Gambling Legislation: Motion

I move:

That Seanad Éireann:

- notes the establishment of the Inter-Departmental Working Group on Gambling in January 2018;

- considers it appropriate that due regard be given to establishing a Gambling Regulatory Authority;

- acknowledges that problem gambling can result in the problem gambler, and their family, bearing the severest economic and personal costs;

- recognises recent research published by the UK Gambling Commission and others which provide a list of the social costs of gambling, including loss of employment, experience of bankruptcy and/or debt, loss of housing/homelessness, crime associated with gambling, relationship breakdown/problems and health-related problems;

- calls on the Government to publish the final Report of the Inter-Departmental Working Group on Gambling and accelerate plans to introduce a Gambling Regulatory Authority.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, to the House to discuss a issue that is close to his heart and one on which he has expended some time. I also welcome the publication today of the first set of data on gambling in Ireland. I look forward to examining the scale of the field work, the sample size and the findings.

As an initial response, I believe that the focus on lottery tickets and scratch cards obscures the millions of euro being spent on other forms of gambling, particularly in unregulated online environments. I also welcome the news that the Government will publish the final report of the interdepartmental working group on gambling shortly. As I have the opportunity to address the Minister of State directly now, I ask him to define what "shortly" means, if we can expect to have the report before the Easter break and if we can have a specific date, please.

I will be forgiven for showing a certain level of impatience with the rate of progress on this issue, which the Minister of State will agree has been protracted. The first time I spoke in the House about gambling was on the Betting (Amendment) Act 2015, to which I introduced a number of amendments calling for warnings similar to those on cigarette packets to be displayed on online and static betting operations. It was an eye-opener for me that day to get such strong support from all sides of the House. In the end, though, the Whip was enforced and the Act was passed without my amendments.

In the course of preparing those amendments, I came into contact with families and individuals whose lives were plagued by the often silent and sometimes invisible scourge of problem gambling. The following year, I held a well attended briefing on the need for a gambling control Bill to regulate the sector, a Bill for which there was widespread support.

To say that the pace of change has been slow is an understatement. In fact, 2,000 days have passed since the Act was first drafted. For every one of those 2,000 days, someone's life has been adversely affected by problem gambling. It has been a staggering 1,000 days and six parliamentary terms since this Government committed to introducing a gambling control Bill, yet nothing has moved.

The current legislation is antiquated. It is difficult to believe that Ireland's gambling and gaming legislation predates the electrification of the country. Gaming in Ireland is governed by the Gaming and Lotteries Act 1956 and betting is primarily regulated by the Betting Act 1931. Given the vast advances of the past 20 years in how people gamble, these regulations were described by a 2007 report by the casino committee as a "relic of social history ... utterly unsuited to effectively regulate gaming in a modern, wealthy European state". This antiquated legislation has had adverse effects on the lives of problem gamblers and their families. By neglecting to put in place an appropriate regulatory framework, successive Governments - this has not happened on the Minister of State's watch alone - have actively contributed to the scale of problem gambling. It has been irresponsible and, with advances in technology and with online sport betting companies ramping up their advertising to unprecedented levels, the rise in problem gambling will be exponential.

I note with interest from the data set released today the correlation between problem gambling among young males and unregulated access to online and telephone gambling. This is a sinister and worrying statistic. I welcome the statistics issued today. We are not short of evidence from other sources either. According to conservative estimates, there are at least 45,000 people living in Ireland with a "severe pathological gambling addiction". Based on international evidence, there are a further 110,000 Irish citizens who suffer from a milder form of problem gambling. What people might not know is that Ireland also has the highest online gambling losses per capita globally and the third highest overall gambling losses per capita. Somebody is making a lot of money from Irish citizens in an unregulated and highly lucrative environment. Even the average punter for whom gambling is not a problem is at a disadvantage compared to his or her European and global counterparts.

This is fast becoming a case of Nero fiddling while Rome burns, given that the legislative response to this crisis has been one of delays and piecemeal legislation. I commend my Fianna Fáil colleagues on introducing the Gambling Control Bill 2018 and regret that its progression through the Oireachtas has been blocked by the Government, given that it requires a money message. I note that the Minister for Justice and Equality will introduce a gaming and lotteries (amendment) Bill.

This Bill is purely technical and contains no meaningful consumer protection measures. I am unclear as to why updating stakes and prizes, the amounts which can be waged and won in gaming, is a priority for the Department when the gambling control Bill would bring in the necessary reforms. To me this constitutes a waste of precious departmental time and taxpayers' money. It does not give me confidence that the gambling control Bill will be progressed as a matter of urgency. I made reference earlier to the interdepartmental working group report. Will the Minister of State ensure, as per international best practice, that there is sufficient time for public and stakeholder consultation in the drafting of the revised general scheme of the gambling control Bill? Can he confirm that the gambling control Bill will allow for the establishment of an independent regulator for the gambling industry? I accept the Minister of State's bona fides in attempting to tackle unregulated gambling. However I still have a grave concern that in trying to produce the perfect legislation we have already run the risk of letting perfection become the enemy of good regulation. I said at the outset that I truly believe the Minister of State has a deep concern about gambling and the regulation thereof. I trust we will hear something this evening that will substantiate that belief, or at least help me to believe it.

Senator Norris has indicated he would like to second the motion. We have two other signatories to the motion. Would he still like to second it?

I would, if the Acting Chair does not mind.

I thank the Acting Chair. After speaking I want to go home.

The Senator has eight minutes.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I have been extensively briefed by a former Minister and Deputy, Mr. Dick Roche, who has taken a particular interest in this issue. I would like to concentrate particularly on gaming and the operators of casinos and slot machines. I refer to the situation in Dublin. On O'Connell Street there is an absolutely enormous casino. Around the corner there is another enormous casino on Parnell Street. It is really pretty ghastly. In the old days there were bookies and that was it. Now there are these enormous gambling establishments, some of which actually give money back to compulsive gamblers to encourage them to continue. It is shocking. There is an absolute absence of morality.

With regard to gaming machines and so on, the key legislation governing gaming operations in Ireland, the Gaming and Lotteries Act 1956, is being flagrantly broken in every single part of the country. Operators are being allowed to openly break the law. Tens of millions of euros in licence fees, moneys which could fund much-needed addiction services, are not being collected. There is every reason to question whether proper value added tax, VAT, is being collected. Questionable licensing decisions have been made in the District Courts. Garda activity in applying the law has virtually come to a standstill and the Revenue Commissioners, which have been active of late, have questions to answer about why the excise services waited so long to become active.

The Gaming and Lotteries Act 1956 sets out the conditions in which it is legal to operate a gaming machine in a gaming establishment. The licensing of amusement facilities, which are often run side by side with gaming, is set out in the Finance Act 1992. While the 1956 Act is regarded by many as outdated, the fact remains that it is the law and the disturbing reality is that it is being flagrantly and openly broken. Illegal gaming establishments are being allowed to operate with impunity while millions of euros in revenue are denied to the Exchequer. There is also the major question of how VAT is treated.

Industry sources suggest that there are between 30,000 and 40,000 gaming machines in operation across the country. Every gaming machine requires an annual gaming machine licence. In 2018, a total of 12,112 gaming machine licences were issued. Some 4,326 annual licences, costing €505 each, and remarkably 7,787 three-month licences, costing €145 each, were issued. In other words, there are far more gaming machines in operation than licences. To get a gaming licence an operator must apply to the District Court for a certificate for a gaming licence. The court may issue a certificate only where the relevant authority has adopted Part III of the Gaming and Lotteries Act 1956. This is an essential and crucial Part. Only when Part III has been adopted can certificates be legally issued. When a certificate is issued, the operator must apply to the revenue for the licence. Part III of the Gaming and Lotteries Act 1956 is operational only in small areas of the country. For example, Part III does not apply in Dublin city or county except for parts of Skerries and Balbriggan. Any gaming machine operating where Part III has not been adopted is operating illegally. How can thousands of gaming machines for which there cannot possibly be licences by virtue of their location remain in operation? There are thousands of machines operating in Dublin, where it is not possible to get a gaming licence.

Major questions must also be asked about the role of An Garda Síochána. Why have there been few, if any, prosecutions in recent years? What has An Garda Síochána been doing? Why is the level of Garda activity in the area declining? In 2012, there were 96 cases of what the Garda describes as recorded crime incidents. The Garda is very coy about providing any information about prosecutions. The number of recorded crime incidents was 61 in 2010, 47 in 2013, 14 in 2014 and 13 in 2017. There is a constant decline in the number of recorded incidents.

As mentioned, the Revenue Commissioners issue the licences for gaming machines and premises. The Revenue Commissioners have been active in recent times, seizing gaming machines in a number of high-profile raids. There are still questions to answer, however. Why has it taken so long to take action? Many of the premises raided in Dublin have been openly operating since 1988 when Dublin Corporation, as it then was, banned gaming machines from the city. That is about 30 years. Why have only a small proportion of the gaming machines operating in each of the venues raided been seized? Other than seizing machines, what further action will be taken? Will prosecutions follow? There is no evidence of that, despite repeated questions from Deputy Mick Wallace in the Dáil. Will back levies and taxes be collected? What form of licence, if any, did Revenue issue for the machines that did not have gaming machine licences? Is Revenue effectively giving cover to gaming operators by issuing amusement machine licences for what are actually gaming machines? What licence fees did Revenue collect? An annual gaming machine licence costs €505 per machine. An amusement machine licence costs €125. How was VAT charged on the machines for which operators did not have gaming machine licences?

There is disturbing evidence that in at least one instance, a District Court issued a licence for a premises in County Dublin where Part III of the 1956 Act is not operational. It is quite clear that the court should have turned down the certificate application. It seems the court was in defiance of the law.

On 6 February, Dublin District Court No. 23 had 16 applications for new gaming licence certificates on its list. When a certificate is issued by the court, an operator applies to the Revenue Commissioners for the necessary gaming licence. A licence must be issued for every gaming machine and the operator must have a separate licence for the premises, again issued by the Revenue Commissioners. The Revenue Commissioners' compliance manual, like District Court form 66.2, makes it clear that a gaming licence can only issue where Part III of the 1956 Act is in operation. If Part III of the Act is not in operation, as in Dublin city, a certificate should not issue and no licence should be issued. The Revenue Commissioners issue amusement machine licences under separate legislation.

Operating a gaming machine without the necessary licences is illegal. In spite of this, premises dotted around Dublin city centre openly operate hundreds of gaming machines and have been allowed to so operate with impunity for years. Many of these gaming premises openly advertise their operations. Across the country as a whole, tens of thousands of gaming machines are being operated illegally in cities and towns where Part III of the Act has not been adopted. The hundreds if not thousands of gaming machines operating in Dublin city and county are operated illegally as, with the exception of premises in Balbriggan and Skerries, no gaming licence can be issued in the capital. If there are between 18,000 and 28,000 machines in operation without the legally required gaming licence, as industry sources suggest, not only is the law being openly broken on a grand scale, but the State is being short-changed on annual licensing receipts.

Allowing gaming schemes, many of which are being operated illegally in areas where Part III is not operable, to be licensed as amusement machines, in addition to allowing operators to dodge fees being applied to gaming machines, leaves the Revenue Commissioners open to some very uncomfortable questions about their attitude to upholding the law.

There is also the question of the lack of enforcement by An Garda Síochána. Why is it so coy about this? Why has it taken so long to take action? Why, in the operations that have taken place, were only a small proportion of the gaming machines in operation seized? Other than seizing machines, what further action will be taken? I have a series of questions for the Minister of State. In particular, it is clear that the operation of the 1956 Act is being openly flouted. There are thousands of illegally operated gaming machines in existence.

I welcome this opportunity to discuss the issue of gambling and its expansion. I commend Senator Craughwell and all the Independent Senators on bringing forward this motion. I welcome the Minister of State to the House. As has been said, he has a deep interest in this issue and wants to find solutions.

Gambling, in all its various guises, has increased and multiplied and is now literally in people's faces on a 24-hour cycle. It is far removed from going down to the local betting office, having a bet on a chosen horse and calling back later to see the results of the races on the window of the bookie's office. That is almost like a time warp. It is now at the stage where it is all about online and digital betting and livelihoods can be whittled away in secret unknown to friends and family members. Gambling is an addiction. It is unlike other forms of addiction in the sense that there are no visible signs until it is too late in many cases. We are all aware of the curse of alcohol and drugs but at least there are visible signs where people can be alerted to the difficulties people are in, but it is too late sometimes in the case of gambling. Careers, relationships and companies have been destroyed in the process. It is expanding at a rate of noughts in all directions.

We hear of match-fixing in sports. There have been investigations into soccer clubs in Ireland. High profile sportspeople and high performance elite athletes, particularly in the GAA, have recently told their stories of how they developed the addiction, their stealing of thousands of euros from their employers and their parents having to remortgage their family homes to bail them out. I commend the people who have come clean in their attempt to get their lives back in order,

There should be co-operation between sporting organisations and the Government to facilitate these people in telling their stories to every secondary school student in the country. They are horror stories about how a person's life can spin totally out of control. Such case studies may make a perfect case for establishing a gambling regulatory authority.

The advertising, sponsorship and promotion of gambling products need to be examined. I was a Member of the other House when the lottery licence was to be sold to a new company. One of the new companies wanted to make more opportunities available online for people to get involved. Everybody is complicit in this. There is a big hubbub about sponsorship and promotional advertising of alcohol, and rightly so. That issue has been dealt with to a certain extent. Looking across the water, many of the premiership soccer clubs were sponsored by betting companies in the past, and obviously we have no control over that here. One famous GAA club in Ireland, Crossmaglen GAA club, was sponsored, and I am not sure if it still is, by a betting company. Sporting organisations, the State and the Government need to take control of this.

I note the Minister of State will bring the final report of the interdepartmental working group on gambling to Government in a few weeks. I very much welcome that and urge him to implement the recommendations of that report without delay.

I thank Senator Craughwell and the Independent Group for tabling this motion. It is important we take account of the motion under discussion, which "notes the establishment of the Inter-Departmental Working Group on Gambling in January 2018; considers it appropriate that due regard be given to establishing a Gambling Regulatory Authority; acknowledges that problem gambling can result in the problem gambler, and their family, bearing the severest economic and personal costs; recognises recent research published by the UK Gambling Commission and others which provide a list of the social costs of gambling, including loss of employment, experience of bankruptcy and/or debt, loss of housing/homelessness, crime associated with gambling, relationship breakdown/problems and health-related problems." The thrust of the motion is its call "on the Government to publish the final Report of the Inter-Departmental Working Group on Gambling and accelerate plans to introduce a Gambling Regulatory Authority." I and my party will support the motion.

It is important to articulate that in February 2018 Fianna Fáil introduced the Gambling Control Bill 2018. This legislation has the dual 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 heads of Bill published in 2013 by the previous Fine Gael-Labour Party Government, which was never moved by that Government. After half a decade of delay, it gives me no pleasure to say this, and I am not attributing responsibility to the Minister of State personally, but Fine Gael does not have credibility on this serious problem that is silently destroying lives.

We need effective regulation of 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. It is our understanding that the Minister of State has indicated that the group’s report is currently being finalised. We call on him to ensure that the publication of this report is expedited and that primary legislation is introduced as soon as possible.

The Bill establishes an office of gambling control as a licensed provider and regulator of the gambling industry across all its facets such as online, casinos and bookmakers. The office will be funded by the industry and is based on a comparable UK model. It would be the unified national regulator. This new agency will be self-financed through the industry based on levies and fees for licences. The Bill will include powers to prohibit or restrict certain games or equipment if they are harmful, including devices and games that are not yet in use.

It is a pity that there is not a single Government Senator in the Chamber, other than the Acting Chairman, who, like all of us, is independent when she is in the Chair.

These flexible powers given to the new agency are key to the Bill. They enable the State to move quickly along with technological developments and advancements and ensure that regulation is not left lagging behind by rigid fixed rules. The Bill also aims to curb money laundering and criminality that may use the gambling sector with robust checks and powers with respect to the Garda and international bodies.

Ireland has the third highest per capita rate of gambling losses in the world. We lose approximately €470 per adult on different forms of gambling each year. It is a fair assumption that many people do not gamble but many others are losing an awful lot of money. The latest figures show that gambling losses in Ireland totalled €2.1 billion in 2016, with more than €5 billion gambled, which amounts to €14 million per day.

According to a UCD study, more than 40,000 people in Ireland are known to have a gambling addiction, with single men under 35 most at risk. There have been at least 800 cases in Ireland where people sought help for gambling addictions in 2015. As the Chair outlined, a series of high-profile cases have heightened the scale and depth of gambling problems and the pressing need for regulation among sporting people. The book, Tony 10, which tells the story of a post office manager who gambled more than €10 million, highlights a lack of regulation of the sector.

The Minister of State is aware of many of these matters but it is important that we put on the record the harm that gambling can cause, although not to everybody. Many people bet on the Grand National and buy lottery tickets. We all accept that but in a modern age we need to move on from the Gaming and Lotteries Act of 1956 and various other laws which were probably valid and useful in their day. Technology has moved matters on.

The growing sophistication of online artificial intelligence measures used to attract and entice gamblers means it is more important than ever to regulate this growing sector. Using similar methods to the recent Cambridge Analytica scandal, the industry can micro-target advertisements at those they know to be gamblers.

This Bill draws on long delayed legislation from 2013 which the Government has failed to move on. I accept that the Government is busy, particularly with Brexit, but this has been in the ether since 2010. We are committed to pressing forward with a legal framework to protect vulnerable people and restrict the sector. We will work with the Government and others to strengthen the Bill but after five years of no action, we will not accept any further delays. The Bill sets out the twin aims of regulation through a new gambling authority and protection through a social fund, age restrictions and staff training. It will be financed through a levy on the industry. Plans for gambling regulation stretch back to December 2010 when Fianna Fáil published an options paper when in government. This was developed into full legislation in 2013 but has not progressed since. Fianna Fáil's Gambling Control Bill 2018 draws on that proposed legislation. A review of that Bill by Dr. Crystal Fulton published in 2017 found that it was broadly suitable and only required minor changes. These changes could be implemented on Committee Stage. The UK, Spain, Australia, Sweden and Canada all have gambling regulatory authorities which this legislation broadly mirrors.

Gambling remains an extremely weakly regulated sector in Ireland despite the explosion of online gambling in recent years. We need a clear framework for socially responsible gambling. The Bill establishes an office of gambling control as the licence provider and regulator of the gambling industry across all its facets such as online, casinos and bookmakers. The office will be funded by the industry.

I wish to echo everything that Senator Norris said on gaming machines. It might be said that this is an issue for Revenue, An Garda Síochána or the Director of Public Prosecutions but the Minister of State, as a representative of the Government, must use his influence with his colleagues in the Departments of Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform and Justice and Equality to find out why we have so many unlicensed machines and so many others with the cheaper amusement type licences rather than the more expensive gaming machine licences. It is estimated that this is costing the State more than €8 million in lost revenue every year.

Fianna Fáil supports the motion before the House but would point out that we have already published a Gambling Control Bill and would be more than happy to work with Senators from all sides of the House to progress it. Gambling is not a problem for everybody but it is a problem. As recently as yesterday we spoke about a person who is missing and who apparently lost a lot of money in a poker game the night before he disappeared. I hope that the individual in question is discovered safe and well but gambling is an enormous problem for some people. It is very invidious and is a silent addiction in some ways. When people drink too much or take too many drugs, that becomes apparent but gambling has cost people their jobs, their houses and caused untold horror and terror for their families. As legislators, we need to move on this issue and to do so quickly.

I thank Senator Craughwell and the Independent Group for tabling this very important motion, which Sinn Féin will be fully supporting. I also thank the Minister of State for being here this evening and for the work he has already done on this issue. I commend the Sinn Féin MEP, Ms Lynn Boylan, for all the work she has done to address problem gambling.

There is an urgent need for tighter regulation of gambling. Despite what some in the industry might argue, we are in the grip of a problem gambling crisis. Problem gambling is a condition where the affected individual has a continuous urge to gamble despite harmful negative consequences or, indeed, a desire to stop. In Ireland one can usually tell if there is a problem with an industry and its products when that same industry begins to fund support services. We have already seen the alcohol industry do this with DrinkAware.

In 2017, industry experts H2 Gambling Capital produced a report into global gambling losses across the world. It found that Ireland has the highest online gambling losses in the world and the third highest gambling losses overall, per head of population. To put that into real numbers, Irish people gamble and lose around €2.2 billion a year, or €470 per adult. Given the large numbers of people who never lay a bet, the data suggest that there are a lot of problem gamblers losing a considerable amount of money per year. In reality, we do not have exact figures for the number of problem gamblers in this State because the Government refuses to conduct a survey that would allow us get the full picture. This type of survey was carried out in 2017 in the North of Ireland and showed the rate of problem gambling there to be 2.3%, which is nearly five times higher than in England. If we were to use that figure for the South, it would indicate that we have close to 100,000 problem gamblers. The fact that we do not have a dedicated survey for the island of Ireland hinders our efforts to direct the necessary resources and support to those who need them. This evening saw the publication of Bulletin No. 7 showing results specifically related to gambling from the 2014/15 Drug Prevalence Survey but already serious doubts are emerging about its accuracy. The bulletin claims that only 0.8% of the population are problem gamblers. Despite what the gambling industry will say and despite its allegedly funny tweets and billboards, we need stiffer regulation and we need it urgently. It might be a bit of craic, but we cannot let that blind us to the real hardship caused by problem gambling. If we are all talking about the latestoutrageous stunt then we are not talking about the damage that is being done to those who are unable to stop gambling. Access to gambling has never been easier. All one needs is a smart phone to bet on the next five races from anywhere in the world or to play virtual casino games for high stakes. There is no cash changing hands and it is easy to forget that it is not just a video game. This ease of access combined with aggressive marketing means that people are more susceptible than ever to developing problem gambling habits, particularly teenage boys and young men. These people are being failed by a Government that has not done much to protect them.

The Gambling Control Bill, which is supposed to address issues in the gambling industry, has been gathering dust since 2013, despite the scale of the problem increasing. I am not calling for gambling to be banned but it is long past time for proper regulation of the industry by the State. People should be able to watch sporting events and children should be able to go online without being bombarded or targeted by gambling advertisements. We need proper protections for problem gamblers who want to stop gambling. We need responsibility from the gambling industry and above all, we need proper regulation.

Despite the great work of highlighting the issue of problem gambling by many journalists, advocates and charities and by a small number of politicians, there has been a complete lack of engagement from the Government. Sinn Féin wants to see a gambling regulator in place to administer a problem gambling fund, the purpose of which would be to help minimise problem gambling and its effects. The functions of a gambling regulator would include commissioning studies on the prevalence of gambling and problem gambling in particular, developing models of best practice in the prevention and treatment of problem gambling having regard to international experience and the views of relevant medical bodies and support groups. The regulator would also be responsible for public education and awareness raising programmes, the production of associated materials and resources for use by services, the distribution of funding to addiction serviceproviders and for ensuring service quality. The problem gambling fund should be financed by a levy or licence fee on the industry. The gambling regulator should set the rate payable, subject to the approval of the Minister, and payment should be mandatory for all operators. The levy or fee should be set at a rate that recognises some parts of the industry are also contributing to the Exchequer via betting taxes while others are not and, if possible, using a formula that takes cognisance of the varying levels of harm to which different forms of gambling give rise. New Zealand offers an example of a polluter-pays style formula for the gambling industry where the rate to be paid by operators is weighted based on presentation by players from the sub-sectors in question to problem gambling services and player expenditure.

I used to work for William Hill in marketing and public relations and for Mecca bookmakers many years ago. The psychology behind targeting people and getting them to gamble is a science in itself and we really need to do something to address it.

That ranges from the colours used. I worked in the industry so I know. As a Government and an Oireachtas, we need to address this urgently because, as many speakers said, it is destroying lives and will continue to do so. I commend all the high profile sports players who have spoken openly about their gambling addiction and the impact it has on their lives. I thank Senator Craughwell and the Independent Group for facilitating this discussion. I thank the Minister of State who has the support of all of us in this House to do everything that is needed to put the proper regulation in place.

I strongly support this motion in the name of the Independent Group of Senators. I want to acknowledge some basic truths. When I was Minister for Justice and Equality the Gaming and Lotteries Act 1956 came under pressure because poker clubs started being established in Dublin. Some were funded and owned by very rich and powerful people. It was clear to me that they were illegal, as unlawful gaming was defined under the Act. These commercial institutions masqueraded as members' clubs for a while but that was not a defence under the Gaming and Lotteries Act 1956. I convened a meeting of gardaí and a representative of the Office of the Director of Public Prosecution to see what should happen in this matter and I was told that the Gaming and Lotteries Act 1956 was inadequate and needed to be strengthened. I brought proposals to Government to amend and strengthen the Act and to knock out these casinos into which the poker clubs were rapidly developing because where poker came roulette tables and all the rest followed. These were right in the city centre. Very prominent and influential people were associated with them. When I got to Cabinet, the Department's and my proposals ran into huge opposition, that effectively we were being illiberal and unrealistic, that amending the law to suppress these institutions was wrong. Consequent on that, a study group was established under a barrister, Michael McGrath, to deal with the question of whether we could have one or two national casinos or whatever. As far as I recall, it reported. I do not know whether I was still in office when it reported but these institutions went unregulated and they went from poker to roulette, to gaming machines. They were all over the city of Dublin like a rash. What Senator Norris said about the fact of their being in clear breach of the Gaming and Lotteries Act went ignored because of the inability of the gardaí and the DPP to work out where they stood on the issue. Now we are in the situation that all of that is unregulated. In the meantime, and it is 12 years since I was a Minister, online gambling has increased massively. The legislative proposals we had at the time were going to be based on domestic activities under the Gaming and Lotteries Act but something broader is needed now.

Having explained my own part in all this, I think it has been a huge failure on the part of the Department of Justice and Equality, starting before my time, in my time, and up to now, that we have not taken this issue by the scruff of the neck with a view to dealing with it. All the social consequences, and I know of them, suicides, ruination, people's careers being destroyed and all the rest that flow from an unregulated gambling industry in this country are there for us all to see. Collectively, in these Houses, we really should have it on our conscience how imperfect our response has been. I know the Minister of State has consultative processes and that Deputy O'Callaghan has tabled a Bill, based on the Minister's heads of Bill, but we have to face up to it seriously and implement something because it is a stain on all our consciences that things have developed to the point they are at.

I am happy to support this motion. My fellow Senators have made many arguments and there is no point replicating or repeating them. We need to understand the problem to understand how we fix it. Experts used to think that addiction was dependence on a chemical. However, it is now defined as repeatedly pursuing a rewarding experience despite serious repercussions. This could be a drug but we now know that we do not need to ingest a drug to change the neurochemistry of the brain. Furthermore, gambling addicts may learn to confront their irrational beliefs, namely, the notion that a string of losses or near misses such as two out of three cherries in a slot machine signals an imminent win. Some 80% of addicts never seek treatment and another large percentage do not recognise themselves as addicts, therein lies part of the problem.

Like most things in life this issue is fast-moving and ever-changing, especially with the advent of technology. As Senator Conway-Walsh said, everyone has easy access to gambling, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It is often within arm's reach for all of us. As a consequence, protection and the law to protect the individual must change. The complexity of the problem has been well described by fellow Senators, the pain and distress gambling causes to Irish families should not and cannot be underestimated. It is imperative that a regulatory body and framework are established to oversee and manage this growing concern. This motion concerns a responsible approach to gambling, not outlawing, banning or disadvantaging an industry. We must recognise that there is an extensive, regulated, responsible industry contributing significantly to the Exchequer and the economy.

Science has enabled us to understand the phenomenon of gambling and to understand better how addiction functions and affects us but it has not suggested mechanisms to deal with the problem. For this reason, I am happy to support this motion, along with my fellow Senators.

I thank the Minister of State for the work he has been doing and commend Senator Craughwell on his motion and the way in which he has articulated, not just tonight but on other occasions, the issue of gambling. It is important to say, as has already been eloquently said in the House, that there is a need for regulation, for a regulatory authority and a regulator. Senator McDowell speaks about the failings of the past and we cannot but learn from them because the social cost is mounting. We have all heard about the high profile cases of the celebrity or prominent sportsperson. Equally, there is the person who we will never know, who is living in a three-bed semi-detached house or whatever and is gambling, his or her addiction mounting up a store of problems. The social cost, as Senator McDowell rightly said, is one we count in the number of lives and careers lost.

The world of gambling has changed. It has gone from the high street and is now online. We probably all have the Paddy Power app on our mobile phones to check the general election odds in constituencies. Before I came in, I downloaded the app to see what it was and the first thing I saw was a rewards club being advertised as more than just betting. This entices a person to go on further.

I want to make another point which is not necessarily on the same topic but which is linked. I refer to the issue of loot boxes, which I have spoken about in the House before, and to gaming in general. I thank the Minister of State for the courtesy he extended to me and to my adviser on this matter, Mr. Eoin Barry, who has done a lot of work with me on the issue of loot boxes and gaming in general and on the issue's links to online gambling. Again one can spend money, which can build up resulting in personal effects. I have had the privilege of working with Mr. Barry and meeting representatives of the Interactive Software Federation of Europe, ISFE, which is the European representative body, as well as Mr. David Sweeney and the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton.

We recognise that we must enact change. That is why I was struck by a petition brought before the Committee on Public Petitions, of which I am a member. It sought to have a regulator set up for the gambling and gaming industry. It in interesting that it was the third petition of this nature to be considered. I do not want to pre-empt the Minister of State's speech, but we are working towards the establishment of an independent gambling regulatory authority.

With regard to the gaming and lotteries (amendment) Bill, it is important to recognise that we need to see how the legislation can be kept relevant and able to address issues which are evolving every day. Many of us do not understand half of what is happening in respect of online activity around loot boxes and gambling. The points Senator Craughwell has made in previous debates are worth considering and should be reflected in the Bill. We have had pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill and I hope the Committee on Public Petitions will have another opportunity to discuss the issue in April.

The important point is that we are giving this topic consideration and an airing and that we are highlighting it. Senator Conway-Walsh made a point about the modus operandi of companies and about the intent and import of their activities. It is not just to get us all to spend money, but to keep us spending money. That is what they are trying to do. I will conclude on that. I welcome this debate. I commend Senator Craughwell not only on his contribution tonight, but on his other contributions on this particular matter in other areas. I hope that the Bill will be fast-tracked in the overall scheme of legislation because it is an issue which is not going away or diminishing; it is getting worse. All of us who recognise that want to see action, as does the Minister of State.

I do not gamble. It is not my thing. I took out an account with one of the online companies merely to watch St. Patrick's Athletic play Derry City in the League of Ireland. It says something that the rights to video recordings of the last season of League of Ireland games were sold to a betting company. There was obviously no other interest in the national soccer league. A betting site was the only place for me to see my local team play up in Derry. To see the match one had to place a bet. I put a euro on the game. St. Patrick's Athletic started to win the game, which was not to the plan of Bet 365 or whichever company it was, and so it was constantly engaging with me to get out now. I was fascinated by how one could become completely immersed in online gambling. That is about as far as my own personal experience goes, however.

On the points raised by Senators Norris and McDowell, I recently raised issues around licensing laws and the Give Us The Night campaign, which started in Dublin. Many people I knew at the time I left school went to the casinos which have been mentioned after the clubs, because clubs close at 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. Would it not be better for us to have places where drink may not necessarily be on sale but where one could continue to dance or have a night out and whose opening hours are staggered rather than one's only option being a 24-hour casino where drink is also available?

That is illegal as well.

This debate has shown that we are failing to get to grips with this issue. From my experience, this is especially true in respect of young men. The State has the third highest gambling losses per adult in the world and we have no dedicated gambling addiction treatment service. Gambling companies profiting from Irish users do not care about or respond to those who have shown by their online behaviour that they have an issue with problem gambling. Their business model is to maximise profits.

The levels of gambling company sponsorship not only in the League of Ireland and the Irish league in the North, but in the Premier League are just huge. It is to be seen on the jerseys, on the hoarding on the sides of the pitch, and during the advertising breaks. Newstalk now have a section during half-time where the presenters will not necessarily reflect on the game but analyse the betting side of it. Gambling companies invest massive amounts of money in targeting those who watch sport. The level of advertising budgets at their disposal is extremely worrying.

Just as alcohol companies have Drinkaware, gambling companies have their own support service; Gamble Aware. Its logo appears on advertising. Aaron Rogan of the The Times, Ireland edition uncovered that Gamble Aware's helpline was left entirely unmanned during games at the World Cup last summer. Its voicemail was full so it could not refer callers to another service. When asked for comment, the director of Gamble Aware said that the funding from the industry had dried up. He stated "It's a volunteer service, it is what it is." If that is not lipservice, I do not know what is. The website is no longer active. Despite the fact that gambling companies are still giving the impression that Gamble Aware is active and that they are doing their bit to help problem gamblers, they are fully aware they have underfunded the service to the point that the website is non-operational.

Furthermore, Aaron Rogan reported last month that Paddy Power and Betfair have been paying customers to sign confidentiality agreements and to drop complaints they have made to the Data Protection Commissioner or to the British gambling regulator. The Data Protection Commissioner is currently investigating that matter. It is another in a long line of behaviours by the gambling companies that disregard the rights of users to interact safely with these businesses. The British gambling regulator is also investigating the same matter but the difference is that Irish users will not have recourse, whereas British users will. This is due to Government's failure to effectively regulate gambling or to implement the gambling control Bill 2013, the heads of which have been with the Minister of State's Department for almost six years.

It has been established fairly that the gambling industry has not shown itself to be capable or responsible enough to regulate itself. The case has been made that the State needs to regulate and I do not believe anyone in this Chamber, including the Minister, disagrees.

The health-led response to problem gambling is not good enough. The response to a parliamentary question received by Deputy Louise O’Reilly from the HSE showed that in the past three years some 800 people had been treated for a gambling addiction. Aside from the motion, the HSE and the Department of Health must own up to their responsibilities. The Institute of Public Health in Ireland has shown that the health and social costs of problem gambling exceed the Government revenue gained from the gambling tax and businesses. Perhaps the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, might consider making the increased revenue from the changes to the betting tax in budget 2019 available to the HSE for the purpose of providing gambling addiction treatment.

I commend the members of the inter-departmental working group on gambling. I hope publication of the group's report will result in a quick turnaround in bringing the Gambling Control Bill 2013 before the Houses this year. We are paying too high a price for being inactive in dealing with this matter.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit agus tréaslaím le mo chomhghleacaithe anseo as an gceist tábhachtach seo a chur os ár gcomhair anocht.

I read recently that apparently the earliest surviving evidence of gambling in human society dates from 2300 BC when wooden boards were used in China for rudimentary games of chance. There is no reason to suspect there has not been gambling on this island for the same length of time. As everybody knows, Ireland has a history of funding projects from the proceeds of gambling. The sale of the national lottery was trumpeted as providing hundreds of millions of euro towards the building of the national children's hospital. That is ironic when one considers that the Government seems to have acted like a reckless gambler in planning the project, given the way the projected costs have spiralled out of control. Perhaps the same negligence can be seen in the political establishment's inadequate response to date to the problem of gambling. While the national lottery does fund good work - we hear constantly about how it funds community projects throughout the State - one must wonder about the hoopla and the amount of advertising carried on the public television service on the lottery that encourages people to gamble more and more, by putting before them unrealisable goals, albeit sometimes in very humorous ways. As I said, there is a tradition. The Great Wall of China was part funded through a form of lottery, as were the great Ivy League colleges of Harvard and Yale. The things are fite fuaite - progress, on the one hand, but vulnerability, on the other. Gambling is not inherently bad or wrong, but we have to confront the fact that it is doing great harm to some people's lives. As policy makers, we have to ask how this problem can best be managed and regulated to ensure it will not damage or impinge on the dignity of citizens or their families.

Generally, in our minds we associate gambling with being a problem for men only, but research carried out by the Rutland Centre and other groups shows that increasingly it is becoming a problem among women also, although it is still far more prevalent among men. The most difficult feature of the problem is the impact it has on families. We have seen and heard recently the very honest testimony of Davy Glennon, the Galway hurling star, who has spoken about how he became a compulsive liar and thief. We heard about the sacrifices his family had to make to repay the debts that had flowed from his gambling problem.

While it is not a great personal interest of mine, I have cause to see a lot of advertisements for gambling since I have a close family relative who loves the bloodstock industry and has a great passion for the turf, although she is not a gambler. I have often arrived home to be shushed as she shuttled between the television in one room on which racing was being shown on RTÉ and, between races, to watch the racing at Kempton Park on another in another room. It always strikes me how manipulative the advertisements are for the various betting companies. Making any association with glamour or manliness in advertisements for strong liquor has become taboo, but that is not the case with the advertisements of betting companies. Something has to be done about this. I say this in the knowledge that people involved in the bloodstock industry who do so much for the gaiety of the nation will say that, to some degree, they are dependent on the sponsorship moneys of the companies. I suggest, however, that, on balance, the issue has to be tackled.

As a country, we must ask if we are glorifying gambling to an unhealthy extent and if the State sanctions or encourages many forms of gambling in unhealthy ways. I referred to the national lottery. We have to think, for example, about the EuroMillions lottery and all of the coverage given to the recent win. It seems there is doublethink on gambling which perhaps often mirrors the doublethink on the problem of the excess consumption of alcohol, on the one hand, and the inability of the State, on the other, to really grasp the nettle in dealing with that issue. There is almost a cult surrounding the lotto and the EuroMillions lottery and the way they whip us up into a frenzy, in which the media play its part. I am not aware of any research to determine the amount the average person might spend on the lottery each week, but I am sure there are some who participate to an unhealthy degree.

As a person who comes from rural Ireland, I have noticed that in towns where very little else seems to be happening the presence and prevalence of bookies' and betting shops. What does that say about people's dependency? It is a tragedy that towns that are down at heel in many ways still seem to have thriving betting shops.

I was shocked by the recent comments of a former Fine Gael Minister, Ivan Yates, when he told a Sunday newspaper that he paid for his car, which is worth up to €40,000, through huge high stake bets. I am not picking on Mr. Yates; he is a fine communicator and so on, but in the interview he said: "Once every 10 years I have to raise a humongous amount of money, up to about €40,000 to pay for a car ... so I line up a bet, no word of a lie." At one level, it is entertaining to hear it, but in terms of the public good I would probably have preferred not to have heard it. One could argue that it is incredibly irresponsible-----

I remind the Senator that he should not mention people outside the House by name.

I am not sure that is the case. I am quoting and criticising. I am certainly not attacking the man's character.

I am being briefed and passing on what I have been told. I am the messenger-----

I even included a little praise for him where it was due.

I understand. I will pass on from the matter, but I warn all of us, myself included, against making blasé comments that could be seen to be irresponsible and symptomatic of a too casual attitude to gambling in Ireland.

I commend the motion to the Seanad. I pay tribute also to the people who are tackling the problem, even as big businesses profit, sometimes in a cynical way, as we heard from Senator Warfield when he referred to non-existent industry attempts to promote responsibility in this area. It is not so much it is what it is - to use their own words - but it is not what it is not. I had the good fortune to visit Tiglin recently to see the wonderful work being done by Aubrey McCarthy, staff and former clients. There is real hope for people with addictions, including gambling. I also acknowledge the great work being done by Sister Consilio and Cuan Mhuire. They are the real heroes. The State should take the lead from their courage, initiative and persistence to come up with solutions to the problem; solutions that are long overdue.

I am very happy to have the opportunity to participate in the debate on this significant issue. I thank the Senators who brought forward the motion which the Government is not opposing as it is broadly in line with Government policy.

The debate provides me with a welcome opportunity to report to Seanad Éireann on the efforts made to review and enhance the original Government proposals set out in the general scheme of the 2013 Gambling Control Bill. I thank Senators for their interest and support in dealing with this matter.

I commend Senators on the debate thus far, which has been interesting, responsible and thought-provoking, as is usually the case in the House.

I have been actively engaged in the past two years in efforts to develop and bring forward revised proposals in this complex and evolving area of policy broadly based on the 2013 scheme. The motion addresses two broad issues, namely, the new regulatory approach to be adopted and the consequences for persons whose gambling activities result in problems for them, their families and society in general and how best we might address those problems. Since I assumed special responsibility in this area, my guiding principle has been that we must license and regulate in a modern, transparent and proportionate manner the many gambling pursuits in which many citizens participate. In doing that, we must ensure the best possible enforcement of the law and compliance with licensing conditions, increase revenue to the Exchequer, improve services to the consumer and support the optimal protection for persons who may be vulnerable to addiction.

On 10 January 2018, the Government approved a review of all provisions of the 2013 scheme of the Gambling Control Bill 2018 to determine if they remained fit for purpose, a rationalisation of the licensing approach to gambling activities, the clarification of the provisions concerning the licensing of gaming machines and the concept of establishing an independent regulatory authority for the gambling industry. Through the chairing of an interdepartmental working group on the future licensing and regulation of gambling, the Government tasked me with reviewing all of the provisions of the 2013 general scheme. The group was to determine whether these provisions remained fit for purpose and what revisions and additions might be required in the light of domestic and international developments in the interim. I intend to bring the report of the group to Government for approval before the end of March. Once it is approved, I will seek permission to publish it, as Senator Craughwell requested, and I look forward to hearing the views of colleagues in both Houses at that time.

Gambling activity is of considerable economic impact in Ireland. In the 2017 returns published by the Revenue Commissioners, the 1% betting duty amounted to €52.2 million, suggesting a market size of €5.22 billion, while national lottery ticket sales for 2017 amounted to €800 million. These figures alone suggest an industry worth more than €6 billion annually. In addition to this, there are no figures published for revenue from online gaming, gaming in arcades and private members’ clubs, bingo - including online - or for the thousands of local community lotteries and raffles in the State. It would not be unreasonable to estimate the value of the Irish gambling market annually as being between €6 billion and €8 billion.

A great deal of change has taken place in the gambling industry since 2013. The industry is large, growing and evolving from a largely land-based manifestation to an online one. We currently apply a mid-20th century approach to gambling activities that have changed dramatically in nature, that are increasingly digital in format and that are conducted online. As the gambling industry changes, so must the State’s licensing and regulatory approach. The development of modern, fit-for-purpose gambling legislation is necessary and is a priority for the Government, whose objective is to ensure the proper licensing and regulation of the many varied forms of gambling available in the State. We need a modern regulatory approach that will enhance consumer protection in all forms of gambling, increase the protection of vulnerable persons and potentially increase Exchequer revenue from the gambling industry.

Our current legislation, however, does not provide for a coherent licensing and regulatory approach to gambling activities. The responsibility for licensing and regulating gambling activities is shared among a number of Departments and agencies, as Senator McDowell and others have noted. Such fragmentation does not facilitate a consistent and effective approach to licensing, compliance and enforcement, consumer protection and the protection of vulnerable persons, including of underage persons. In addition, this fragmented regulatory environment limits the potential for revenue-raising possibilities from licensing fees, duties and taxation, which could better fund regulatory activities and treatment for gambling addiction, as Senators have pointed out. Devising and implementing modern licensing and regulation for the gambling industry presents the State with a significant challenge, as Senator McDowell outlined from his vast experience.

The working group which I chaired met six times and, having regard to the Government decision on 10 January 2018 to establish, on a statutory basis, an independent regulatory authority for the gambling industry, devoted considerable effort to examining the modalities, including resource implications of the establishment of such an authority. I thank the members of the working group and my officials for their work. When we carried out pre-legislative scrutiny on the 2013 general scheme, under my chairmanship of the Oireachtas committee, it was envisaged that an office would be established in the Department of Justice and Equality. When I was given responsibility, however, I considered the matter and recommended going beyond that. The significant change was the establishment of an independent regulatory authority with considerably more resources and powers because my view at the time was that an office in the Department would not have cut it.

The working group considered whether the number of proposed licensing categories for gambling activities might be rationalised from those recommended in the 2013 scheme, of which there were many. In determining applications for gambling licences, extensive background checking would be required. All licences were to have appropriate terms and conditions to protect consumers and vulnerable persons and to assist in combating fraud and money laundering, while licensing conditions would be clear, fair, legitimate and transparent to all. The group considered the need for the further development of an appropriate licensing, monitoring and enforcement regime for land-based gaming machines in casinos and elsewhere that may be played for monetary reward. It would not be realistic to seek to enforce prohibition on certain physical gaming machines over other types of machine as it would risk further migration to online versions that are widely available on most operators’ websites and may be difficult to monitor effectively.

The group discussed the current minimal effective protection for consumers of gambling products and considered the positive development of alternative dispute resolution mechanisms by gambling regulators in other states to settle disputes. The critical element in improving consumer protection in respect of gambling will be the establishment of the proposed regulatory authority to enforce new licensing conditions and other provisions designed to prevent unfair practices by operators through gambling offers, which is a serious point.

The group also discussed the issue of advertising, sponsorship and promotion of gambling products and activities and examined a range of possible options on the future approach to regulating these activities. These matters have attracted much public interest and comment and many references to sponsorship, advertising and promotion were made earlier. 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 would risk being negatively impacted by restrictive measures if they were introduced quickly, as I am sure Senators will understand. The national lottery, for example, is a prominent and significant gambling advertiser and sponsor, as was also noted earlier.

Our future legislation must deal with aggressive promotional offers by gambling operators to entice customers to their product. I am anxious to ensure, however, that unintended negative consequences do not arise in this regard and I must caution against unrealistic expectations as to what can be achieved. In regard to combating criminal activity through gambling, the group noted and discussed the transposition into domestic law of the fourth EU anti-money laundering directive in November 2018, which will give added impetus to national efforts in the combating of money laundering attempts through gambling activities. The group also discussed reports of possible attempts of match fixing concerning Irish sporting events, which the Acting Chairman, Senator O'Mahony, noted. It considered that maintaining integrity in sports betting was vital and, in this context, noted the work of the dedicated sports betting intelligence unit in the UK. Senators will understand how deeply complicated the matter is.

As highlighted by the motion, the main element of the Government decision was approving the concept of the establishment of a new gambling regulatory authority as an independent statutory body. Independent regulation would mirror the situation in most EU member states, would bring the State in line with best international practice and would offer assurance that decision-making would be free from any potentially undue influence. Senators will appreciate that effective modern licensing, regulation and enforcement of the Irish gambling industry will require additional significant resources, primarily for the operation of the new regulatory authority. Similar authorities in other EU member states involve large numbers of staff, of 100 and more in some cases, and extensive IT provision. The group is firmly of the view that without the establishment of a new gambling regulatory authority of sufficient scale, modern effective licensing and regulation could not be achieved as desired. I will make this point clear to Government colleagues when I present the report of the working group for consideration in the coming weeks.

The group agreed that any new regulatory authority should, to a large degree, be ultimately self-financing, with income from licence fees, fines imposed on operators and other duties. Such self-financing potential, however, may take some time to realise and Exchequer funding would be substantially relied on in the initial phase of operations. In order to assist with the development of a business plan for a new gambling regulatory authority, the legal firm McCann FitzGerald was contracted by the structural reform support service of the European Commission to conduct a research project entitled Establishment of Modern Regulatory Environment and Authority for Gambling Activities in Ireland. The project, which was commenced in early December 2018 and is expected to conclude by mid-summer 2019, is intended to outline the structure of the authority.

The issue of problem gambling has been the primary focus of discussion about the regulation of gambling. The working group was conscious of the issue of problem gambling in Irish society, which can involve severely negative impacts for the person as well as his or her family. It considered that the approach taken in the 2013 scheme towards the protection of vulnerable persons remained broadly valid.

This included establishment of a social fund, funded by levies on licensed gambling operators, to assist with research and information campaigns and to support addiction treatment. Our focus must be to develop the best possible regulatory measures for the gambling industry in respect of vulnerable persons. This would include age restrictions, staff training, self-exclusion measures and controls on advertising, promotions and sponsorship. 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.

Senators may wish to note that Prevalence of Drug Use and Gambling in Ireland and Drug Use in Northern Ireland 2014-15, a drug prevalence survey, revealed that 64.5% of respondents engaged in some form of gambling in the 12 months prior to the survey, while 41.4% reported gambling on a monthly basis or more often. Spending on the national lottery was the primary gambling activity. However, it is noteworthy that the survey also indicated that prevalence of problem gambling in the general population was 0.8%. The Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, and I have just this evening published that survey. I was anxious to have it published before the debate so that colleagues would have it to hand and I was glad that Senators were able to use it in the debate. A further survey for 2018 and 2019 is being conducted under the auspices of the Health Research Board. I am informed that the findings of the survey should be available in the next 12 months.

I have appreciated the opportunity to inform the Seanad this evening of the developments with regard to the working group. As I said, we will be in a better position to further debate this topic when the recommendations of the working group have been considered by Government. A modern and effectively regulated gambling environment will ensure, to the greatest extent possible, that gambling will be a safe and entertaining activity for the majority of those who choose to take part in it. We must ensure that it will provide enhanced consumer protection for players while limiting to the greatest extent possible the harmful effects on young people and those who may be susceptible to addiction.

Incremental change is not a viable approach to the reform of gambling licensing and regulation. Effective reform will require fundamental and significant change. This will take some time to develop but with support from Senators I intend to proceed with this reform as quickly as I can. It is essential that sufficient resources are committed to support the reform.

Even where there is robust and long-standing regulation and regulators, there is still problem gambling. The UK, Malta and New Zealand still have this issue. Setting up a regulator will not address the issue on its own. Addiction is, in many ways, a health matter, as Senator Marshall pointed out in his contribution. We have to be cognisant that people require treatment and so on. Even where there is a robust regulatory regime, it does not solve the problem. We should be careful about pinning our hopes to the regulator sorting out problem gambling because it will not do so. There is much more to this issue than people with problems and addiction, although that is a very serious matter. The regulator will assist in that regard. In response to Senator Craughwell, we aim to publish this report.

As an interim reform measure, I intend to amend and update the Gaming and Lotteries Act 1956. This is something that I am able to do relatively quickly. Subject to Government approval, I intend to publish the gaming and lotteries (amendment) Bill in the very near future, hopefully at the same time as the publication of the report of the working group, and to commence debate on the Bill in the Seanad. I intend to bring the Bill to this House first. I am sure Senators will give it adequate consideration as they always do.

Senator Norris spoke about all kinds of activities going on but these activities are under the remit of Revenue and the Garda. As I alluded to, action is being taken in some of these areas. I cannot comment further in that regard.

Senator O'Mahony spoke about match-fixing and the brave people who tell their stories. Pupils in every secondary school should hear about this. Maybe there is something in that. Perhaps there should be education in schools about the dangers of gambling.

Senator Horkan spoke about the Fianna Fáil Bill. At the time, we agreed with the legislation but the problem was that we have moved on. That Bill proposed only to establish an office in the Department, whereas I want to be far more ambitious. The proposal was not produced by Government and it did not go beyond heads of Bill. That debate was useful in the Seanad but hopefully we can move beyond that together.

Senator Conway-Walsh spoke about the highest online gambling losses in the world. The Senator is correct that this the industry is moving online and changing. It changes every time we look at it.

Senator Buttimer and others brought to my attention the issue of loot boxes, skins and mystery boxes on the gaming side and the blurring of the distinction between gaming and gambling. We have joined colleagues in other countries at European level in articulating our concern about that development.

I notice that Senator Conway-Walsh is not calling for gambling to be banned. If we ban something like that, it goes underground and one cannot regulate it. We could not ban in it in any event.

Senator Warfield's contribution relating to the need for treatment, the number of people treated and the role of the HSE was interesting. He articulated what I said about gambling addiction being a health issue and not losing sight of that.

Senator Mullen went back to China in 2300 BC, which seems to indicate that gambling and addiction are part of the human condition that have been around for an awfully long time. He spoke about glorifying gambling, which we hope to address through the establishment of a regulator. I want the regulator to be nimble, to be able to adapt to changing circumstances when it is established, and to keep up with an industry that is changing almost daily. Something new is happening in it every time one looks at it.

I thank colleagues for a very important debate and for tabling the motion. I also than them for the support they have given on this issue. I look forward to coming back to the House with a small Bill. I hope we will be able to discuss the report when it is published. I look forward to hearing the opinions of colleagues on the report. We can only add to it. I commit to doing the best I can to bring this forward. Listening to what the former Minister, Senator McDowell, had to say, I have to be careful because this is a very broad and difficult area.

I thank the Minister of State for his response and colleagues who spoke in favour of the motion. I want to put into context what we are talking about. The criminal who imported young girls into this country on the pretence that they were coming as waitresses beat the living daylights out of them in the midlands, put them into prostitution in Dublin, and laundered his money through betting shops in Dublin. That is gambling. The man who stopped me outside the gate in 2014 to tell me that he recognised me as the new Senator and wanted me to bring in amendments to the betting Bill politely informed me that he was going home to tell his wife that he had lost €87,000 gambling. That man haunts me to this day. I do not know if he ever arrived home and, if he did, I have no idea what impact that news had on his family. Two elderly parents came to see me. Their son had run up debts to the tune of €15,000. One evening, there was a knock on the door and two brutish men gave them a very cold option of paying the €15,000 or visiting their son in hospital. That is gambling and that is what is going on in this country. We are all aware of gambling machines, online gambling and so on. None of us can explain the addiction. A person cannot understand it unless he or she is sucked into it.

It would be simple to get the online companies to shut a person out of a site automatically after one hour, and to prevent people from going online to gamble between 12 midnight and 7 a.m. These technological solutions could be put in place. I accept that we need a regulatory body for this but we have to think about these matters. Kids in the rugby schools in various parts of the country are betting and companies are taking bets on school rugby, GAA and soccer matches. That is gambling. If one is living with an alcoholic, that person will fall in through the door, fall asleep and do whatever alcoholics do. A drug addict will go through the horrors.

If one is living with a gambler, one can be sleeping beside him or her when he or she takes out the smartphone from under the pillow and bets on some ridiculous football match in some godforsaken part of the world that he or she cannot identify on a map. He or she bets on the next goal, the likelihood of the next free or a penalty. That is what we are talking about in gambling. The Minister of State is correct; it is an extremely broad subject. I have discussed it many times with the Minister of State and I am convinced of his determination to move it along. I do not think, in the time that remains to this Government, that we will see the completion of any legislation but I believe the Minister of State will move along the sections he can and for that I thank him.

I will not call for a vote as I think we have cross-party support for this motion. I thank my colleagues for their comments and commitment to regulate gambling.

Question put and agreed to.

When is it proposed to sit again?

Ar 10.30 maidin amárach.

The Seanad adjourned at 8.10 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 28 February 2019.