Amendments Nos. 1 and 3 to 7, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together.
Betting (Amendment) Bill 2013: Committee Stage
This amendment is a technical amendment to the definition of a remote bookmaking operation to clarify that the definition encompasses the business and activities of a remote bookmaker or remote betting intermediary. Section 13 is also amended to introduce a similar definition for a bookmaking operation. The Bill provides that a licensed bookmaker may accept remote bets to a value of the lower of €250,000 or 10% of annual turnover. A licensed bookmaker who accepts remote bets to a value beyond this threshold will be obliged to take out a remote bookmaker’s licence. A technical amendment is made to section 13 which, for the avoidance of doubt, clarifies that the threshold value applies to any one calendar year of a bookmaker’s licence. The remaining amendments to sections 13 and 14 are technical amendments to rephrase the meaning of the term licence final day, in relation to a bookmaker’s licence, a remote bookmaker’s licence and a remote betting intermediary’s licence in order to remove any doubt about when these licences fall due for renewal.
I move amendment No. 2:
In page 7, between lines 8 and 9, to insert the following:
4. The public are to be warned of the addictive nature of gambling as follows—
(a) all licensed bookmaker outlets must have on display this government warning:
“Warning: Gambling has been shown to be addictive, causing financial loss and damage to interpersonal, working and family relationships”,
(b) all betting slips/documents issued by bookmakers must carry the following warning:
“Warning: Gambling has been shown to be addictive, causing financial loss and damage to interpersonal, working and family relationships”,
(c) all on-line and electronic gambling systems (including: Internet, smartphone, interactive television and telephone) must for a period of not less than 15 seconds and before the user gains access to the gambling platform display the following notice:
“Warning: Gambling has been shown to be addictive, causing financial loss and damage to interpersonal, working and family relationships”,
(d) all advertising on billboards, television, radio and the Internet must carry the following warning:
“Warning: Gambling has been shown to be addictive, causing financial loss and damage to interpersonal, working and family relationships”.”.
I welcome the introduction of the licensing regime for online bookmakers and betting exchanges. It is widely accepted that the current legislative framework is outdated and unsuitable for the online environment in particular. It is welcome that section 23 of the Betting Act 1931 will be amended by section 26 of this Bill to extend the current prohibition on licensed bookmakers from taking bets from those under the age of 18. Interestingly, there have been no studies examining the prevalence of problem gambling in Ireland. We only have research from other countries to go by. There is, however, consistent evidence that the rate of problem gambling is higher among youths than in the general adult population. I am aware that the Gambling Control Bill 2013 will introduce a range of measures to promote responsible gambling and protect vulnerable persons, including children, from problem gambling but I still feel it is necessary to include in this Bill several amendments to promote socially responsible gambling and to deter persons from engaging in irresponsible gambling.
The focus of the Bill is on offences but there is no emphasis on deterrents. While the psychology of gambling and the nature of addiction are complex, a multifaceted and prominently displayed warning sign and opportunities for self-exclusion have been found to be effective particularly in the online environment. I have encountered two cases since my election to this House, one is a family that had to borrow €15,000 to pay off the debts of a son in college who got involved in gambling. I am not sure how or where he raised the money. The second was an adult who gambled away €80,000 in six weeks. The point he made was that he could wake up in the middle of the night and take his smartphone from under his pillow and run off a couple of bets. I am thrown completely offside by the thought that he spent €80,000.
There is a warning on cigarette packs to the effect that if I smoke I am likely to incur some health risk. There are notices all over the place from drinkaware advising me of the dangers of consuming too much alcohol yet I can walk into a bookmaker’s shop or use my home phone, smartphone or computer and gamble away my entire life savings and those of my family and possibly any assets I have, without any deterrent whatsoever. With all due regard to the Gambling Control Bill 2013, which will seek to introduce more severe measures I call on the Minister of State to introduce this new section into the Bill which warns the public of the addictive nature of gambling.
I have rarely felt as strongly as I feel about this matter. Thankfully, I have never been involved in gambling. I would find it hard to buy a lotto ticket. I wonder why I do not win the lotto but I guess one cannot win it unless one buys the ticket. I feel if I buy one ticket I will keep on buying more tickets. It really worries me when I hear the stories of addiction. This is a silent addiction. If I am a smoker one will smell the smoke on my clothes, if I am a drinker I will more than likely fall around the place drunk at some stage and there are physical signs that I have engaged in these practices. I can be a gambler and nobody will know. I can keep this secret from my nearest and dearest. This does not only involve men as we traditionally think, it now involves women and children. There is some anecdotal evidence to suggest that problem gambling affects between 0.9% and 3.3% of people. That is a fairly substantial number.
Will the Minister of State consider inserting this section into the Bill? I will welcome his comments on it.
I support Senator Gerard P. Craughwell's amendment. I will table a couple of amendments on Report Stage, in particular around the review, which I want to flag. Given the scheduling of the Bill, amendments had to be tabled by Monday; therefore, the deadline was missed. Senator Maurice Cummins and I, in particular, and others have been asking for this legislation for a number of years; therefore, I am pleased it is before us. It is not perfect, but it is a start.
I will not go over what I said on Second Stage but when we completed that Stage, we were going to report back to the commission and tell it what our plans were. However, the gambling control Bill was supposed to be introduced in conjunction with this legislation. Senator Gerard P. Craughwell spoke about gambling. Gambling and betting are two different things, and I know the Senator knows that. What we are talking about here is bookmakers, horse racing and greyhound racing and not about casinos, online casinos and online gambling. We were supposed to have a gambling control Bill in parallel with this Betting (Amendment) Bill. Maybe the reason it has not been introduced is due to resources in the Department of Justice and Equality and the priorities for legislation as large pieces of legislation are coming through that Department. This is relevant to the section Senator Craughwell wants to insert in the Bill which does not introduce any controls on the online sector or on bookmaker shops. If one walks into a bookmaker shop, one will see an electronic roulette wheel in the corner. Many of them have poker machines in the corner and have virtual gambling. There is nothing in this legislation to address that and that is my real concern.
I am not anti-betting or anti-gambling. There is a purpose for it and like everything else, it should be done in moderation. I want the independent bookmakers to have a level playing pitch, which this Bill goes some way to doing. I want off-course and online betting taxed because I want the Exchequer to get that income and to ensure we are not run by the large bookmaker chains. However, what is missing is any of the gambling control measures we were told would be introduced in conjunction with this Bill. That is why Senator Gerard P. Craughwell's amendment would be helpful in the interim because something needs to be done in the interim. When this legislation my party and I support is enacted, it will deal with betting which is one side of this. Colleagues have different views on it and views were expressed on Second Stage about liberalising opening hours and so on and points were very well made. However, nothing is being done about this sector, which is the most dangerous one.
At least reputable bookmakers have some control over their clients and punters and they will regulate the betting in shops, as they have been doing for years. However, I mention online gambling and roulette wheels in Paddy Power's and, I am sure, in Ladbrokes and other places - they are good companies, so I am not singling them out for criticism. They set a €100 maximum bet for roulette. The Fitzwilliam casino, one of the private casino clubs which is around the corner, sets a maximum of €50. However, on the online side, we are letting this go and we are not getting tax revenue on any of it, when we should be. It probably amounts to €200 million.
I would like to know when the gambling control Bill will be published. Is it expected to be enacted in the term of the Government or will it be left for further down the road?
I am sympathetic to the amendments proposed by Senator Gerard P. Craughwell. There is a need for warnings to be issued because of the danger of addiction where betting and gambling are concerned. I share Senator Darragh O'Brien's concerns in regard to the gambling control Bill. I would have thought we would have had it by now but I have been told we will have it by the end of the year. I hoped we would have had it early in this term.
There are a number of anomalies in the system where betting is concerned. I am probably boring people mentioning them because I have done so on several occasions. One must be over 18 years of age to buy a lottery ticket and to go into a bookmaker's shop, yet we have a State-sponsored tote where children, making their First Holy Communion, are brought to the dog track where they queue up to bet. I have seen that happen and people who are addicted to gambling have told me they are addicted because of their early introduction to gambling, especially at dog tracks and racetracks where the tote is concerned. That is an anomaly in the system. In opposition, I tabled a Private Members' Bill to address it, but it was not addressed. As I have been told this Betting (Amendment) Bill is not the legislation in which it can be addressed, I hope it will be addressed in the gambling control Bill. I also hope that when this Bill is passed and when we move on to the gambling control Bill, people will not say we should have done this when dealing with the Betting (Amendment) Bill. There is a need for somebody to address this anomaly where children can bet on the tote.
The greyhound industry and the horse racing industry would be up in arms if they thought children would be prevented from betting. I know of the lobbying the last time with people asking what this fellow was on about trying to prevent children placing a couple of bob on the tote. That is the type of lobbying done by the industry and the sooner we stand up to it, the better. If the Minister of State says it is a matter for the gambling control Bill, I hope people will not say that it should have been dealt with in the Betting (Amendment) Bill. I need that clarified.
I agree with Senator Darragh O'Brien in regard to a number of points he made. There are poker machines and roulette wheels in bookie shops. As far as I am concerned, Revenue should be removing them. They are illegal and Revenue is turning a blind eye. If we did not pay a few pence in tax, Revenue would be down on our backs but it is not going into these bookmaker shops and tearing out these machines, which it should be doing. This is under the radar and people are prepared to let it be and ask what harm are they doing. It is doing a hell of a lot of harm and the matter needs to be addressed.
I concur with the other Senators who have spoken, specifically in regard to these new technologies. The destructive technologies are the use of the Internet which gives the opportunity for people to gamble with abandon. Senator Gerard P. Craughwell made the point that people are able to spend as much money as is available to them there and then. That is not something I support, nor should this House support it. We should try to do something about it here and now. I raised this issue on Second Stage, as did many others. If it is possible to do this in this Bill, then it should be done. If other legislation is required, I am sure the Leader will make the time available as soon as is practicable to ensure we can move on this issue.
The new version of gambling is moving and changing at a scary rate.
I have too many young friends who are able to gamble whatever money is available to them, that is, people in their 20s, 30s and 40s, because they got involved far too early, as Senator Maurice Cummins has noted. Something must be done about this and Members cannot sit on their hands, scratch their heads and state there will be another opportunity to do something about it. Now is the time to do something about it and I look forward to the Minister of State's response to ascertain whether this is the legislation that is required and whether now is the time to do something about it.
As the Leader said, I am trying to avoid being told, while debating the gambling control Bill, that I should have raised the matter here. I refer to online gambling and the huge money being generated therefrom that is not being taxed or having duty taken from it at present. I am trying to make the point that €25 million is raised annually on online betting and Members must ensure the online sector is treated in exactly the same way in terms of regulations, licensing etc. I acknowledge that horseracing is a great industry in Ireland that employs perhaps 22,000 people, raises a lot of money and is to be commended. While money should go to the horseracing and greyhound industries, I have raised this point in the Chamber previously. Some of the new money coming on-stream from online gambling should be diverted towards other sports and facilities, as well as to health, education about gambling addiction, as advocated by Senator Gerard P. Craughwell, and prevention. While I acknowledge Members are not debating the disease of gambling today, regulation is important.
I turn now to the betting exchanges that came on stream five or six years ago, that is, wholesale betting operators operating as exchanges in Ireland, albeit on a server or wherever outside the country. Betfair is one such exchange and there is no tax involved. The technology is changing all the time but when we are aware of it, we should be in a position to state that legislation is in place that can be implemented for bookmakers who can set up those betting exchanges immediately without any regulation. It is unfair to those bookmakers who are legitimately present in this country if such organisations can act as bookmakers and lay bets on the betting exchange. It could be next door to the premises of a bookmaker that is paying tax, is being regulated and so on but the exchange is operating without any deduction of duty on those activities. It places the traditional forms of gambling at a significant disadvantage when one has that type of operation. Regardless of where it is introduced, be it in the gambling control Bill or this Bill, I wish to lay down markers that some sports people also have raised, In addition to aiding good industries such as horseracing, there should also be an educational elbow in respect of the tax, as well as funds for other sports like the GAA and for women's sports, which are not funded from any source or which are the poor relation. I take the opportunity to raise these points.
I welcome the Minister of State and note that 15 of the 18 amendments have been proposed by the Minister. Consequently, I am glad that he is listening to opinion on this legislation. Senator Gerard P. Craughwell has raised very important points, which also were mentioned by Senators Michael D'Arcy and Maurice Cummins. This is an appalling addiction and whereas cigarettes and alcohol take a long time, this can destroy a family immediately. I thank Members opposite for the points they have made but between now and Report Stage, would it be possible to provide for a rule that one cannot spend more than a certain percentage of one's income on a bet? The purpose of this would be to try to slow down the process by which people destroy their families, their children and so on.
This is the worst addiction. I receive documents about the betting exchanges and so on mentioned by Senator Keane to the effect that this will create 1,000 jobs. It could destroy just as many jobs if it develops gambling addictions that wipe out families. While Senator Craughwell's formulations in his amendment are very good, I seek a formulation to the effect that when these businesses are legalised and brought within the scope of the legislation there should be a warning that one should not spend more than 2% or 3% of one's income because, most likely, one will be fleeced The warning should state that the gambler must support the bookie and his family, as well as the computer system and so on and that they are not charitable organisations. A huge mistake was made in Ireland when banking got out of control and that should teach us to be much more careful with money and finances. In this context, dealing with gambling is a good place to start.
I thank the Minister of State for coming into the Chamber. I also am in agreement with Senator Gerard P. Craughwell's amendment. To clarify, Members today are referring to amendments to online betting. All Members present share the frustration because ever since they came into this House, they have been waiting for this legislation. I acknowledge that technical EU matters have delayed the officials. Everyone shares the frustrations. I understand €5 billion has been bet online and given the current state of the Exchequer and how many citizens find it hard to make ends meet, it is a shame that this tax is not being collected. The sooner this legislation can be passed the better. However, is there any way in which the Minister of State can speed up the projected timeframe of the end of the year for the gambling control Bill? I have also spoken to the Leader on the subject and I ask because Members are referring to the issue of online betting.
Yesterday was designated Internet safety day and I was smiling to myself because last year in this House, somebody gave me a tip for Cheltenham and I joined Betfair. That company texts me continually. It does not know who I am or what age I am as it did not ask me. Moreover, in response to Senator Sean D. Barrett's suggestion, it did not ask me how much I earned. I get texts suggesting a refund for Mary Ann and how, were I to place exchange football bets, I would get a 50% refund. Last week, the company sent me an exclusive offer for Mary Ann O'Brien, in which I could make the most of my weekend with a 100% refund on my exchange sports bets and so on. I reiterate that yesterday marked Internet safety day. All Members have children or grandchildren at home, all of whom have access to the Internet through smartphones. There is nothing to stop them from taking a credit card from their father or mother or whatever and signing up. The question is how to protect these young people in the future.
This is in parallel with how there is a great deal of support in this House for rural Ireland, as well as a great deal of angst about it. In this context, we punch way above our weight globally in the horseracing industry and if one considers the likes of Coolmore Stud, we are the best in class. There are very few sports or industries in which we can say Ireland is top of the class in the world in terms of both breeding and prize-money. For example, Aidan O'Brien commands records that never will be bettered by any other racehorse trainers in the world. Moreover, I refer to all the people in Ireland to whom these people give employment and to the tourism it brings in. Unfortunately, however, to revert to the points made by Senator Craughwell, this is married to this serious situation that has been encountered by all Members. I have met such a person for whom the lives of the entire family are in tatters. The family home was going because the dad has had a serious problem that was secret for a long time. It is now out in the open, the family is in shame and they are completely without the means to go forward. This is what can happen. Again, it would have been wonderful had Members able to debate this in parallel, because I really respect Senator Craughwell's position and the conversation he has instigated. In particular, it is even worse with online betting because it is easier to do it in secret at home than it is to walk into a shop or go to the racecourse.
I thank the Senators for their invaluable and informative contributions and acknowledge that everyone has expressed a caveat.
It is a regulatory Bill that is specific and interim. It is about betting and creating a level playing pitch for both the traditional bricks and mortar establishment on the high street and online betting. I hear the frustration and also a sense of urgency about the pertinent societal matters. That is coming through strongly in the debate.
Senator Craughwell referred to the example of a €15,000 debt building up over a short period of time and an adult gambling €80,000 using a smartphone. These are serious issues that we must grapple with. Senator Mary Ann O'Brien also referred to the sense of urgency and the need for the gambling control Bill to be made a priority. The general scheme of the gambling control Bill was approved by the Government in July 2013 and the scheme is with the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel awaiting formal drafting. At this stage, it is not possible to indicate when the Bill is likely to be published. I will speak to my colleague, the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, and the viewpoints of Senators will be listened to.
Senator Maurice Cummins referred to children and those under 18 years. It is an important matter, as is his point about totes. I am repeating myself in saying that this is a regulatory Bill. Let us consider the frustration of the traditional bricks and mortar betting house having to pay a 1% levy when online competitors do not have to pay. The Bill provides for the regulation of all remote bookmakers and betting exchanges offering betting services in Ireland. Senator Cáit Keane referred to exchanges, which the Bill covers. This must be seen as the first phase of a more enhanced regulatory environment being prepared by the Minister for Justice and Equality. The general scheme of a new comprehensive Bill on gambling was approved by the Government in July 2013. Gambling control legislation will bring together, under a single enactment, the regulatory environment for all forms of gambling. The Government has indicated that the tote should be brought within the scope of the scheme following an examination of the issues involved. I hear what the Senator is saying about the tote but that will come under the forthcoming legislation.
The House acts as an important springboard for forthcoming legislation in the short and medium term. Having been a Member of the Seanad for five years, the moral compass of the House is as finely tuned as ever in terms of the important issues at stake. Senator Michael D'Arcy referred to the wider legislative discussion, which will happen within the gambling control Bill. We are all grappling with the magnitude of the new ways of gambling and such rapid change in terms of the Internet. We might think that Facebook has been around a short time or a long time but it has been in existence for 11 years. Phenomenal change has happened in a short period. Any opportunity to discuss the wider aspects of Internet usage is a conversation that must be focused on. Senator Mary Ann O'Brien referred to Internet safety day taking place yesterday. This House has a role to play in that discussion.
Senator Cáit Keane is correct that the Bill is about revenue collection and introducing a regulatory and licensing regime for online betting. Senator Sean D. Barrett echoed the sentiments and the amendment proposed by Senator Gerard P. Craughwell. That will be to the forefront of the gambling control Bill but I am not in a position to say when it will happen. The Senator's sentiments and his sympathy to the amendment are clear. In this regard Senator Mary Ann O'Brien emphasised speeding up the enactment of the gambling control Bill. I hope this debate will act as a catalyst in focusing the Minister on this. I will speak to her personally on the matter because many challenges exist. While betting offices on the high streets close at a certain time of the evening, someone can wake up at 1 a.m. and bet online. There are serious issues related to this.
I do not propose to accept the amendment, but I hear the sentiment expressed by the Senators and his genuine and sincere concerns about the totality of gambling. The Senator drew parallels with warnings on cigarette packages and a similar message on gambling. That will be dealt with in the wider context of the gambling control Bill. I will not accept the amendment because I am confined by the specific nature of this interim legislation, which is about regulation to level the playing pitch for online and off-line and to examine the licensing regime and revenue collection.
I find it very regrettable that our concern is about raising revenue from gambling rather than the families suffering from gambling. I take on board the bona fides of the Minister of State, but there is an old and wise saying we should never put off until tomorrow what we can do today. This would not be the first item of legislation ever written that had something tagged onto the end of it to protect the people of the State. I do not for one moment suggest that a warning in betting shops and on online gambling sites will deter people or reduce the level of addiction. However, as a State and as a people, we have an obligation to warn people of the dangers and to make people aware, like the drink aware advertising.
Senator Mary Ann O'Brien referred to receiving messages on her mobile phone. Families are being destroyed by this. Senator Maurice Cummins made a point I had not thought about. I have been on many racecourses and I have seen children with their few pennies at the tote office. We have an obligation to do something about this and this is the first chance we have had to do so. I am not aware of similar legislation anywhere in Europe. Ireland was the first country in the world to lead with the smoking ban and this is the opportunity to do the same with betting.
Putting the problem in context means making people aware of the issues. The case mentioned a few moments ago involved a family finding out about a gambling addiction. Generally, by then it is too late and the family's assets are already burned. The worst case scenario is that some loan shark is in the middle of this. We have an opportunity here and I will push this as far as I can. I will resubmit an amendment on Report Stage if it is not accepted.
I understand what the Minister of State is saying, but I back up Senator Gerard P. Craughwell on this point. The Minister of State mentioned that the Bill was due to be drafted; therefore, it is not yet at drafting stage. None of us can predict when the next general election will take place, but if the Bill is scheduled for the end of the year and we are getting into election territory, we can be pretty sure it will not happen.
We have the announcement of a budget in October, followed by the Finance Bill and the Social Welfare Bill.
Senator Maurice Cummins and others, in particular Senator Michael D'Arcy, being from Wexford, will be aware of the work of Aiséirí in dealing with the issue of gambling addiction. The report it published in 2011 looked at the issue of under-age gambling. I am not talking about betting but gambling, which is specific and missing from the Bill. I do not have many concerns about this one legislation; the problem I have is that we were told this would be done in conjunction with a gambling Bill. We were told a code of conduct would be brought forward, like the one overseen by the Gambling Commission in England, whereby parents could be advised how to block things such as the ones going through to Senator Mary Ann O'Brien's phone, although she is well able to deal with the matter.
We need proper advice on how we can levy the gambling industry. A 1% levy was proposed in 2013, with the money to be used in areas such as education, treatment and research, but that is all gone now. For me, the betting tax Bill is really about providing a level playing pitch in the case of on-course, online and shop betting. There is no other great distinction within it, apart from deciding who can have licences and so on. The really important issue is how we protect people. Senator Maurice Cummins spoke about kids growing up with the tote in Shelbourne Park or Dundalk and actually putting on a bet. What the tote wants to happen is for this kid of ten or 11 years to win a bet and say, "Fantastic; I have put down €1 and won €20." That is how this is triggered in somebody's mind and he or she will then always associate it with gambling through their adult life and it is much more difficult when they are earning money.
We also need to look at what we are losing in revenue terms by not properly regulating the sector. If someone goes to a private gaming club around the corner from here and puts on a bet, he or she will pay at a rate of 23%; the same applies in a gaming arcade. If he or she were to do the same online, however, he or she would pay zero. There is no control, no regulation and no help available, bar that from groups such as Aiséirí which is doing work on behalf of the Government, but the problem is getting worse. In the political cycle we are in I fear that when there is a general election, there will be a new Government in a new Dáil and a new Seanad, with a new list of priorities. With the best will in the world and despite the work departmental officials have done on this issue, from my information, it appears that work has stopped within the Department and that there is no one available to draft the legislation. While I hope I am wrong, if it is the case that the legislation has not even been drafted, it is not going to happen.
The Seanad could do something, although not, in any way, shape or form, by trying to embarrass the Government. At the very least, the amendment Senator Gerard P. Craughwell has tabled is a sensible one. We would be doing a decent service in saying that, while it might not be perfect, we should insert it into the Bill and look at it on Report Stage; otherwise, the Minister of State should give some commitment that he will have a word with the Cabinet and come back to the issue on Report Stage. We could then say we were going to make it a priority to have a gambling control Bill introduced in the House in the second quarter, or September, and we could make absolutely sure that would happen. Before Report Stage there might be an opportunity for the Minister of State to give us feedback. He knows from Members on all sides of the House that there is genuine concern that we are not dealing with the most important issue. If he was to go back to his senior colleagues in the Government and have the issue discussed at the Cabinet to decide what we need to prioritise, he could come back to us before Report Stage to tell us if it was at all possible to proceed. However, I am not happy with where we are and will certainly support Senator Gerard P. Craughwell's amendment, which would be helpful.
There is one aspect the Minister of State might discuss with his officials before Report Stage. Some of these fellows exist in the cloud. The Minister, Deputy Michael Noonan, had to amend the Finance Act to make corporations declare a residence, although they had an extra year to decide where they would like to be resident. In this case, the important point is that we are not quite sure where the gambling organisation is located, but we do know that the customer is in this jurisdiction. Therefore, one of the ways this issue could be controlled is by saying: "Wherever you are located, you are told that in this jurisdiction there has to be a warning given before a person engages in electronic gambling." Perhaps it is too strong to draw the parallel, but Al Capone was caught for income tax fraud, rather than for his more nefarious crimes. Senator Gerard P. Craughwell's amendment would afford the Minister of State an opportunity to control the activity from the customer's end, as well as trying to do so from the producer's end. I am sure the Government will take the opportunity provided.
I again thank Senators again their contributions. I know that they are reinforcing their original contributions which I take as sincere and genuine. This highlights the degree of frustration felt in trying to have a very important issue placed on the agenda. In line with Senator Darragh O'Brien's point, I will find out where the Bill is at in the drafting process. I will seek clarity on the issue before the next Stage.
Senator Gerard P. Craughwell tabled the amendment. While there is a distinction to be drawn between gambling and betting, it is very hard to have that conversation without introducing wider societal issues, but it is only right to do so as they are interrelated. We are very familiar with the term "putting off until tomorrow what we can do today", but I am going to take back to my colleagues the very clear and loud message I have heard today. While the Minister, Deputy Michael Noonan, has specific responsibility for this legislation, there is also a role for the Minister for Justice and Equality. There is a strong message for the senior Ministers which, no doubt, the Leader of the House will also carry back. However, we must consider what is practical and achievable within a short period because, given that there is possibly only one more term after this one, we are operating within tight time constraints. At the same time, however, if we can have clarity on the current position, we will seek to provide it.
Senator Sean D. Barrett addressed a different section, about which there are issues I want to raise at a later stage.
- Barrett, Sean D.
- Byrne, Thomas.
- Craughwell, Gerard P.
- Crown, John.
- Daly, Mark.
- Healy Eames, Fidelma.
- Leyden, Terry.
- MacSharry, Marc.
- Mooney, Paschal.
- Mullen, Rónán.
- Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
- O'Brien, Darragh.
- O'Brien, Mary Ann.
- O'Donnell, Marie-Louise.
- Power, Averil.
- Reilly, Kathryn.
- van Turnhout, Jillian.
- Walsh, Jim.
- Zappone, Katherine.
- Bacik, Ivana.
- Burke, Colm.
- Coghlan, Paul.
- Comiskey, Michael.
- Cummins, Maurice.
- D'Arcy, Jim.
- D'Arcy, Michael.
- Hayden, Aideen.
- Henry, Imelda.
- Higgins, Lorraine.
- Keane, Cáit.
- Kelly, John.
- Landy, Denis.
- Moloney, Marie.
- Moran, Mary.
- Mulcahy, Tony.
- Mullins, Michael.
- Naughton, Hildegarde.
- Noone, Catherine.
- O'Neill, Pat.
- Sheahan, Tom.
- Whelan, John.
I do not wish to labour the point but section 5 deals with false representation. I support the section and support the proposal that if somebody other than a bookmaker represents him or herself as a bookmaker, this should be liable as an offence. However, I wish to make a point, on the basis of what we have discussed already, that while we are regulating one part of this sector strongly, we are leaving the other side open, for example betting exchanges or similar areas. I am aware we cannot tackle everything, but the way the industry is growing and the way betting is expanding makes it very difficult to control this area.
I support this section but the irony is not lost that we cannot look at issues such as gambling sites. Effectively, I could set up a website tomorrow and start taking bets on it. I could put up an online casino, card games or similar and there is nothing in the way of control. On the other side, if someone represents himself as a bookmaker and takes a bet off track, he will be hammered. I do not intend to oppose the section and will not labour the point further, but I wanted to outline this view.
This concerns the issue of certificates of personal fitness to certain persons resident outside the State. As we have seen, any bookmaker must apply to a chief superintendent of An Garda Síochána for a licence and the chief superintendent can check his history to see whether he has behaved well in the past and is a fit person to hold a licence.
This section relates to people who are resident outside the State, whose application for a licence must be made to the Minister for Justice and Equality. Some instances in this regard have been brought to my attention, where some remote operators took a bet from a person, but stopped paying him winnings because there was a gamble on a particular horse or dog. They refused to pay him and had him investigated by the authorities in England. This man was cleared of any offence but his name had been dragged through the mud and his payments stopped until he was cleared. In a normal situation where such an incident occurred and an objection to a licence was made to the chief superintendent, I am sure it would be upheld by the superintendent. However, in this particular case, the people affected must apply to the Minister.
What is the situation in regard to objections to licences being granted to people like this? In the case to which I have referred the person in question has brought the matter to a superintendent close to the head office of the operator and also brought it to the attention of Customs and Excise. He does not want a situation where the person can renew his licence without apologising and making reparation to him for the grievous wrong done to him. In the case of objections to such licences, what happens in the case of an objection? The licensee must apply for a renewal of a licence and must advertise within 14 days, in two newspapers, that he is applying for a licence. What happens with the objection? Where does it go and what is the situation as a result?
Section 8 replaces section 5 of the principal Act. This section sets out the application process for a certificate of personal fitness to hold a bookmaker's licence for a person resident outside the State to the Minister for Justice and Equality. A person seeking a certificate of personal fitness must provide notice in two daily newspapers circulated in the State of his intention to make such an application, between two weeks and one month in advance of making the application. A period of not later than 56 days is provided within which the certificate is granted or refused. The section also provides a basis for refusing a certificate and for penalties for making or providing false or misleading statements or information in the course of an application for a certificate.
On the Senator's question regarding whether there is an opportunity for third party objections or where objections should be lodged, I would point out there is a 56 day period of time. I will find out for the Senator whether the objection should be made to an independent person or whether it should go directly to the Minister or whether the objection should be made at a more local level. However, there is an adequate period of time before the certificate is granted or refused for an objection to be lodged. Also, the application is in the public domain for a period of two weeks through the newspapers. These time periods together should ensure that if there are third party objections they are facilitated. I will check out how contact is to be made with the appropriate person to lodge an objection.
In the context of the gambling control Bill, the purpose of that Bill is to provide for a regulator. Perhaps we should have a similar point of contact in regard to this Bill and that bears consideration.
This is something that should come within this Bill. The gambling control Bill has nothing to do with the issue. The person in question feels wronged and wants to object to the issuing of a licence to a company that will, I am sure, be applying for a licence. His name was dragged through the mud.
His name was dragged through the mud but probably not by the company.
Everybody knew his bets were stopped, that he was not paid and he was investigated. He has had no recognition by this company of any wrongdoing on its behalf. I shall outline what I presume he wants to happen within 14 days. I accept that the Minister of State will come back to me about the matter. I presume that it is the Minister for Justice and Equality to whom the man will probably have to object directly. He has written to the Minister.
This man is intent on having his name cleared and for the company to clear his name as well. This is an important issue. He has gone to great lengths already and he is prepared to go further. He wants to object to this licence unless there is compensation, apologies or whatever provided but he wants his name cleared. His name has been cleared by the authorities who look after racing. I hope the matter can be clarified.
Section 19(1) refers to a register of remote bookmaking operations and states:
The Revenue Commissioners shall establish and maintain a register (to be known, and in this Act referred to, as the ‘Register of Remote Bookmaking Operations’).
I presume that the register will become common knowledge and it will be advertised, by the Revenue Commissioners, who is on the register or the people who are registered. That way people can examine to see whether operators are not registered. It is quite important that the register which the Revenue Commissioners will collate is made available to the public also.
The section provides for the establishment, maintenance and publication of a register of remote bookmaking operations of all remote bookmaker's licences and remote betting intermediary licences by the Revenue Commissioners and stipulates the details to be included. It also provides for the removal from the register where a licence is revoked and that the Revenue Commissioners will publish the register of remote bookmaking operations on the Internet or in such other form as they consider appropriate.
I spoke about section 25 on Second Stage. On that occasion I objected, from the staffing point of view and that of everybody else, to bookmakers opening until 9.30 p.m. or 10 p.m. and the possibility of opening at 7 a.m. I think I have been stifled because the provision was put into the Finance Act before it came back here in the Betting (Amendment) Act. That shows things can be done fairly fast and moved to various Acts if necessary. I hope the points I have raised about the tote, under-age persons and the machines in bookmakers' premises will be acted on as fast as section 25 was opposed. The provision was put into the Finance Act and I hope my points will be taken on board again and acted on in as judicious a fashion and as expeditiously as they were in this regard.
It was a pretty drastic measure by the Government to ensure Senator Maurice Cummins backed this legislation. It took this section out and put it in the Finance Bill because the Government knew he would not oppose a Finance Bill.
Senator Maurice Cummins was vociferous in his argument on this particular item when we discussed it on Second Stage. I am not as concerned as he would be and just want to say it has been removed to the Finance Act. It is welcome that we have liberalised opening hours and got up to speed, particularly with regard to some of the major racing festivals, in order to ensure bookmakers are open and can compete with online betting operations. I knew Senator Maurice Cummins had a large degree of influence on the Government. It moved mountains and sections of legislation to ensure he did not go overboard, which is pretty impressive.
It was not what I wanted.
We support the proposal to remove this section in order to make sure Senator Maurice Cummins retains the Fine Gael Whip.
As somebody who is unfamiliar with the betting world, I was shocked to see this provision and I was delighted when people said it was removed.
It is in.
I was disappointed-----
It is done already.
Yes, it is in place.
The Senator voted for it.
Opening betting places before 7 a.m. would just add fuel to the fire.
The Senator voted for it in the Finance Bill.
I know. They will be open until 10 p.m., which is terrible.
I apologise for the delay in responding. The note is in English.
The Bill provides that a person in the State who fails to comply with a direction from Revenue to stop providing Internet access, advertising or promotion services to an unlicensed remote operator is committing an offence. The amendment provides for the penalties that will apply to such an offence. Section 29 inserts sections 32A and 32B into the principal Act to provide a mechanism to allow Revenue to prevent unlicensed operators from carrying on businesses in the State. These sections will prohibit Internet service providers, advertisers or persons promoting products from providing services in the State for unlicensed remote operators. Revenue may issue compliance notices to these service providers. The service providers may appeal a compliance notice to the District Court which will either affirm the notice or direct Revenue to withdraw it. A person who fails to comply with a notice by the specified date shall be guilty of an offence.
The amendment sets out the penalties that will apply on conviction for an offence of failure to comply with a notice by the specified date. The Revenue Commissioners have been given temporary responsibility for enforcement against unlicensed remote operators pending the establishment of the gambling regulator under the proposed gambling control legislation.
Amendments Nos. 9 to 13, inclusive, and Nos. 15 and 18 are related. Amendments Nos. 9 and 15 form a composite proposal, while amendment No. 18 is consequential on amendment No. 15. Therefore, amendments Nos. 9 to 13, inclusive, and Nos. 15 and 18 may be discussed together, by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.
The amendments extend the period of registration of a bookmaking premises to two years, bringing the period into line with the new two-year period of a bookmaker's licence. They rephrase the meaning of the term "registration final day" to remove any doubt as to when the registration of a bookmaker's premises falls due for renewal and bring the date of renewal of registration under the Finance Act into line with the Bill. The amendments clarify the grounds on which a bookmaking premises can be removed from the register of bookmaking premises. In addition, a technical amendment is proposed to section 39 to ensure certain amendments of the Finance Acts which align the Acts' provisions on the registration of a bookmaker's premises with the provisions of the Bill will be enacted immediately on enactment of the Bill.
This is an amendment my colleague, Deputy Pearse Doherty, proposed in the Dáil. It is a straightforward deletion of an outdated and never implemented section of the Act. While it was not accepted on Committee Stage in the Dáil, I am glad that it is now being proposed by the Government. If one told people that they were in breach of the Betting Act every time they placed a bet on a football match, they would be quite surprised. I am grateful that the Government has taken the amendment on board.
Amendments Nos. 16 and 17 are related and may be discussed together, by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I move amendment No. 16:
In page 41, between lines 13 and 14, to insert the following:
"39. The Minister shall, within 3 months of the passing of this Act, present to the Houses of the Oireachtas a report on his or her future plans for betting duty and the funding of the horse racing and greyhound racing industries and his or her plans for taxation of other areas of gambling.".
I am aware that the issue of the horse and greyhound fund will soon be dealt with by the Oireachtas. Amendment No. 16 is proposed because there is a need for a broader debate on the betting, horse and greyhound industries. In my party's view there is a need to make progress towards or for a return to a link between betting duty and racing. Everyone with whom my party has discussed this issue is up for holding such a debate. More broadly, there are issues around why online betting has not been subject to VAT all these years and why other forms of gambling do not attract duty. A report, as requested in the amendment, would be a starting point.
Amendment No. 17 would be a means to seek a debate on statistical data on the issue of applying betting duty to the punter, as opposed to the bookie. This would be a return to an older way of doing things. There has been a misrepresentation of what my party has proposed with regard to betting duty. For example, in our alternative budget we stated the preference would be for placing the levy on the punter.
I want to flag that on Report Stage we will be tabling a review amendment also under this section to provide that within three months of the enactment of the Bill, the Minister would lay before both Houses of the Oireachtas a report on measures to be undertaken to protect vulnerable people from engaging in harmful gambling and the manner in which all operators of betting and gambling services could assist in this regard. I suggested earlier that we were going to find out what the position was in the drafting of the Bill; therefore, I will leave that matter until then.
On amendment No. 16, I imagine Sinn Féin would support the tax revenue going towards funding the horse and greyhound industries, which are very important flagship industries for the country. Many appreciate the fact that the money is going to fund world-class industries. There is merit in the proposal to review the legislation, particularly in the context of what we discussed earlier. There is merit in both of Senator Kathryn Reilly's amendments and I am interested in hearing what the Minister of State has to say about them. My main purpose is to notify the House of my intention to table a review amendment on Report Stage.
I support the amendment. We debated this issue in November and one of the Government backbenchers in my county sent me an email on the decision made at the time. Appropriately, he had been photographed beside the statue of a horse, as the e-mail announced that the horse and greyhound fund was being increased by 26% to €68 million, of which 80% was to go to the horse racing industry. That is a subsidy to everyone who attends a horse race meeting of €54 and to everybody who attends a dog race meeting of €12.60. In the same period the SILC report shows that we have reduced disposable income for every child in the country by €3,300. That is a 16% reduction in what people have to spend on children and a 26% increase in expenditure on horses and dogs. It is a totally inappropriate set of priorities.
I am delighted this issue is to be discussed. When the fund was first established by the late Albert Reynolds, there was approximately £3 million for horse racing and £500,000 for dog racing. The fund was capped over its lifetime, subject to a ministerial change. It was never intended to exceed €200 million, but we are now spending that much every three years. It is not the cap from 1992 which was expected to prevail over the entire lifetime of the fund, subject to a major review of the legislation.
If these are such great industries, we should see them putting money into the Exchequer and helping to correct the type of economy we have been running recently, where low income households have been put to the pin of their collar. That is why there are hundreds of thousands of people on the streets protesting against the imposition of water charges. Given the 26% increase in the horse and greyhound racing fund, there should have been hundreds and thousands of horses and dogs coming out in support of the Government. As I said, the Government seems to have a bizarre set of priorities. The subsidy given amounts to a massive multiple of the cost of people attending these sports fixtures and is way above what we spend on human sports.
I do not know how these industries secured the entitlement whereby if we extend the taxation of betting to things that have nothing to do with horses and dogs, that revenue will automatically, by previous policy, go back to the horse and greyhound industries. The report of an bord snip nua in 2009 suggested there be a review of this set of priorities. In fact, the recommendation was for a substantial reduction in funding, not a 26% increase. The allocation is way above the subsidy paid for people who attend horse racing meetings in the United Kingdom, for example. It has been widely condemned by commentators on social media and so on as one of the most regressive subsidies because it goes towards the prize money offered and thereby benefits millionaire racehorse owners. It is time we had a different set of priorities. Children deserve better than a 16% reduction in their living standards since 2008. Had there been a vote on the measure in this House, I would not have supported increasing the horse and greyhound racing fund by 26%.
According to a recent Bord na gCon report, there are some 6,500 fewer people training dogs now compared with the number in 2008. We have had the fiasco which the Committee of Public Accounts is investigating concerning the three dog tracks in Limerick, at Markets Field, Coonagh and the old race course, which involved some €35 million of public moneys. We must haul in this sector and ensure it gives value for money. I am very strongly in favour of Senator Kathryn Reilly's amendment because these are issues that have been swept under the carpet for too long. They represent a set of priorities that are not shared by many in either House of the Oireachtas.
With regard to amendment No. 16, while there has traditionally been a link between revenues accruing from betting taxes and the allocation to the horse and greyhound racing fund, there is no hypothecation of these revenues. All receipts from betting go to the Exchequer. The funding of the horse and greyhound industries is primarily a matter for discussion between the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform in the context of the annual Estimates campaign. Having said that, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, has stated any increase in revenues as a result of these measures will allow the Government to provide additional funding in certain areas, including the horse and greyhound industries. In this regard, the Government has provided an additional €6 million a year for three years for the horse and greyhound racing fund. However, I reiterate that the funding for these industries is a matter, in the first instance, for the Ministers concerned.
On taxing other forms of gambling, it is the Minister's intention to examine the options available in this regard. However, the priority is to ensure a regulatory framework is developed for the gambling sector and this will be brought about through the proposed gambling control legislation.
On amendment No. 17, the Minister has consistently said his priority is to extend the existing system to the remote sector in order that all betting activity is included in the tax net. Once there is a level playing field, all other options around the rate and type of tax can be explored. It is the Minister's intention that all of the options available in this regard, including the taxation of other forms of gambling will be fully explored. Accordingly, I do not propose to accept the amendments.
It would require a dedicated evening to deal with the broader issues Senator Sean D. Barrett raised regarding the horse and greyhound industries. The additional funding provided in budget 2015 is to assist the industries in continuing to enhance Ireland's reputation on the world stage and in recognition of the significant positive impact they have, particularly through the creation and retention of direct and indirect employment in rural communities. There certainly is scope for a conversation around where the money goes, but the strong message I am getting from colleagues at local level is that the contribution of both industries to employment and local communities is extremely substantial. That is why it is important to ensure continued funding for the horse and greyhound racing fund.
I move amendment No. 17:
In page 41, between lines 13 and 14, to insert the following:
"39. The Minister shall, within 3 months of the passing of this Act, present to the Houses of the Oireachtas a report on the financial implications of charging betting duty as a tax to be paid by the customer or as a tax paid by the bookmaker.".
When is it proposed to take Report Stage?