoming very erratic. It has all the hallmarks of a symptom which requires proper treatment. In fact, it could nearly be diagnosed as a particular condition that requires expert treatment in the future.
We need to recognise that it is unacceptable not to have tried to regulate this area for so long. The problems in respect of gambling are now even more severe because of the arrival of technology. It used to be the case that people who had gambling problems would have to go to the bookie's shop and the worst that would happen was that they would devote and spend all the money in their pockets to gambling and that they would lose that money. Now problems are much more significant. People have access to gambling online and on their mobile phones. They are not just limited to losing the money they have in the bank account. They are now exposed to the prospect of losing money that they have borrowed or that is on account - money they do not have but for which they will be responsible when their debts come in and when the bill comes in from the bookie.
I say this with no disrespect to bookies but the bookie always wins and it is the case that an individual who is devoting his or her life to gambling inevitably will suffer from severe financial loss. Therefore, what we seek to do in this legislation is to provide regulation for this area in Irish life. We want to ensure that gambling in Ireland is properly regulated, that vulnerable people are properly protected and that the business itself is fully regulated in order that ordinary individuals who want to be involved in gambling can know that they are doing so in an orthodox and regulated way. We think it is very important that this legislation gets through this House as promptly as possible and that we get a regulatory system in place.
As my colleague mentioned, problem gambling has spiralled out of control. Thousands of lives have been ruined by a failure to regulate the gambling sector. I refer to families destroyed by lies, homes taken away because of massive debts and lives lost because of depression and suicide. We have 1930s-era laws for 2018 problems. When the current rules to control the gambling sector were drafted, most of the country did not even have electricity, never mind the Internet, mobile phones, instant gaming and 24-hour access to betting and gambling. This is how ludicrously far we have fallen behind. Decades of inaction and can-kicking have sowed chaos. It is a wild-west sector that has been left to regulate itself and play by its own rules.
Inaction has created a landscape whereby vulnerable people are at the mercy of multibillion euro profit-making corporations – a landscape where someone can gamble and lose €460,000 in 12 hours and where the only contact he receives in that period is a telephone call from the bookmaker to tell him the computer systems are down and to call him personally if he wants to place another bet. That is not acceptable in modern Ireland. The result of inaction has been devastating and the results are plain to see. We have the third highest rate of gambling losses in the world. Gambling losses in Ireland totalled €2.1 billion in 2016. Some €14 million is gambled every day. The sector's biggest firms predict €400 million and €500 million surpluses every year. The industry-touted figure is that there are approximately 40,000 problem gamblers in Ireland. The Institute of Public Health in Ireland puts the figure at over 100,000. Treatment centres and addiction counselling services tell us that for every one gambling addict, ten lives are affected. This means that we have allowed gambling to spiral so far out of control, it could be affecting up to 1 million people.
This legislation, if enacted, will be successful in restoring control to the sector and helping problem gamblers. The key aspect of the Bill is that it is adaptive and flexible and will be able to respond and react, as required, through an office for gambling regulation that will be fully empowered and well resourced. This is needed to stay on top of an ever-changing industry, which is moving from dimly lit betting shops to behind computer screens and mobile phones, on which the chance to win is always within touching distance, 24-7.
The Bill draws a lot of what was first proposed in heads of a Bill in 2013. It is disappointing that we have wasted the time since 2013 and that new legislation is only now being introduced. This Bill is not out of date, however, and was recently scrutinised by Dr. Crystal Fulton, who found that it is suitable, subject to minor changes. Amendments, as required, can be considered on Committee Stage, and we hope to work with the Government and all the other political parties on that. It is in keeping with what has happened in other countries. The UK, Spain, Australia, Sweden and Canada all have gambling regulatory authorities similar to the one proposed. This Bill is almost 100 pages long and contains eight sections that cover everything from licensing and codes of practice to tackling money-laundering and international co-operation. It includes the establishment of a social fund to support problem gamblers and the introduction of better staff training to identify problems. In addition, it would impose strict age restrictions.
Another very important aspect of the Bill is a new self-exclusion registrar to operate across platforms where people can affectively opt out of gambling for a time. This registrar could be overseen by the regulator's office and would be crucial to someone who self-identifies as having a problem and is taking the extra step to get the help and support he needs.
I thank and pay tribute to my colleagues, Deputies Rabbitte and O'Callaghan, along with Mr. Kevin Dillon in the research office, for their work in drafting this Bill. I thank Mr. Barry Grant from Problem Gambling Ireland for his work in this area and the Rutland Centre and Cuan Mhuire treatment centres for their help and support. Mr. Tony O'Reilly and Mr. Davy Glennon both gave powerful testimonies in the audiovisual room last week and they deserve great credit for outlining how, having struggled, they overcame their addictions.
The experiences of those who have been victims of legislative inaction must be learned from and used for the better. The industry also has a role to play. We understand that it is largely supportive of the proposed law. It should work to see this legislation facilitated and progressed. It should not replicate the actions of some in the alcohol industry in trying to block and impede legislation. It is important that the Bill moves forward with urgency. We need to restore control in what is a wild-west sector. The Minister of State, as a former Chairman of the justice committee, is genuine about seeing gambling regulations progressed. We look forward to working with him in the interest of addicts.
I commend Deputies Rabbitte, Jack Chambers and O'Callaghan on their work in bringing forward this Bill.
The Government really has a lot to answer for. Fine Gael has been in government for seven years and there has been no decisive action. While the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, might be personally committed to this, there is a blockage somewhere, be it in the system or in strands of industry. The industry in general tells us it is supportive but nothing has happened. There has to be accountability for that. We need to have some answers as to why what is happening is the case.
As has been said already, problem gambling destroys lives. That has to be the starting point in this debate. We all need to recognise and accept that fact. The impact is not only on the person with an addiction but, as has been stated, it is also on those around that individual. The reality is that the opportunity to gamble is now in one's face constantly. One can gamble on anything. One can place a bet on which of two flies walking up the wall will win the race. Those of us who enjoy sport, watch sport on television or watch Sky Sports - this is beyond the control of the Government - are bombarded with messages about gambling on advertising hoardings and during the intervals and advertising breaks. Flagship sponsors of shows promote gambling. It is incessant and omnipresent and we really have to deal with it.
As Deputy O'Callaghan said, the whole system has changed. It is now so easy to gamble. In the past, one had to walk into a bookmaker's to place one's bet. There was some constraint on how much one could bet given how much money one had. We need a gambling authority. It has to have real teeth and powers. We have to place real emphasis on training and education. We need serious restrictions with appropriate penalties attached in respect of age, advertising, promotions and sponsorship. All of this needs to be led by a gambling authority. It has to happen and the Minister of State needs to deliver it. We have to look close to home also. We have our own national lottery regulator, yet we now have 51 lottery games, eight draw options, 24 online games and 19 scratch cards. Does our own national lottery system need 51 games? I rest my case.
I commend my colleagues Deputies Rabbitte, O'Callaghan and Jack Chambers on introducing this Bill, which is not before its time. It is absolutely shocking that Ireland has the third highest per capita rate of gambling losses in the world and that gambling losses in Ireland totalled €2.1 billion in 2016, which amounts to €4 million every day. Behind the 40,000 people in Ireland known to have gambling problems are families left with unpaid bills, no jobs, empty fridges, hungry children, broken relationships and devastated partners.
That men under 35 are most at risk is no surprise. I had occasion to speak to a recently qualified counsellor who has just started working in his first job. He told me of his surprise at the number of young men his own age who are seeking help for gambling addiction. These men started gambling insignificant sums of money on gaming websites and the problem very quickly spiralled out of control, leaving them with serious financial and mental health problems.
Young people are using new online gambling facilities at a really disturbing rate, creating a whole new generation of addicts. I read a blog post by a man from Kildare on a gambling support website recently. He described how gambling took over his life, leaving him in a continuous cycle of self-destruction and self-torture. He attended a Gamblers Anonymous meeting at Cuan Mhuire in Athy and described how helpful that service was in helping him to quit gambling. What worried me about what he said was how easy it was for him to access so-called members-only gambling facilities despite not being a member. On his Twitter page, he advocates strongly for the passage of this Bill, as does Mr. Tony O'Reilly, the man behind the theft of €1.75 million from An Post to fuel his own gambling addiction. He says the "epidemic - particularly of online gambling - is happening all around us, with thousands of people suffering both directly and indirectly." One way forward, he says, is for the 2013 gambling Bill to be enacted. He states, "If this can be achieved, it could help so many who are struggling with a gambling addiction and may even stop some from falling over that cliff." After five years of delay, action must be taken immediately.
To cut to the chase, it is an accepted truth that gambling is a disease for many and that it has infiltrated and destroyed many lives in this country. No attempt is being made tonight to ban gambling but an attempt is being made to try, in some small way, to halt the terrible damage being done to the lives of people who are addicted to this scourge and to end the relentless march that bookies and the wider industry are on to further tighten their grip on the consciousness of society. The key here is how the gambling industry is gaining a tighter grip on people's minds through advertising and social media platforms. People need to stand up to those practices.
Last year, at a special night at my GAA club, Navan O'Mahonys, the executive invited GAA legend Oisín McConville to talk about his own battles with gambling addiction. As a GAA man, it was desperately sad to listen to one of our great stars talk about how he went to London for an operation and, after coming out, spent the evening in the bookies. He gambled every penny he had and could not even afford the taxi back to the airport. He had to run to Heathrow and aggravated the injury for which he had been treated. That is the stranglehold gambling can have over a person. The question is then whether it is a lost battle. I asked a good friend of mine who is an addict and who may never break the addiction - but who keeps fighting it - whether the battle is lost. He said that I should not let the industry get a further stranglehold on people. I am looking at the path they want to take. Let us not confuse what is being said this evening as an attempt to thwart the fun of people who go to the races for a for a day with their friends. I attended the Sligo races last Sunday. I enjoyed a great day at that scenic racecourse and, courtesy of Noel Meade, my local trainer, I backed a winner. There is a big difference between that and a bookie who is trying to get one to lump money on Swansea - via one's mobile phone - after Southampton have scored, with the advance of in-match betting and the odds flashing up on the screens around the ground. I would encourage anyone to read the feature on the Paddy Power CEO, Peter Jackson, in the Sunday Independent last weekend to see where these guys want to go to infiltrate society even further.
One of the great things in Irish sport is the cheer that goes up from the crowd at 1.30 p.m. on the Tuesday of Cheltenham Festival week but if one walks around the bookie shops in Navan or any other provincial town at 5.30 p.m. on the same day, it is easy to see the impact of the sport of kings on so many poor souls. The flashing television advertisements of Ruby Walsh and Paddy Power will not pay the food bills of the lads who handed all their money for the day across the counter.
We all know that there are people who can enjoy an odd flutter at the races. However, there are others who cannot limit their betting to a day at the races or a night at the dogs. These people are classified as problem gamblers. According to a recent UCD study, there are over 40,000 people in Ireland with gambling addictions, with single men under 35 most at risk. This is very much a silent addiction which can escalate and get out of control very quickly. If one is a problem gambler with an online betting account that has no spending limit, one can literally throw away thousands of euro a day. The majority of online gambling accounts will be set up with a debit or credit card. It takes seconds to transfer money and place a bet. This is lethal for a problem gambler. The most vulnerable people we need to protect are those who sit at home alone on Saturdays and Sundays, when there is sport on all day, glued to their laptops, tablets or phones and feeding money into their accounts in order to place bets. They are not physically handing over cold hard cash as they do in the shops and at the races. This takes the sense of reality out of online gambling. They are effectively playing with Monopoly money and do not realise the gravity of their losses until it is too late.
Advertisements and sports sponsorships for cigarettes and alcohol are heavily regulated and almost non-existent these days. It is time for the sports industry to get its act together with regard to gambling. I challenge Deputies on the Government benches to take note of the television advertisements the next time they are watching a high profile sporting event. Every second or third advert is for a betting company, usually online. Sports websites and the sports editors of our print media must also take note of their moral responsibility in this regard. If I am a recovering gambling addict and I sit down to watch a match, read the sports pages of a newspaper or catch up on a sports website, I am bombarded by betting advertisements which could cause a relapse. We need effective regulation for this industry to give those who work in the sector certainty through socially responsible gambling. We are committed to working with the industry to build this new framework but the time for delays has long since passed. Legislative action is now needed. We cannot underestimate the dangers of gambling addiction for young people. I ask the Minister of State to take this on board. The sooner we do something about it before any more damage is done, the better.
I thank Fianna Fáil colleagues for giving us all the opportunity to participate in the debate on this significant issue. The Government is not opposing the Private Member's Bill sponsored by Deputies O’Callaghan, Jack Chambers and Rabbitte. However, we are debating a Government general scheme of a gambling control Bill, published in 2013, which the proposers have essentially replicated. There is nothing wrong with that. The guiding principle of the 2013 scheme is that only gambling activities which are licensed and regulated would be lawful. Only the regulatory body might issue licences for such activities. The licensing principles would apply equally to both land-based services, such as bookmakers’ premises, gaming arcades, etc., and remote services online, on mobile devices and so forth. Applicants for gambling licenses would be required to supply detailed information, including evidence of financial viability, criminal records and staff training. The Garda Síochána and local authorities would have statutory rights to comment on and to oppose where necessary any application for a licence for reasons within their competences.
The regulation of the national lottery was excluded from the scope of the 2013 Government scheme and is at present a matter for the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. I note what colleagues have said about the national lottery. This debate provides me with the opportunity to report to the Dáil on the work under way to review and enhance the original Government proposals, as set down in the 2013 scheme, and to take account of technological and other developments that have occurred in the meantime.
As colleagues have said, this is a fast-moving area. The development of modern, fit-for-purpose, gambling legislation is necessary and is a priority for Government. The objective must be to ensure the proper licensing and regulation of the many varied forms of gambling now available in the State, including traditional betting on horse and dog racing, gaming machines, casinos, lotteries and online gambling, including the increasingly popular virtual and fantasy-type activities. We need a modern regulatory approach to a complex multi-billion euro industry that operates increasingly on a global scale. This revised approach will enhance consumer protection in all forms of gambling, increase the protection of vulnerable persons and potentially increase Exchequer revenue from the gambling industry.
I have been actively engaged in efforts to develop and bring forward revised proposals in this complex and evolving area of policy based on the 2013 Government scheme. I acknowledge comments attributed to me by colleagues across the House. The establishment of a dedicated gambling policy division in the Department of Justice and Equality in January 2017 has facilitated this review. The division also asked for submissions from stakeholders and members of the public setting out their ideas for better regulation. Of significant importance is that the Government, on 10 January last, approved my proposal to review, modernise and revise the 2013 general scheme of the gambling control Bill. Many changes have taken place since 2013. The critical changes approved were to establish an independent regulatory authority for the gambling industry, rationalise the licensing approach to gambling activities, clarify the provisions concerning the licensing of gaming machines, and review all provisions to determine if they remained fit for purpose.
The key element of the Government decision of 10 January 2018 is the establishment of a new gambling regulatory authority as an independent statutory body under the auspices of the Department of Justice and Equality. This approach to independent regulation is, I believe, critical for the development of modern gambling legislation. It mirrors the situation in most EU member states and would bring Ireland into line with best international practice. An independent regulator would offer assurance that decision-making would be free from any potentially undue influence. I should also point out to Deputies that effective modern licensing, regulation and enforcement of the gambling industry will require significant additional resources, primarily for the operation of the new regulatory authority. Similar authorities in other EU member states involve significant staff numbers and IT provision. However, there is increased potential revenue for the Exchequer.
The Government has agreed that there may be a need for the further development of an appropriate licensing, monitoring and enforcement regime for land-based gaming machines in casinos or elsewhere that may be played for monetary reward. The new authority would have the responsibility to license these machines and licensing terms and conditions would be developed with regard to locations, numbers, stakes, prize amounts, etc. Licensing conditions must be clear, fair, legitimate and transparent to all. It would not be realistic to seek to enforce prohibition on certain physical gaming machines over other types of machine. This would risk further migration to online versions, which are widely available on most operators' websites and may be difficult to monitor effectively. Any discriminatory licensing approaches to gaming machines that differ little, if at all, might attract legal challenge by operators or the regulatory attention of the European Commission. In this regard, I am investigating whether only one standard type of machine, capable of being monitored interactively, might be the ultimate solution to the reported proliferation of different types of machines, some of which are very old.
To progress the review and updating of the general scheme in all necessary aspects, a working group was established, comprising all key stakeholder Departments, relevant offices and the Office of the Attorney General, which I chair. This group had its first meeting in February 2018. It has met on a number of occasions to date and will continue to meet.
This work will assist in identifying new or emerging legislative and policy issues not currently represented in the original general scheme and which may need to be addressed in new legislation. It is my expectation that the working group will submit a final report to Government in mid to late 2018.
The 2013 scheme contained provisions with regard to regulating advertising, promotions, special offers and sponsorship of events by gambling operators. In particular, activities aimed at those under 18 years of age or vulnerable persons were to be prevented. These provisions need to be revisited in the light of developments, technological and otherwise, since 2013. Gambling advertising and promotions are now increasingly individually targeted using new technology. Potential restrictions on gambling advertising and sponsorship must be carefully considered, targeted and effective. Sectors of Irish sporting activity that depend heavily on advertising and sponsorship risk being negatively impacted by very restrictive measures. For example, advertising by gambling companies is very much prevalent in TV coverage of horse racing from Irish racecourses and is a significant source of income that is not easily replaced. There is significant sponsorship of sporting events by gambling companies, for example, UK Premiership football, major races in both the UK and Ireland and the Irish soccer team's home games. The national lottery is a very prominent and significant prominent gambling advertiser and sponsor.
Our legislation must include measures to deal with aggressive promotional offers by gambling operators to entice customers to their product. However, I am anxious to ensure that unintended negative consequences do not arise in this regard and I must caution against unrealistic expectations as to what can be achieved. Imposing restrictions on out-of-State broadcasters or sporting events broadcast from abroad would be difficult, as would seeking to restrict advertising online.
Another area that will require our further attention is what conditions should attach to the licensing of casinos. Ireland will be the last EU member state to introduce formal legislation regulating casinos. In this regard, consideration of the issue of licensing casinos cannot be limited solely to land-based casinos. Many casino games are now available for play online. Technological advances now permit players to bet in virtual reality casinos online without the need to leave their homes.
I am sure that much of this evening's discussion will rightly centre on the issue of problem gambling and gambling addiction. A modern and effectively regulated gambling environment will ensure to the greatest extent possible that gambling will be an entertaining activity for the majority of those who take part in it. We must ensure that it will provide enhanced consumer protection for players while limiting the harmful effects on those who may be susceptible to addiction or other such problems and protecting young people. The safeguard proposals in the 2013 scheme will require development and continuous monitoring thereafter. In this context, the new independent regulatory authority will be the critical factor.
There are no definitive statistics available that indicate the extent of gambling addiction in Ireland. The Department of Justice and Equality is awaiting the publication of information from the 2014-15 national advisory committee on drugs and alcohol drug and gambling prevalence survey that contained a number of questions on gambling habits and prevalence. The Department will support a further, more detailed study to be conducted by the Health Research Board from 2018 to 2019. These studies will contribute to our policy debate and the development of appropriate measures to prevent and to treat gambling addiction.
Our focus must be to develop the best possible regulatory measures for the gambling industry in respect of vulnerable persons. These would include age restrictions, staff training, self-exclusion measures and controls on advertising, promotions and sponsorship. I envisage the regulatory authority undertaking public education and awareness-raising programmes to promote socially responsible gambling and assist in counteracting the ill effects for players, their families and society of irresponsible or problem gambling. A key potential of new effective regulation is that it will permit the establishment and operation of a social fund supported by industry levies. Such a fund will support those professional and expert organisations involved in addiction treatment.
As well as being concerned with protecting vulnerable persons at risk of addiction, I am also conscious from representations made to my Department that there must be enhanced consumer protection measures for persons engaging in gambling. I envisage these including ensuring licensed operators have adequate financial resources and publish clear terms and conditions of business and a new complaints and compensation procedure. A critical change proposed in 2013 is a revision of the centuries old public and statutory policy to make gambling wagers or bets contractually enforceable concerning licensed gambling activities. This has occurred in the UK and elsewhere but only for licensed gambling activities.
I would be happy to receive realistic proposals from Deputies that would contribute to the updating of the 2013 general scheme and bring about as soon as possible the development of modern and effective legislation. New modern gambling legislation, in conjunction with independent regulation, offers the best route to enhanced consumer protection, to increased Exchequer revenue from the industry and to the development of a full range of treatment and mediation methods to address problem gambling by those agencies competent in this area.
Tá seans ann go rachaidh mé ar aghaidh beagáinín níos faide ná 15 bhomaite. Níl a fhios agam faoi na daoine eile. I commend Deputies Jim O'Callaghan, Jack Chambers and Anne Rabbitte for this timely and important legislation. Our betting legislation is from the 1930s and 1950s and has been out of date for a long time. I note what the Minister of State said and it is welcome that the Bill is not being opposed. However, his speech contained the statement that the Government is debating a Government general scheme of the Gambling Control Bill published in 2013, which the proposers have essentially replicated. It is not that we have been dealing with a succession of Governments since 2013. It has essentially been the same Government. We have seen very little progress on this issue and very little explanation even in the Minister of State's speech. The fact that there has been very little explanation as to why there has been so little progress with this legislation was raised by a number of Deputies. The former Minister, Alan Shatter, brought forward heads of Bill which broadly speaking were relatively progressive but since then, it has sat on the shelf. It is difficult to understand why this has happened. Reference has been made to whether there was opposition in the Department, the industry or sectors of the industry. Why has there been no progress on this Bill because it seems a no-brainer to me that this society should acknowledge the enormous issue surrounding gambling in this country? Deputies are all too familiar with the devastation caused to families by addiction.
As other Deputies have said, it is fair to say that there is nothing necessarily wrong with having a bet but much like alcohol, it needs to be done in moderation, if at all. We are perhaps more conscious of the harm done by alcohol and cigarettes and restrictions have been placed on alcohol and there are health warnings and legislation relating to its abuse. There is a greater attempt to tackle cultural attitudes around its abuse and misuse. We certainly have a long road to travel but there has been some progress. I do not believe this has been replicated with gambling. The impact of it is enormous and extends far beyond the individual who suffers from addiction. A person can spend everything in their bank account, overdraw and lose everything they have. In particular, the case of Tony O'Reilly is in the public consciousness at the minute. It is quite difficult to fathom for anybody who has not suffered that addiction but it is important to understand it as an addiction and affliction. That case, the scale of the problems people can get into and the devastation it can cause families are replicated throughout the country. In many cases, it is an addiction that is less visible than drug or alcohol abuse. It is fair to say that it is ever-present. It has always created problems in terms of addiction but it has never been as visible as it is now with the opportunities that exist and advertising, whether one is watching something on television or online. There are probably more teams in the UK Premiership sponsored by gambling companies than there are parties in this House and that is saying something.
The general scheme was essentially an outline of what was to be included in the Bill so I would like to hear the Minister of State tell us the explanation for the delay and the progress being made. When this was scheduled, I had a quick look at what the Government had been saying or doing on this topic over the past few years. There has been announcement after announcement in response to any issues that have arisen and always a hat tip to this general scheme. The Minister of State should outline what is the resistance.
I make one point regarding the structure of the Bill. It proposes to place what would be a very welcome office of gambling control under the auspices of the Department of Justice and Equality. I think there are views that it should be an independent Vote so that it would make the case directly to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. There is a case for that. It is important that an office is placed on an independent footing outside of political and lobbying influence enabling it to do its job independent of any lobbying or pressure.
Very often with moves to regulate not just gambling, but things such as alcohol, the regular refrain is the implication for jobs, the implication for the Exchequer and so on. That is political pressure that can be brought to bear. While I do not say they are not real considerations, it is important that the office of gambling control has as its first priority the public good and public health. Its independence is important for that.
The proposal for player protection and social funding is interesting and is certainly workable. It could have any amount of uses. In all these things it is important that the playing field is as level as possible for all different sectors. There could be standardisation of checks for physical betting outlets, casinos and so on. The social fund could be put to good use there. It could also be used for public awareness.
The Bill provides for the creation of a self-exclusion register and sets out rules for advertising promotions and sponsorship. I presume that is in response to concerns expressed in the media about the increased dangers associated with gambling in an environment that is not fully regulated. This register would be beneficial if there is common access among similar organisations if it is possible to address that. It may be a complicated matter but there may be a value in somebody self-excluding and they self-exclude from gambling generally speaking. I am not sure if that would be workable but it is worthy of consideration.
As a member of the GAA I commend that organisation on its recent mature decision not to permit teams to use gambling-related advertising. That is important and shows good leadership.
The legislation also requires service licence holders to commit resources for funding and operating a scheme for dealing with customer complaints and compensating customers, which is welcome.
The objectives of the Gambling Control Bill are outlined as ensuring fairness in the conduct of gambling; the protection of vulnerable persons, including children, from risks to their well-being arising from gambling; and the avoidance of circumstances where gambling could inadvertently or otherwise facilitate or enable criminal or illegal activity and other issues. That is welcome.
I make a point I intend to make in tomorrow's debate on the Criminal Justice (Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing) (Amendment) Bill. We need to be conscious that gambling may be used for money laundering and our money laundering legislation needs to take account of that.
The existing Acts of 1931 and 1953 are absolutely archaic and deal with a completely different time and completely different sector. Even in recent years the emergence of online gambling means that people can instantaneously transfer funds into a gambling account straight from a bank account at the touch of button. The current legislation does not reflect the protections we need. It is an enormous social problem creating very serious situations for individuals and families across the country, absolutely destroying some families. We have sat on this for too long. The Bill contains strong proposals and we owe it to the public to act.
I commend the Bill's authors on introducing it and giving us an opportunity to have a debate on gambling and more importantly to move the legislation forward.
I wish to unpick the last two paragraphs of the Minister of State's opening speech. They are very telling and paint a picture of a Government that is not really committed to this and does not believe it will happen anytime soon. He said:
I would be happy to receive realistic proposals from Deputies that would contribute to the updating of the 2013 general scheme [for a gambling control Bill] and bring about as soon as possible the development of modern and effective legislation.
The Bill before us is essentially a carbon copy of a Bill that was introduced by the Government in the first place. Therefore there is no reason not to support it. Is the Minister of State saying the proposals in the Bill introduced by the former Minister, Mr. Shatter, are not realistic? Is he saying that Bill does not deliver what he called "the development of modern and effective legislation"? In any event even if he had concerns about any aspect of the Bill, which would be bizarre given that his party introduced the Bill in the first place, these issues can be dealt with on Committee Stage. That is why his saying he would be happy to receive realistic proposals almost gives the impression that the delay is not on the Government side but because it is not getting co-operation from the Opposition, which is not the case.
The Minister of State went on to say:
New modern gambling legislation, in conjunction with independent regulation, offers the best route to enhanced consumer protection, to increased Exchequer revenue from the industry and to the development of a full range of treatment and mediation methods to address problem gambling by those agencies competent in this area.
There is no quarrel from the Opposition on that. In reality this is an issue of political will. If the political will exists, we can get legislation passed. With the political will we can scrutinise this on Committee Stage to look at the areas of concern either from the Opposition or Government.
What does it mean when the Minister of State says "as soon as possible"? The previous Bill was proposed in 2013 which is five years ago. Five years is a long time for a Bill to remain, as many Bills are, in a queue waiting to be advanced by the Government.
We all know that gambling is a very serious issue. I do not need to remind the Minister or anybody else in the House of the devastation it can cause for individuals and families. Some people lose everything. Their bank accounts could be emptied. They could lose their homes. Many people have separated and have lost relationships because of gambling.
It is far too easy. With mobile apps people can bet on the same race on multiple accounts. There was a time with betting that once a horse race started, that was it. If someone did not get in, they would often talk about all the bets they did not put on and all the losses they had because they did not bet. Now it is possible to bet on a race even after it starts. The same is true of a football match or a soccer match. I watched the World Snooker Championship final over the weekend. Even the commentators were giving updates on the changing odds. Once the game got a bit closer the odds changed and people were betting frame-by-frame. The same is happening in every sport. It is far too easy to bet.
I understand that a balance needs to be struck between the public good and people's individual rights. Some people would make the individual freedom argument that if that is what somebody wants to do, they should be allowed to do it. As legislators, we have a job to ensure that the public good is also protected. Sometimes we protect people from themselves because it is not just those individuals who suffer; other people suffer. The State can suffer if people eventually get mental health problems and need to be supported. Their families suffer and there are all sorts of consequences. It is not a victimless act and is not solely contained to the person who is the gambler. I understand about the balancing of rights here, but I do not believe we have that balance right and we need a regulator.
Recently the Regulator of the National Lottery appeared before the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach. A huge number of scratch cards costing €5, €10 or €20 are being sold. There is an issue in that we are making it far too easy to gamble even with scratch cards. I know of many people who buy multiple scratch cards. It was grand when they cost €1 or €2; it is very difficult to walk into a shop and ask for 50 scratch cards at €2. However, it is less of a problem to order five of them at €10. I have a real difficulty with that.
There is a considerable amount in this Bill, which is a very good Bill. It has given us a good opportunity to discuss the matter. Obviously we have some concerns about it, but let us address those on Committee Stage. If the will exists across the House, we can deliver a Bill within weeks or months. I am delighted the Minister of State is on board and that we have his personal support, but we need the support of the Government.
This needs to be prioritised. Let us get a Bill through the House and let us put the regulations and safeguards in place. Let us make sure that people have an individual right to gamble but also that we have all the appropriate protections, oversight and regulation in place to protect all citizens in this State.
First, I want to state our support for the Bill, on which I believe there is an emerging consensus. I acknowledge the role of the Minister of State, Deputy David Stanton, in seeking to push this agenda internally. His role has to be acknowledged, in particular his bona fides in regard to tackling the downside of gambling, and the need to regulate gambling has been well articulated.
We support the Bill. One could say that, to a certain extent, the Bill is limited but this is Second Stage and there is a long way to go before the Bill is finalised. I take on board the points made by the Minister of State and by the originators of the Bill, Deputies Jack Chambers and Anne Rabbitte, and I acknowledge their work on this. For example, there are issues around technology, in particular how the Bill will legislate for the constant movements and shifts in technology. Let us suppose there is a well-known betting outfit based in Gibraltar, or somewhere offshore, and it has a presence onshore in Ireland. If one subscribes to its app, there is evidence it can provide differential odds between different users. The use of algorithms and technology means there is such fluidity built into the system that it can prove difficult to find some sort of legislative scrutiny or regulatory scrutiny that keeps the State ahead of the curve of where movements and trends are in regard to the gambling industry. There are big challenges ahead for the legislation in that regard, although there is a clear political willingness to seek to address that. If there is proper and robust engagement with the stakeholders, I believe it can be achieved.
I have had some meetings with the Gaming and Leisure Association of Ireland - I think we have all been approached by it to some extent - and it tell us it welcomes the legislation. It states that in creating a regulated industry and requiring all operators to be licensed, the Government could establish control over who is operating gambling in Ireland. It also states that, pivotally, such a process would ensure that only those who have been deemed personally fit to operate and proven tax compliant would be permitted to engage in the provision of gambling services, driving criminality and the black market economy out of the industry. That is a wonderful aspiration and we would all agree with it, but there is a massive challenge to that.
I mentioned I had meetings with the Gaming and Leisure Association of Ireland if only to articulate the fact the gaming and leisure sector would seek to be regulated. If I was a cynic, I might say the reality is that members' clubs are in fact proprietary clubs run by owners as profitable commercial operations. We know that concerns were expressed ten years ago in a report to Government on casinos that the provision of casino-style games in these clubs should be a matter of concern, given the provision of such games was entirely contrary to the intentions of the 1956 Act and that there was no regulation of their activities. That was ten years ago and we might argue that there is such a proliferation of them now that there is a broad acceptance of them and it is a case of just saying, "Ah well, let us do our best to regulate them".
If the sector is calling for regulation, we accept its bona fides in that regard. The question is how the legislation will deal with the advances in technology and whether it can provide support for the people who have spoken so passionately about this, like Davy Glennon, who describes a win as "only a loan to give back to the bookies". There are people standing up in society who are very brave and to whom we have a duty of care. The challenge is whether we can legislate in a way that ensures we support people like Davy Glennon. I do not want to patronise Mr. Glennon as I do not know the man from Adam but, given his courage in coming forward, we need to meet what he is saying with clear and robust legislation.
While we have a long way to go, at least this is a starting point. I congratulate Fianna Fáil for bringing this forward and congratulate the Government for accepting the bona fides of the Bill. I believe we will have much discourse throughout the various stages of this Bill to try to get it right, so we can speak for the type of people who Davy Glennon has spoken for, and for Davy Glennon himself, as one example, and that we endeavour to do our best on this issue.
I am delighted to contribute on the Gambling Control Bill 2018. This comprehensive Bill, brought forward by Fianna Fáil, is mainly based on the general scheme of the Gambling Control Bill 2013. At the beginning of this year, the Minister of State, Deputy David Stanton, got Cabinet approval to draft an updated general scheme. Although he may have answered this already, why is the Government drafting another general scheme when it did nothing with the 2013 Bill? Is it not just time to accept this Private Members’ Bill and allow it to be amended on Committee Stage to make it the kind of legislation we need?
A key difference seems to be whether the badly-needed regulator would be fully independent or established under the aegis of the Department of Justice and Equality. The Bill before us has the regulator within the Department and provides for the regulation of gambling in Ireland. It is long overdue, given that our current gambling legislation dates back to the Betting Act 1931 and the Gaming and Lotteries Act 1956.
Under Part 1, section 2, of the Bill before us, “gambling” is defined as gaming, betting or participating in a lottery or bingo and amusements. However, I note the activities of horse racing, greyhound racing, the national lottery and financial spread betting will not be governed by this legislation, and daily fantasy sports have also been omitted, as they were omitted from the 2013 Bill. Gambling through “remote communications” is also provided for in the Bill and means that the Internet, phone, television, radio and “any other kind of electronic or other technology for facilitating communication” is open to regulation. This is a very important aspect of the Bill because access to gambling has largely moved online.
Part 2 of the Bill sets out the functions of the Minister and the provisions for the establishment of the new office for gambling control Ireland, and outlines the characteristics of this office of State, including the functions of the chief executive and staff, codes of practice and so on. The Bill provides for international co-operation under section 14 while, importantly, section 16 provides for the chief officer of the office of gambling control Ireland to attend Oireachtas committees, if so requested. This is very important, given gambling on sports such as football and horse racing effectively operate as a single market in the UK and Ireland.
Section 78 provides for the establishment of an advisory committee on responsible gambling and that such a committee shall include a representative from the community or voluntary sector. I believe this should be amended on Committee Stage either to reduce the number of licence holder representatives down to one or increase the number of community and voluntary representatives to two or three. Part 7, section 79, provides for the establishment of a social fund within one year of the enactment of the Bill. Section 80 sets out the purposes of the fund, which will be to “promote socially responsible gambling”. I believe many people would question that phrase very strongly.
It is true that most people like an occasional flutter on the national lottery or EuroMillions, or on the Grand National, the Derby or the Gold Cup. This is a long-standing tradition for many Irish people, including in the area I originally come from, where Punchestown was a very important festival for local people, in particular farmers.
Many people wonder if there is or can be such a thing as "socially responsible gambling" given the devastation that all kinds of gambling has wrought on so many Irish citizens and families. This has been greatly exacerbated by the explosion of online gambling in the past two decades. The public knows that the massive profits of companies such as Paddy Power Betfair and Ladbrokes are based not on occasional flutters but on hardcore gambling addiction which profoundly impacts many people.
The human cost of gambling addiction is real and particularly acute in Ireland. Recent statistics from the Rutland Centre have shown that there was a threefold increase in presentations with gambling addictions, up to 9% compared to 3% three years ago. Other reports have shown that one in ten people in Ireland have a serious gambling problem and The Economist named Ireland as having the third highest rate of gambling losses per capita in the world in 2017, at almost $500 per adult. We were listed as among the highest spenders on online gambling.
This is an important Bill and I commend Fianna Fáil for bringing it forward. There were references in some of the literature and responses to the Bill to the nanny-state but that argument does not really wash when one listens to the devastating real-life testimonies from people such as Galway hurler Davy Glennon, who has publicly spoken about his struggles with gambling addiction, which began when he was 16 years of age. We have also heard recently the tragic story of Tony O'Reilly of An Post and the devastating impact of his addiction on himself and his family. I admire the incisive and witty writing of Declan Lynch of the Sunday Independent who has written very powerfully on the appalling impact of gambling addiction on families and individuals in our country. When we hear these stories we have to take a very clear and strong view of gambling. That is why we should have dealt with this legislation even ten or 15 years before the Gambling Control Bill 2013.
With regard to the social fund, Paddy Power's submission urged the Government to explore the UK model of operators voluntarily contributing to the Responsible Gambling Trust, RGT, instead of basing the contribution on turnover. According to problemgambling.ie, however, just 63% of licence holders contributed during 2014-15. In 2013, £6.5 million was paid into the RGT while profits of £1.42 billion were posted for the industry. Last week, Paddy Power Betfair's first quarter profit announcement showed that its earnings dropped 6% since the famous merger but it is still expecting a full year result of between £470 million and £495 million. Paddy Power Betfair reported an 18% increase over expectations during 2017 and this year is increasing its marketing spend by £20 million. Apart from the monetary and addiction problems, this website also claims US statistics show that one in five problem gamblers attempt suicide.
In the UK the Gambling Commission comes under the remit of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Gambling Act 2005 updated its laws and it is examining updating them further because it allowed casino type development and the proliferation of online gambling without taking urgent action. The UK Government is also considering lowering the maximum stake that can be paid into fixed odds betting terminals, FOBTs, or slot machine-type betting. It is good that type of gambling has been outlawed here. At the same time, all eyes are on the potential US market because it looks as if it will repeal its very strong gambling laws.
It is estimated that approximately 6.8 million people across the European Union are gambling online and the 2015 revenue for that sector of gambling was expected to be around €13 billion. The total gambling market in the EU is worth approximately €85 million. I welcome the Bill and section 28(3)(b) which provides for the licensed premises to provide proof of adequate insurance cover and health and safety certification and so on before being licensed. Chapter 5 and section 52(4) are also very important if we are to have a credible system of regulation. Part 4 provides for monitoring and compliance. Part 6 provides for safeguards and section 70 is very welcome where it states that credit facilities shall not be permitted. Section 72 bans the employment of young people in delivering a licensed gambling service. There are many very welcome provisions and I hope this legislation will speedily move to Committee Stage. Gambling deserves intense and ongoing scrutiny. Its negative impacts and the testimonies we have heard of people with addiction must be closely listened to. We need a strong system of regulation.
I compliment and thank Deputies Jack Chambers and O'Callaghan and the Fianna Fáil Party for bringing a very sensible and well-thought out Bill before this House. We are seeing a great change in the way gambling is carried out in our culture and society. Many years ago when we were discussing gambling I mentioned the structure of gambling, professional bookies and a very close friend of mine, Timmy O'Leary, who has since retired from owning a bookie's shop. He was steeped in the tradition of being a good bookie, a person who took money from people when he knew they had it and did not allow people to give away or gamble money they did not have.
With the advent of the smartphone people sitting in their houses late at night might be watching two horses with only six legs between them in some part of Texas at 3 a.m. or 4 a.m. on Sky or another channel might decide it is a good idea to bet money they do not have on this device. That is crazy beyond belief. The way people gambled before now was a fine respectable thing, going into an individual bookie, or even to a bigger bookie when the large conglomerates came along, because at least it was regulated. The person behind the till could see the person and was dealing with a customer. It has gone crazy now. There has to be more regulation and protection of families. It is bad enough to do something that is not good for oneself but a family person hurts their family as well and takes money that is needed to run the house and keep the family going. That is awful. Anything we can do as legislators to protect against that we should be seen to do.
Not to be outdone by the Deputies Healy-Rae I will get my anecdote in first. When I was a student I worked at the dogs in Harold's Cross and Shelbourne Park and learnt a very valuable lesson. I calculated the payout on the tote. That was my job, a very sophisticated mathematical formula. I learnt that the bookies drove in Mercedes and the punters came on bicycles or buses. The job supplemented my income as a student to forward my studies.
I support this Bill and commend Deputies Jack Chambers, Rabbitte and O'Callaghan on bringing it forward. I support the call for an independent office to regulate the gambling industry. This means that the gambling regulator must operate outside the Department of Justice and Equality with powers to impose significant fines on gambling firms which do not comply with the new laws. Gambling addiction is a scourge in Ireland. Up to 40,000 people have gambling problems. These figures are from 2015 and I imagine the problem is much greater than that. Ireland has the third highest gambling losses in the world and the health and social costs of problem gambling are very destructive to our society. In the US gambling addiction leads to one in five attempted suicides which is double the number for the next addiction.
In respect of gambling addiction services in Clare, we have Bushypark addiction treatment centre. It has identified that gambling produces strained and lost relationships, interferes with responsibility at home and at work and also leads to financial catastrophe - including the loss of jobs, businesses and homes. I support this Bill and commend it to the House. The central tenet of the legislation is to establish an independent regulatory authority that will impose fines on gambling firms and casinos that do not comply. It will also have powers to restrict online and TV advertising.
I support this Bill. I compliment Deputies Jack Chambers and Jim O'Callaghan. We can call them the Jack and Jill or Jack and Jim or whatever show but fair dues to them. We urgently need to address the expanding problem of gambling and specifically the problem of online gambling addiction. It is a plague on many families. I also salute the work carried out by many groups but especially Aiséirí in the town of Cahir - it is there now nearly 40 years - and the Aislinn Centre in Ballyragget in County Kilkenny, which I was involved in setting up. The work they have done has found that younger and younger people are being affected on a daily basis.
They have done much work to restore people on their journey into recovery from addictions of all kinds. Statistics and information from Spunout.ie revealed that there are 40,000 people in Ireland with a gambling addiction. In addition, over €5 billion a year is gambled - that is €10,000 per minute. That is savage money. It has also been found that Ireland has the third highest per capita rating in the world for losses in gambling. That is another staggering figure. Last year, Ireland's losses from gambling totalled an enormous €2.1 billion. Online gambling is the most popular method, with almost half of the gambling losses coming from that sector. The second most popular method of gambling is traditional betting. Gambling is easily accessible, especially when Ireland has approximately 1,100 bookmakers shops, 19 private members clubs and casinos, 122 licensed gaming arcades and over 10,000 gambling machines.
We had a proposal for a massive casino in Tipperary but, thankfully, the Minister at the time, Deputy Alan Shatter, did not grant it a licence. We have to deal with this issue and, as other people have referred to, especially the online aspect available on phones, at work, at home, in the bed and everywhere. It is too easy for people to gamble. There are unscrupulous bookies, although there are a lot of good ones as well who gave much employment over the years. Regulation is badly needed. I am supporting Jack and Jim's Bill as I think it is very important. I hope it will not be languishing too long-----
And Deputy Anne Rabbitte as well.
I thank Deputy Chambers.
-----before it is put in place. Agus Deputy Áine Rabbitte freisin.
I thank Deputies Jack Chambers, Anne Rabbitte and Jim O'Callaghan for this worthwhile Bill. I thank the Minister also, as I understand he is supportive of this Bill. Each and every one of us here needs to work together to do something to help people with gambling problems. It develops into a sickness and has wide-ranging implications for wives and children. Tables are left empty, the light is not paid for and cannot be turned on and families break up. Very capable people get stuck in this rut and it takes everything from them. They lose their job, their business and everything that is worthwhile. It is too easy now with the phone, the computer and gambling online. Something has to be done. Regulation will have to be put in place. We will all have to work together to ensure that something is done.
I know of a lovely couple that had everything, including lovely children. Their house is gone and they are practically out on the road. The poor little children had a future in front of them. We do not know where they will finish up now or what will happen to them. That is what is happening and it is widespread. There are different addictions - including drug addiction and alcohol addiction - but this is a serious problem as well. It is taking everything from people and causing depression and suicide. It is one of the major upsets happening in our community, near us and all around us. We cannot understand it. Something needs to be done to regulate this business because it is having devastating effects.
The Deputy was a bit short on time and I hope he realises I was extra generous with him and gave him an extra minute.
What did the Chair say?
I gave Deputy Healy-Rae an extra minute. I was very generous.
That was because the rest of them are always picking on me.
Deputy Danny Healy-Rae might need to have a meeting. We move to the next group, Fianna Fáil, and Deputies Margaret Murphy O'Mahony, Lisa Chambers, Éamon Ó Cuív and Eamon Scanlon. Is that correct?
Yes, that is fine.
We have might have some time to let in Deputy Kevin O'Keeffe if that is agreed by the House? Agreed. The Deputies have about two and a half minutes each.
Fianna Fáil is committed to socially responsible gambling. We need effective regulation for this industry to give those who work in the sector certainty through socially responsible gambling. I thank my colleagues, Deputies Chambers, O'Callaghan and Rabbitte for bringing this Bill back into the domain. It is shocking that €14 million is gambled in Ireland in any one day. This leads to Ireland having the third highest rate per capita of gambling losses in the world. If this does not raise red flags in respect of the impact on vulnerable adults, then I do not know what would.
The gambling industry has clearly advanced so much that existing regulation is no longer adequate. The Minister will be aware that the Cork addiction facility, Tabor Lodge, is working in conjunction with the GAA to highlight concerns related to gambling. This correlation has been highlighted by numerous GAA players speaking out in respect of their addictions. They need to be applauded for doing this. The aim of this partnership is to educate young people on the risks associated with gambling. They advise, however, that the clientele currently contacting them have one feature in common - they are presenting at a very late stage simply because their addiction is so well hidden. By the time they seek help, the problem has spiralled out of control. Whole families have been destroyed, both emotionally and financially.
The protections set out in this Bill would go a long way towards helping those people. The establishment of a social gambling fund to assist with treatment services would be welcomed by all addiction services. This Bill needs to be enacted immediately. There is no need for redrafting or procrastinating. Such an exercise would be completely unnecessary and a waste of valuable time.
Ireland has one of the highest per capita rates of gambling losses in the world. We lose about €470 per adult per year in different forms of gambling. The latest figures from 2016 show that losses in Ireland are €2.1 billion, with over €5 billion gambled. That is a profit of €2.9 billion for the gambling industry. Over 40,000 people in Ireland are known to have a gambling addiction, with single men under 35 years of age most at risk. We are aware of a number of high profile cases. In one case an individual gambled as much as €10 million. In other cases, individuals gambled hundreds of thousands of euro.
Then we hear there is regulation. There is absolutely no regulation. The industry should be made to react when an individual gambles more than €10,000 a year. If an individual gambles more than that, the alarm bells should be ringing and those betting companies should be forced to make contact with that individual or with the family.
I am aware of the destruction that is caused by gambling. I know families who have lost their homes. Nobody realises the problem exists until it is too late. The families of those individuals do not have a notion of what is happening until it is too late.
An amendment should be inserted into this Bill to provide that if an individual gambles more than a certain amount in any particular period of time there should be an onus on the gambling companies to discuss the situation with that individual or a member of his or her family. There may be an issue with data protection and that baloney, but we must address this; it is too important, and we will be putting down an amendment to that effect.
The Bill sets out two aims of regulation through a new gambling authority and protection via a social fund. There must be age restriction and staff training. These measures will be financed by way of a levy on the industry.
The growing size and intensity of the gambling sector makes this Bill a priority. It has been hanging around for five years, and it is time something is done about it. The issue of how people gamble, night and day, in this day and age must be addressed very quickly.
I welcome this Bill. Anyone who has dealt with those suffering from a gambling addiction, which is fundamentally a disease, knows the utter destruction it can cause. I know of people who have been caught in this web, and the effect it has on family homes, farms and family life is devastating. Gambling needs to be controlled.
An option paper was prepared as far back as 2010. A Bill appeared in 2013, and we are now in 2018 and are no further forward. Unfortunately, during that time the sophistication of the gambling companies has increased dramatically. The introduction of online gambling means that people can gamble in private. When the only option was to gamble in public by going into a bookie shop it involved the physical act of purposely going to do it. Now it can be done in the privacy of one's own home.
I had a friend who regularly said that when one goes into a bookie shop he or she should look at the floor. I am not someone who ever frequented bookie shops so I did not understand what he meant. He was referring to all the little tickets thrown away in disgust by people who had lost money but continued to gamble and lose more.
I do not believe that commentators on sports events continually speaking about the odds for a goal within five minutes or for winning by a particular score is a good idea. It normalises gambling, which is hugely destructive and does very little good for anybody.
I thank the Minister of State for accepting this Bill. The Government initiated the process a number of years ago, and the Minister of State has indicated that he is open to further consultations. We have to acknowledge the employment opportunities created by this industry, but we also have to ask it to be more responsible. One of the main suggestions is that a regulator be put in place. Another suggestion is that the industry might fund counselling services.
Thirty years ago everybody aspired to be a J.P. McManus at the racetrack. That kind of behaviour drives people into compulsive gambling, which we must eliminate. When a person applies for a mortgage, if a bank manager or a loan processor sees that an applicant has an account with one of the bookie shops the mortgage is put on hold, showing that banks acknowledge that it is a major problem for people.
I commend this legislation. The law as it stands is archaic and out of touch. Regulation of the whole industry must include online companies and offshore companies. They must be held accountable.
I am pleased to make a contribution to this debate. As my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, pointed out earlier, the Government is not opposing the Private Members' Bill sponsored by Deputies Jim O'Callaghan, Jack Chambers and Anne Rabbitte. The proposed Bill is a replication of the general scheme of the Gambling Control Bill 2013. That scheme was an ambitious effort to introduce comprehensive reform of our antiquated gambling legislation. It was intended to replace all current gaming and betting legislation and to bring licensing and regulatory functions together in one place. The Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, who has special responsibility in the area of gambling policy and regulation, set out in some detail the work under way in the Department of justice to review and enhance the original Government proposals in the general scheme of the 2013 Bill.
I admit that progress has been somewhat slower than any of us would wish in advancing the Government's legislative proposals. Now, due to the passage of time and the rapid evolution of the gambling sector, there is a consequent need to ensure that proposed measures to ensure effective regulation and protection of the consumer and vulnerable persons are fit for purpose now and into the future. It is in this context that the Government, on 10 January, agreed to review the general scheme of the 2013 Bill and to make significant changes. By contrast, the Bill proposed this evening is simply a replication of the Government's earlier proposals, with no new elements or recognition of how fast the gambling industry has evolved over that period of time. However, I accept it as being an important contribution to the debate, and I thank Deputy Rabbitte and others for this positive and constructive contribution.
The critical element of the Government decision of 10 January is for the establishment of a gambling regulatory authority as an independent statutory body under the auspices of the Department of Justice and Equality. This approach is somewhat different to the original proposal to establish an office for gambling control, which would have featured more direct involvement from the Minister. Independent regulation is the normal situation in most EU member states. An independent regulator would offer assurance that decision making would be free from any potential undue influence. It would also provide greater assurance for both consumers and potential investors in gaming related activities that could bring employment and revenue benefits.
The Government has agreed that there is a need for the development of an appropriate licensing, monitoring, inspection, supervision and enforcement regime for land-based gaming machines, either in casinos or located elsewhere, that may be played for monetary reward. The general scheme of the 2013 Bill requires further development with regard to issues such as numbers, locations for machines and stake or prize amounts. The new regulatory authority would have the responsibility to develop the necessary terms and conditions. These conditions must be clear, fair, legitimate and transparent to all. There is evidence that the gambling industry is moving away from land-based gaming machines in favour of online versions. Any discriminatory licensing approaches to gaming machines might attract legal challenge by operators.
Another area that will require our further attention is the conditions that will attach to the licensing of casinos. We must introduce formal legislation to regulate casinos. In that context, there are almost 40 private members' clubs providing gaming facilities and services of the type that would be available in licensed casinos as proposed under the 2013 scheme. The current regulatory requirement on these clubs is that they register with my Department under the Criminal Justice (Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing) Act 2010 and to pay appropriate taxes to the Revenue Commissioners.
I have heard contributions from Deputies this evening which highlighted the issue of problem gambling and of gambling addiction. The media sometimes features the sad and unfortunate experiences of a number of persons whose addiction has lead them into dark places, with risks to their liberty, health and survival and which causes ongoing suffering for themselves and their families.
As public representatives, we have all heard very sad and disturbing stories. The Minister of State outlined earlier the efforts by various arms of Government to obtain reliable information and statistics in this regard.
What should be our response as legislators? The 2013 scheme contained a number of proposed responses. It enhanced consumer protection for participants in gambling activities. We will insist on fair play from the gambling companies in the shape of clear and reasonable terms and conditions and no hidden conditions regarding payouts and acceptance of bets from successful participants. I am very much of the view that our normal consumer protections must apply in this area. The very ancient prohibition on enforcement of gambling debts will be removed in respect of licensed activities.
Enhanced consumer protection can contribute to our attempts to better protect vulnerable persons who may be prone to problem gambling, but we will do more. The Minister of State and I will insist on a workable self-exclusion process with gambling operators. While I am conscious of possible data protection issues, we must ensure this protective measure as far as we can. I appreciate that it will be easier to apply to online accounts, but we will study what can be done in our traditional bookies' shops and other gambling establishments.
The final element has to be the development of a social fund. In this context, a new independent regulatory authority will be the critical factor in the operation of such a fund. I would envisage that this fund would operate with the support of those professional and expert organisations involved in the treatment of addicts. Levies on gambling operators will provide the appropriate resources for this fund. To progress the review and updating of the 2013 general scheme, the Government agreed that the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, should chair a working group comprising all stakeholder Departments, appropriate officers and the Office of the Attorney General.
The group has considered new developments, not only in Ireland but also in other states in its work. In addition to our focus on developing the 2013 general scheme, my Department has been working to bring forward early proposals to update the antiquated Gaming and Lotteries Act 1956 in a number of areas. These proposals were agreed by the Government on 11 July last year for inclusion in the Courts and Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill. They will now be contained in a separate Gaming and Lotteries (Amendment) Bill. This is currently under preparation by the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel. I am expecting publication of the Gaming and Lotteries (Amendment) Bill during the autumns session of the Dáil. It will include setting the minimum age limit for participating in such activities at 18 years; procedures for the better promotion of minor local lotteries; streamlining the application process for permits and licences for the promotion of minor gaming and lotteries; and raising the current, unrealistic monetary limits on stakes and prizes for gaming machines licensed in relevant local authority areas. These amounts are set at currently 3 cent and 50 cent. It is proposed to raise the stake amount to €10 and the prize amounts to €750. There is a need for immediate reform in this area.
I need not remind members of this House how important locally run lotteries are to the financial well-being of many sports clubs and community groups throughout the country. Deputies will thus appreciate how important it is to update the law regarding the promotion of fundraising lottery activities at local level for charitable and philanthropic purposes, and to streamline the application process for permits and for licences.
The guiding principle of the 2013 scheme was that only gambling activities which were licensed and regulated would be lawful. Only the regulatory body might issue licences for such activities. The licensing principles would apply equally to both land-based and online services. I can assure the Deputies that this principle remains. New, modern gambling legislation, in conjunction with independent regulation, offers the best route to enhanced consumer protection, increased Exchequer revenue from the industry and development of a full range of treatments and mediation methods to address the problems of gambling, assisted by agencies competent in this field.
The Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, said earlier that he would be happy to receive realistic proposals from Deputies that can contribute to updating the 2013 general scheme. I very much support that position. It would be very useful to receive wisdom from all sides so that we can progress the development of modern and effective legislation. In this regard, I again acknowledge the contribution of Deputies Chambers and Rabbitte and others opposite.
Finally, I want to acknowledge the Minister of State's work within Government, across Departments and within my own Department. I acknowledge his commitment to introducing an ambitious package of legislation. The Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, takes a very collegiate and open approach to policy development. I would urge all Deputies to work with him to bring forward the best possible new laws as soon as possible.
I thank the Minister. He has impeccable timing.
I wish to correct the record of the Dáil. When I was thanking the Fianna Fáil Members, I inadvertently omitted Deputy Anne Rabbitte. I wish to compliment her also. It was just an error on my behalf.
She is smiling broadly on the bench.
Well, I apologise. I want to acknowledge everybody's work.
We come now to the final speakers from Fianna Fáil - Deputies Mary Butler, James Browne and Anne Rabbitte. I understand there are two three-minute speeches and one four-minute speech summing up.
Fianna Fáil is committed to socially responsible gambling. This legislation has the double objective of effectively regulating the expanding gambling sector that has emerged in recent years, while also protecting vulnerable adults and young people. The legislation updates the previous heads of Bill published in 2013 but never moved by the then Government. After half a decade, the time is now. This problem is silently destroying lives. We need effective regulation for this industry to give those who work in the sector certainty through socially responsible gambling. We are committed to working with the industry to build this new framework, but the time for action has long since passed. Legislative action is now needed.
More than anything else, an inability to control one's behaviour characterises an addiction problem. In a very real sense, gambling becomes an obsession in a person's life, taking on greater and greater importance the longer the addiction persists. More than 40,000 people in Ireland are known to have a gambling addiction, with single men under 35 most at risk according to a UCD study. Problem gamblers spend more time gambling or thinking about gambling, and it can become extremely difficult to maintain a normal family life. This creates stress and has a negative impact on relationships and family life. Families usually have more arguments over money, and they can be hounded by debt collectors.
The availability of online gambling now makes gambling available to all, at any time, day or night, anywhere a person can go online. It also means that in a lot of cases gambling can be secret, and huge debts can be incurred very quickly. The growing size and intensity of the gambling sector makes this Bill a priority. Protecting vulnerable gamblers and individuals is a key component of this legislation, and I would also like to commend my colleagues, the three Deputies who brought the Bill forward. Deputies Anne Rabbitte, Jack Chambers and Jim O'Callaghan are all stationed on the corridor beside me, so I have been listening to conversations about this gambling Bill for a long time. I would also like to commend Deputy Anne Rabbitte for holding several public meetings on this.
I thank Deputies Anne Rabbitte, Jim O'Callaghan and Jack Chambers for bringing forward this very important Bill. I welcome this Fianna Fáil Bill, which seeks to effectively regulate the expanding gambling sector which has emerged in recent years. This legislation updates the previous heads of a Bill published in 2013 by a Fine Gael-led Government but never acted upon. Effective regulation of this industry is long overdue. Similar to so many other areas of policy, it is disappointing that once again it is the Opposition that has to do the Government's work for it.
People take up gambling for diverse reasons. Some are amused by it while others enjoy the feeling of excitement or sense of power that risk-taking gives them. For others it is a social outlet, a way to avoid isolation. For some, especially those in difficult financial circumstances, it gives them a false sense of hope that they can win.
However, we know that gambling causes great harm. Addictive gambling is linked to numerous social problems that devastate the gambler's life, such as effects on their physical and mental health, criminal acts such as theft, bankruptcy and separation. Gambling addiction has been associated with serious mental health conditions. Depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, social phobias and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, ADHD, often co-occur.
This complex situation can mean that another mental health illness may make a person more vulnerable to developing an addiction. In other words, the addiction may be symptomatic of the illness or cause another illness. In such cases, the other disorders must also be treated in order to treat the addiction itself. There is hope for those with co-occurring mental health illness and gambling addiction, but all of a person's co-occurring disorders must be identified. How each condition affects the others must be understood and they must be treated together. Gambling addiction is an insidious one because there are often no outward signs that something is wrong until it is too late and they face financial ruin. With over 40,000 people in Ireland known to have a gambling addiction, with that number increasing and with the known effects being so devastating, the time for delay is long over. The time for action is now.
I thank my colleagues, Deputies Jack Chambers and Jim O'Callaghan, for bringing forward the Bill. I thank the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, and the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, for accepting it and assisting its progress on Committee Stage. That is very welcome. I started on this as a particular crusade because of the social need within society. Every Member, including the Minister and Minister of State, acknowledges that there is an appetite for change and a view that the archaic regulation which is currently in place is not fit for purpose any longer. While I acknowledge that the Minister and Minister of State are also working on their own amendments, the appetite is to have this Bill progress on Committee Stage. If we can have a race to the top to see which Bill comes out most quickly, it would be best for everyone. Unfortunately, the Minister of State did not provide a timeframe in his statement. I would like to think that we have the will to let this Bill come before the justice committee. I want to get it in there. I am not saying people cannot table amendments. I want amendments and for everyone to come forward with their proposals. Deputies Harty and Ó Laoghaire put forward very valid objections this evening and proposals as to how best to enhance the Bill.
The Bill is about a few key drivers which would make a difference, in particular through a gambling regulator, on which we all agree. Another driver is a social fund to support the likes of Cuan Mhuire, the Rutland Centre and various other facilities which provide great support to individuals and their families. Another is advertising, which everyone has discussed this evening. As spokesperson for children and youth affairs, I note that any child who sits down to watch a Premiership game is targeted inadvertently and shown that gambling is where it is at. There is no shut off from it. I understand that we cannot control everything, but we can put procedures in place to legislate. They are doing it in the UK. They are doing it in Canada and they are doing it in Australia. We could do it here also. I cannot see why not.
There are vulnerable people and young people. There are people in our society who need protection. Industry is not against any of this. Not one person in industry has told me he or she does not support the Gambling Control Bill 2018. They have all said they would openly welcome a regulator and they acknowledge the idea of social exclusion. The reason we are having so open a conversation is that certain people have stood up. We have to talk about my own constituent, Davy Glennon, who is now an ambassador for the GAA. He stepped forward and told his story. Tony O'Brien stepped forward and told his story. Behind all of these stories are affected families and lives which have been destroyed. Davy and Tony are fortunate because they were able to get support and to engage with people who could help them through. Regrettably, there are many who do not get that support. How difficult that is. That is where the social fund would be well spent. We could put it back into communities to provide the support they need.
Training and education are important and some of the social fund could be invested there. The online world is in children's hands morning, noon and night in the apps they use. I spoke at the AV presentation last week about the Conor McGregor fight. I tried to stream it online that night but I could not watch it due to the proliferation of pop-up screens. I could not get in to see the fight because too many people were offering me the chance to place a bet. That is what young people were experiencing on the night too. I did not have a bookie's account but I was being targeted. If I had an account, it would have been difficult with the intensity of the marketing that was taking place.
I acknowledge the role the GAA has played in this context in the last number of months. The GAA has stepped forward without any legislation and taken ownership of the issue. It is going into every parish and community. One thinks of the Oisin McConville story and how he has been an ambassador to various clubs. The GAA has acknowledged that there is a huge issue in communities and it is trying to support its membership. We have to acknowledge what it is doing. It would be wonderful if we could allow the Bill to go to the justice committee. While the Government is facilitating this, we all know how the system works. I do not want it stalled and would like to see it emerge from the lottery along the way.
Do not interfere with the lottery.
One should not mention the lottery.
What I mean is that we do not want to wait another three, four or five years to bring forward this legislative change. There might be a money message there. Perhaps, in that case, the Government could bring forward its own amendments. I thank the Acting Chairman for allowing me to go over my time a little. I thank everyone in the Gallery who has sat there for the last two hours to listen to the debate. They have provided a great deal of support on this for the last number of months.
It was appropriate to give that few minutes extra as this is such an important issue.