I thought I would be sharing time but I am not sure that will apply. However, I probably will not take up my full speaking time.
I welcome that this legislation is being introduced and debated on Second Stage. The Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, and the House will be aware that for many years Fianna Fáil has been calling for legislation to regulate gambling. Unfortunately, the legislation before the House is not the type of legislation we want to see enacted. We believe there is need for much more thorough control and regulation of gambling. Regrettably, the legislation before us deals only with very small aspects of the issues concerning gambling that are problematic in this country. Notwithstanding this, Fianna Fáil will be supporting this legislation but we will be tabling amendments to it on Committee Stage, which we believe will improve the legislation. Hopefully, we will be able to have legislation enacted that will have the effect of increasing regulation in this industry which plays such a prominent part in Irish life and also, regrettably, creates so many problems for people in Irish society.
We spend a lot of our time in this Oireachtas enacting laws that seek to regulate the behaviour of individuals, be it laws that seek to restrict the speed at which people travel in motor vehicles, the amount of alcohol they consume if driving a car, the regulation of the sale of alcohol or the regulation of professions. We have a vast amount of legislation on or Statute Book dealing with the regulation of human behaviour. Where that regulation is most intrusive is when the State believes there are activities that are taking place which if left unregulated will inflict considerable damage on members of society. It is surprising that we have not regulated gambling in any great detail in this country. The legislation deals with the amendment of gambling legislation enacted in the 1950s. This shows that all of us have failed in our tasks to ensure there is a proper system of regulation in place. In fairness to the former Minister for Justice and Equality, Alan Shatter, he did introduce legislation in 2013 on which there were significant hearings on Committee Stage but, unfortunately, it was not enacted. That legislation appears to have stalled. There was also a significant delay in any further steps being taken to bring forth new legislation until recent times. I welcome that the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, who has displayed a considerable commitment to regulation of gambling, is here and leading this debate on behalf of the Government. I believe that unless there is a Minister in government who is committed to changing the law in this area and to ensuring there is proper regulation of gambling, it will not happen. I hope the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, is the Minister who will drive this on and that ultimately we will have thorough regulation of gambling.
Gambling is a broad business. There are many of us who like to gamble on horses, sporting events and so on. Many of us are able to do that without inflicting any serious social harm upon us. Unfortunately, however, that is not the full story. The gambling industry likes to portray the business as being one where people can voluntarily participate in fun activity in the hope that they win a good amount of money and the only downside is that they will lose small amounts of money. Unfortunately, we all know in this House that is not the case. There are many people who have significant problems with gambling. This happens throughout the country. We know from research done in UCD that over 40,000 people in Ireland are known to have a gambling addiction, with single men under 35 most at risk. We know also that Ireland has the third highest per capita rate of gambling losses in the world. Where young men and women, in particular young men, are losing a lot of money on bets and on their gambling addiction that is a problem for society and we have to respond to it.
We all know people who had gambling problems years ago. The format of gambling has now changed because of the Internet. Years ago a man with a gambling problem would walk into a bookies and the worst that would happen is that he would spend all the money in his pockets for that day. Unfortunately, the threats and downsides of gambling are now much more considerable. Young people and middle aged people are gambling online. They are given credit by bookies. They are able to bet amounts of money that they cannot afford. I would have thought the basic principle of gambling to be that one does not gamble an amount of money that one cannot afford to lose or would put one into gambling debt. We know that gambling is an addiction and that, unfortunately, many people bet large amounts of money which they simply cannot afford to pay. We have all heard tragic stories about people who have got involved in debts from gambling. This creates a spiral for them in that they have to try to get money from elsewhere. It gives rise to other addictive problems and it can also give rise to crime. We need to recognise that there is an urgency on Members of the Oireachtas to ensure that following the enactment of this legislation we put in place much more thorough gambling legislation.
We need a gambling control office. We need a regulatory office that can regulate the gambling profession. We need an office that is able to put in place statutory protections, guided by by-laws created by the regulator, that will have the effect of protecting people from themselves when it comes to their gambling addiction. We need to ensure that the business funds this office. Nobody in this House has an objection to businesses prospering and making profits but let us be clear about where the profits from gambling companies come. They come from, in the main, people who do not have that much money, who are gambling in the hope that should they win the bet their financial circumstances will be transformed for the better. We all know that in the vast majority of cases this does not happen and the effect of gambling is that it disimproves their financial position.
This legislation is welcome because it seeks to modernise the permit and licensing regime for local gaming and lottery activities. I note, however, it also seeks to increase the archaic stakes and prize limits for licensed gaming activities and machines. It is important that those limits be increased but there needs to be some protections for the people who are now going to be able to go into these premises and bet much more money. This is an area Fianna Fáil will be covering in our Committee Stage amendments. I am conscious as well that this legislation will standardise the age limit for participating in all activities under the Gaming and Lotteries Act and for betting with the tote at 18 years of age. It is extremely important that we try to protect children from the dangers of gambling. We all know the dangers that exist online for children in a wide variety of areas. In the area of gambling, we have to ensure that children do not get involved in the habit of gambling online at an early age.
I am conscious that the Minister of State will want to get this legislation enacted but he will, no doubt, accept that this is not the full answer to the problem of gambling in Ireland. There is a responsibility on all of us in this House to ensure that we put in place in the near future a statutory framework that will provide greater regulation and protection for individuals who have gambling addictions. On many occasions I have met people who have come to the Houses on behalf of different elements of the gambling industry. In fairness to them all, they all say they welcome the prospect of regulation. They say they want regulation. Around the world in other countries there is regulation. I suspect Ireland is being targeted because of its lack of regulation and because we appear to have a problem in terms of the number of people here with a gambling addiction.
Fianna Fáil will be supportive of the legislation but we will be tabling amendments on Committee Stage. I am sure the Minister of State will appreciate that there is much more to be done in respect of this issue. We cannot really say that as an Oireachtas we are protecting the public and advancing the public interest until such time as we have in place legislation that provides for a gambling regulator and protects all people from the dangers associated with the gambling industry.