This Bill is intended to replace the existing Betting Act of 1926, which has been continued under the Expiring Laws Continuance Act. The Betting Act of 1926 might be described as experimental. The main effect of it was that cash betting off racecourses became legal. Two years after the passing of the 1926 Act—about October, 1928—a Committee of the Dáil and Seanad was set up to consider its effects and any amendments that might be necessary. That Committee sat on about sixteen days, heard a great number of witnesses, and came unanimously to the conclusion that we ought not to go back to the position that existed before the passing of the Act of 1926. It recommended a considerable number of amendments, nearly all of which have been incorporated in the Bill now before the Seanad. One or two recommendation were not accepted, and additional changes were made in the Bill during its passage through the Dáil.
There have been a certain number of attacks on the principle of the Bill. It has been alleged that there has been a great increase in the habit of betting as a result of the opening of the betting shops. We are satisfied that there is no evidence to support that contention. What has, in fact, happened is that betting which was done secretly before is now being done openly and publicly. If there is as good enforcement of the Act now as there was in the first year, if there is as complete a record of transactions as there was during the first couple of years—and I think that is so because a special enforcement or detective staff has been established to ensure that the Act is observed—then, it is true that there is no appreciable increase in the amount of betting. We all know that there were bookmakers in every town before the passing of the Act of 1926. Sometimes you would see a shop with a couple of packages of bird-seed in the window. You might be tempted to wonder how the man was able to live by the sale of a few packages of canary seed. He was, in fact, carrying on another business. Very often you saw a news-agent's shop with a greater number of people than would be attracted by the sale of newspapers. Since the passing of the Act of 1926 the newspaper shops, in many cases, have not the same numbers of people resorting to them. Other classes of shops have disappeared. We are satisfied that there has been no appreciable increase in betting, despite widespread allegations to the contrary, but that what has happened is that betting formerly done secretly is being carried on in these registered premises.
The Bill proposes to make quite a number of changes in the law. The law will be tightened up in a variety of respects. It will be tightened up in respect of juvenile betting, payment of odds, loitering, and so forth. We hope, as a result of these changes, that any practices which were undesirable will be ended. If the effect of this Bill is not to remove every undesirable practice capable of removal, there is always the possibility of legislation following further experience. We think that to go back to the old state of affairs would not only be to effect no improvement as regards the expenditure of money on betting by those who cannot afford it, but to lose revenue to the State, and to have a sort of disease brought into existence again. It is most undesirable that we should have a law against the enforcement of which there is what might be described as a general conspiracy. That was the position as regards the old law in relation to cash betting. It was not enforced; it could not be enforced, and practically nobody believed it should be enforced. The police carried out raids from time to time. It was alleged—perhaps not without foundation—that very frequently warning was given of these raids, and that it was arranged that somebody would be caught on the premises. There would then be a conviction. In fact, however, there was no serious attempt to enforce the law. If we were not to pass this Bill, if we were to allow the Act of 1926 to lapse and to substitute nothing for it, we would get back to that old position, which would be better in no respect than the present position and worse in quite a number of respects.