Dublin South-Central): Section 1 (a) of the Bill provides, in effect, that gaming by means of a slot-machine is “unlawful gaming” within the meaning of the Gaming and Lotteries Acts.
The intention is to close off a loophole in the Acts which arises following a recent Supreme Court decision. The effect of that decision is that the type of slot-machine which delivers prizes direct to the person who operates it successfully, that is the kind which is popularly known as the "one-armed bandit", may be operated without restriction anywhere, with the sole proviso that, in common with all other kinds of gaming, as defined in the Acts, such machines may not be operated in premises licensed for the sale of intoxicating liquor. The intention of the Oireachtas, when the Principal Act, that is the Gaming and Lotteries Act, 1956, was being amended in 1970, was that such machines should be subject to very strict control but the Supreme Court has now decided that they were not subject to such control. Before I go on to explain the sequence of events which led to the Supreme Court decision, I should like to draw attention to the fact that other forms of slot-machines, that is those that do not deliver when successfully operated a prize direct to the player, are subject to strict controls and have been since 1956. Thus the machines which traditionally have been regarded as being potentially most socially harmful are at present virtually free from controls while those considered less harmful are subject to restrictions.
The history of the relevant provision in the Acts is briefly as follows. Section 10 of the 1956 Act outlawed the "one-armed bandit" completely. Section 4 of that Act defines certain forms of gaming as "unlawful gaming" but other sections of the Act permit "unlawful gaming" in certain very restricted circumstances. One of the kinds of gaming defined as "unlawful gaming" in section 4 is "gaming by means of any slot-machine not prohibited by section 10". What is defined as "unlawful gaming" may be carried on in an amusement hall or funfair licensed as such under the Acts, subject, however, to certain strict limitations on the stake and the prize money and on the age of those who may take part.
In 1968 the Supreme Court declared that even those slot-machines which did not deliver prizes direct to the winner were subject to the total prohibition in section 10. The Government decided to introduce legislation to restore the position to what it had been thought to be up to the Supreme Court decision. This was done but the Bill was amended during its passage through the Dáil. The Gaming and Lotteries Act, 1970 repealed section 10in toto. The position was then thought to be that all slot-machines whose operation came within the definition of “gaming” in the 1956 Act were subject to the controls on “unlawful gaming” provided in that Act.
The Supreme Court, as I have said, has now declared that that is not the case. The basis for the decision is as follows. A reference to the repealed section 10 of the 1956 Act in section 4 of that Act was not repealed by the 1970 Act and the court concluded from that fact that section 4 did not apply to those machines which were formerly prohibited by section 10. In consequence, the position now is that their operation does not come within the definition of "unlawful gaming" in section 4. The parliamentary draftsman was fully satisfied in 1970 that there was no need to repeal the reference to the repealed section 10 and he believed that those machines which had been subject to the prohibition in that section would for the future be caught by section 4. That view was not accepted by the Supreme Court, though it was by the High Court judge who considered the case before it was appealed.
The Bill, in section 1 (a), proposes to restore the position to what it was thought to have been up to the recent Supreme Court decision. The proposed deletions from sections 37 and 42 of the 1956 Act, in section 1 (b), of the Bill are purely drafting ones and cannot affect the sense of those sections.
I am aware that there are demands from various quarters for far-reaching changes in the Gaming and Lotteries Acts. Some people are in favour of more restrictions and some are in favour of some "liberalisation". This is a very complex and delicate area, however, and pressures on the Department have not so far permitted the kind of analysis that would be appropriate before any important proposals for change are formulated. In Britain, where there has been a special permanent Gaming Board for many years, a very long and highly technical report, running to over 500 pages of print, was made in July 1978 by a Royal Commission.
The unrestricted operation of slot-machines could have very unfortunate consequences, not only in that it would pander in a very positive way to the gambling instinct but because it is a development that could attract the attention of very dubious if not downright criminal elements.
Representations have been received from the Amusement Caterers Association of Ireland asking that legislation on the lines of this Bill be enacted. That is not to say that they, and others, have not both now and in the past advocated further changes. For the reasons I have already mentioned it is not the intention at this stage at any rate to propose any further changes.
I commend the Bill to the House.