I am very pleased to have the opportunity to take Second Stage of the Gaming and Lotteries (Amendment) Bill 2019 in Seanad Éireann.
Gaming and Lotteries (Amendment) Bill 2019: Second Stage
I do not mean to interrupt, but I wonder if we can have a copy of the Minister of State's script.
Copies are on the way.
The Bill seeks to address certain deficiencies in the conduct of gaming and lottery activities regulated under the Gaming and Lotteries Act 1956. Senators will agree that the provisions of the Act are, for the most part, outdated and require modernisation. The Bill proposes a number of interim reform measures for the licensing and regulation of gaming and lottery activities conducted under the 1956 Act, pending the development of comprehensive reforms in a revised gambling control Bill. Work on the comprehensive reforms is under way, although it will take a little time to bring my proposals to fruition. They will be based on the report of the interdepartmental working group on the future licensing and regulation of gambling. The report reviews the 2013 general scheme of the gambling control Bill and developments since and was approved by the Government on 20 March 2019. It is available on the website of the Department of Justice and Equality.
The amendments to the 1956 Gaming and Lotteries Act proposed in the Bill provide for significant modernisation of the provisions of the Act. They provide greater clarity and certainty for all promoters and participants involved, primarily in local fundraising efforts, to assure the best conduct in the promotion of gaming and lottery activities. We are all involved in our local sports clubs and community organisations to a greater or lesser extent and know how important they are to our local communities. I am sure Senators will appreciate the need to ensure worthwhile and necessary fundraising activity is supported, while also ensuring the permit and licensing process is as clear as possible for promoters.
Let me highlight the primary features of the Bill to amend the 1956 Act. It will modernise the permit and licensing regime for local gaming and lottery activities; standardise the age limit for participating in all activities under the Gaming and Lotteries Act and for betting with the tote at 18 years of age; assist in combating potential fraudulent behaviour; provide an improved application process, setting out more clearly the conditions required to be met by promoters of gaming and lottery activity, whether to a Garda superintendent for the issuance of a permit or to the Revenue Commissioners or the District Court for a licence; increase, for the first time since 1956, the now archaic stakes and prize limits for licensed gaming activities and machines; for the first time, set out a clear distribution ratio for how the proceeds are allocated in prizes, to beneficiaries and in promoter expenses for those lotteries held under District Court licence; and modernise the offences provisions of the 1956 Act.
Senators will be aware that the issue of the licensing of gaming machines and premises has been the subject of much media attention and many parliamentary questions in recent months. There have been contentions made about the issue of District Court certificates and Revenue Commissioners licences in areas where there appears to be no local authority resolution in place permitting gaming in accordance with sections 12 and 13 of the 1956 Act. As some matters are still before the courts, we should be careful in commenting on them. I point Senators to the recommendations contained in the report of the interdepartmental working group on the future licensing and regulation of gambling which would transfer all future responsibility to a new regulatory authority. Senators should also note that, increasingly, gaming as an activity is moving to an online environment and that traditional arcades are diminishing in importance.
I will now address the main provisions of the Bill. Section 1 states the principal Act is the Gaming and Lotteries Act 1956. Section 2 includes a number of amended or additional definitions in the principal Act to ensure greater clarity and reflect the modernisation of the Act.
Section 3 replaces section 4 of the Gaming and Lotteries Act 1956 and provides that it is an offence to promote gaming without a permit or licence. Section 4 of the Bill inserts a new section 9A into the 1956 Act. This section sets out the application process for a permit for gaming for either charitable or philanthropic purposes or for the benefit of the promoter. This approach replaces the previous primarily location-specific approach to gaming at circuses, carnivals and in licensed premises contained in sections 6, 7 and 9 of the 1956 Act. The section further sets out the various conditions that will apply to gaming promoted under a permit issued in accordance with the Act by a Garda superintendent. The maximum stake and prize allowed is €10 and €3,000, respectively. The superintendent will be required to maintain a register of all gaming permits issued, revoked and suspended in his or her district.
Section 5 substitutes a new section 14 for that section of the 1956 Act. The amendment concerns essentially the updating of maximum allowable stake and prize amounts. These are increased from 3 cent and 50 cent to €10 and €750, respectively. There is a new regulation making power for the Minister for Justice and Equality to amend stake and prize amounts. The section further makes it an offence to accept a stake from a person under the age of 18 years.
Section 6 amends section 15 of the 1956 Act in a number of respects. The deletion of section 15(3) arises directly as a consequence of the repeal of the existing sections 6, 7 and 8 of the Act. The amendment of section 15(4) arises due to the amendment of the stakes and prize limits in section 14 and the regulation-making power contained therein, as well as the offence of allowing persons under 18 years of age to engage in gaming.
Section 7 inserts a new section 19A into the 1956 Act that will require the Revenue Commissioners to establish and maintain a register of gaming licences. This approach is derived from the analogous requirement on Revenue under section 18 of the Betting (Amendment) Act 2015.
Section 8 substitutes a new section 26 for that section contained in the 1956 Act. In accordance with the new section, it will be an offence to promote any form of lottery activity without a licence or permit having being issued in accordance with the Act.
Section 9 inserts a new section 26A into the 1956 Act. This section is based on the provision in Part B of the approved general scheme of the gambling control Bill 2013 for de minimis lotteries not requiring a licence or permit, but promoted for the benefit of a charitable or philanthropic purpose and not for promoter benefit. Such a lottery would not require a permit or licence, the prize would be limited to €1,000, and no more than 1,500 tickets at a maximum price of €5 could be sold. This would be useful for those wishing to conduct a raffle on the night at local events.
Section 10 inserts a new section 27A into the 1956 Act. This section is based on the provision of the general scheme of the gambling control Bill 2013, which allows for the use of sales and marketing promotions which may involve a lottery element. Such activities will not be subject to a permit or licence, providing the conditionality in the section is satisfied, which includes no cost of purchase, and a total prize value of €2,500 is permitted.
Section 11 insects a new section 27B into the 1956 Act. This new section details the process involved in an application to a Garda superintendent for a lottery permit. The section further sets out the conditions and requirements involved following the issue of a lottery permit. The section maintains the current weekly prize fund amounts of €5,000 for lotteries held under a Garda permit. Each Garda superintendent will be required to maintain a register of all gaming permits issued, revoked and suspended in his or her district.
Section 12 substitutes section 28 of the 1956 Act with a new section. This section sets out the application process for a lottery licensed by the District Court. It is intended to ensure that the court is provided with sufficient notice and full details of the proposed lottery activity. The section further provides for the conditions that will apply to a lottery licensed by the District Court. The section maintains the current maximum prize amount of €30,000 under a District Court licence. The section does, however, make provision for a prize fund limit of €360,000 where a one-off annual lottery is promoted under a District Court licence. This provision is advanced from the 2013 general scheme of the gambling control Bill.
Section 13 amends section 30 of the 1956 Act, by relocating the penalty provisions contained therein to an amended section 44, as inserted by section 18 of this Bill. Section 14 substitutes section 33 of the 1956 Act with a new section concerning information to be contained on lottery tickets. The previous reference in section 33(1) of an exception for sections 23, 24 and 25 concerning private lotteries, lotteries at dances and concerts and at carnivals and other events, is deleted. However, provision is made for the exclusion of new sections 26A and 27A from the provisions of subsection (1).
Section 15 amends section 37 of the 1956 Act. The current seizure provision in section 37 of the 1956 Act relating to unlawful gaming instruments as defined in the Act is now extended to gaming machines. The seizure provision would also apply to instruments or machines not being operated in accordance with a licence in a revised subsection (1).
Section 16 amends section 41 of the 1956 Act, by relocating the penalty provisions contained therein to an amended section 44, as inserted by section 18 of this Bill. Section 17 amends section 42 of the 1956 Act by extending its provisions to include gaming machines in addition to gaming instruments.
Section 18 substitutes section 44 of the 1956 Act with a new offences section. Penalties for all offences, existing or new, under the 1956 Act, as amended, are located in one section. The possible sanctions that might be imposed on conviction are updated. Corporate bodies are also subject to the consolidated penalty provisions under section 44.
Section 19 substitutes section 46 of the 1956 Act with a new section. The section provides that a court may suspend or revoke a permit or licence upon conviction for an offence under the Act. An appeal to the Circuit Court is provided, with the decision of that court being final. There is also provision for notification to the Revenue Commissioners and An Garda Síochána of such decisions.
Section 20 amends section 47 of the 1956 Act by providing that the current forfeiture provision for gaming instruments be extended to provide also for forfeiture of gaming machines used in the commission of an offence under the Act or in the case of a conviction under section 4 of the 1956 Act. Section 21 amends section 48 of the 1956 Act by extending the provision for the court to order destruction of documents relating to a lottery to provide also for destruction of documents relating to a gaming activity. Section 22 amends section 50 of the 1956 Act and provides for the regulation making power with regard to the keeping of accounts and other records of permits for gaming and lotteries issued by the Garda to be vested now in the Minister for Justice and Equality rather than the Garda Commissioner, who will be consulted in the matter.
Section 23 inserts a new section 50A into the 1956 Act. A regulation-making power for the Minister for Justice and Equality was inserted into section 28A of the 1956 Act through section 51 of the National Lottery Act 2013. As the repeal of section 28A is proposed, this regulation-making power is restated in this section.
Section 24 details the sections of the 1956 Act proposed to be repealed by the Bill. The section also contains a transitional provision dealing with lottery permits in force at the time of the proposed repeal of section 27 of the 1956 Act.
Section 25 amends the Totalisator Act 1929 by inserting a new section 4A into that Act. This new section introduces for the first time an age limit for betting on the tote of 18 years. The penalties imposed under subsection (2) mirror those contained in the Betting Act 1931 for engaging in betting transactions with persons under the age of 18 years. Section 26 provides for the Short Title, collective citation and commencement of the Act.
In summary, the amendments I have proposed will have the effect of modernising and clarifying the provisions of the Gaming and Lotteries Act 1956. We all accept that, while it has served us well, this is an outdated law. I inform Senators that it is my intention to introduce a small number of amendments of a technical nature on Committee Stage. I appreciate that there may be questions why I have not gone further with my proposed amendments. I accept that the legislation in this area is outdated and that there is a need for a more radical overhaul than is proposed. I am confident that a revised gambling control Bill, when published, will address the deficiencies in the current gambling regulatory infrastructure. In the meantime, as always, I look forward to the debate on the current proposals with my colleagues in the Seanad. We are open to constructive suggestions and criticisms. I really mean that. I hope, with the co-operation of all sides, we can facilitate the swift passage of the Bill. I commend the Bill to the House.
Gabhaim buíochas don Aire Stáit as ucht teacht go dtí an Seanad. Fianna Fáil will support the Bill but believes far more is needed to address the problem of gambling. Two issues concern me. The first is why this Bill is taking priority over the gambling control Bill. There was much reference in the speech of the Minister of State to that Bill, yet we are not discussing it in this House today. The argument has been put forward that it needs more work to progress it, but if we were serious about tackling gambling in this country we would not be discussing this Bill, we would be discussing the gambling control Bill. I am disappointed that Bill is not before us today.
I am concerned that gambling in this country will go underground and will not be regulated at all if institutions such as card clubs are closed down. I do not agree with any form of gambling but it would be a dangerous development if such activities were moved underground.
The measures within the Bill primarily concern updating and modernising the regulation of gaming and lotteries, including the updating of stake and prize limits. The Bill also proposes to standardise the minimum age for participation in gaming and lottery activities at 18 years of age. In the gambling control Bill, it would be important to have some sort of centralised system and I urge the Minister of State to consider that.
It could monitor cases where, for example, a person tells a bookie not to accept a bet from him or her for more than a certain amount.
I welcome the fact that gaming and lottery activities will be curtailed to those who are 18 years of age and over. While these changes are necessary, our time would be better spent debating the gambling control Bill today. Plans for gambling regulation stretch back to December 2010 when Fianna Fáil, when in government, published an options paper. These plans were developed into draft legislation in 2013. No legislative progress has been made since then. We acknowledge the Government has agreed in principle with the introduction of a gambling regulator and the publication of the report of the working group. However, progress to date has been slow.
Fianna Fáil has initiated its own gambling control Bill and put forward detailed proposals for such a regulator. In the absence of a firm timeline for the introduction of such a regulator by the Minister, Fianna Fáil will table amendments for the introduction of a regulator. Fianna Fáil will also put forward amendments to address issues concerning unregulated offshore operators and the national lottery. Fianna Fáil is committed to socially responsible gambling. The Government has had ample opportunity to consider these issues and Fianna Fáil is looking for action on them.
The Minister of State, as always, is welcome to the House, particularly to discuss this important topic. There have been some solid developments since we last debated this during my Private Members’ motion on the regulation of gambling on 27 February 2019. For a start, the report of the interdepartmental working group on the future licensing and regulation of gambling was submitted to the Government, and the Cabinet approved a plan to establish a gambling regulatory authority. To the uninformed listener or viewer, this might have sounded like a radical and progressive development, but we all know the Bill to make this happen has been languishing on a shelf for the past six years.
While it is acknowledged that the gambling control Bill in the form first envisaged by the Government in 2011 is now out of date, this is the legislation on which we should be focusing as a matter of urgency rather than on this Bill which is, at best, a piecemeal measure and, at worst, likely to be subject to legal challenge in the European Court. With a focus on prohibition rather than regulation, it will be seen by many as a regressive rather than progressive step by the sector.
I commend my colleagues in Fianna Fáil who brought forward their own gambling control Bill as a Private Members’ Bill. It proposed a comprehensive new unified licensing and regulatory framework for gambling. It provided for the creation of 43 new licences, covering both land-based and remote gambling activities, as well as for a regulator under the jurisdiction of the Department of Justice and Equality. The Bill had great merits. A failed attempt to introduce piecemeal measures to address gambling concerns in Part 13 of the general scheme of the courts and civil law (miscellaneous provisions) Bill 2017 has now re-emerged as the Bill before us today.
The Minister of State described the Gaming and Lotteries (Amendment) Bill 2019 as an interim measure until the new gambling control Bill is brought forward. With respect, an interim measure almost eight years since the idea of a gambling control Bill was first discussed by the Government would be laughable if it was not such a serious matter. The interim horse has long since bolted and the introduction of this Bill will have serious unanticipated and, perhaps, unintended consequences for the industry.
The Bill, as proposed, creates a gaming permit, which is primarily designed to facilitate fundraising for charitable or philanthropic purposes. Conditions attached to the permit include that a gaming permit will not be issued to a person for any kind of gaming in which, by reason of the nature of the game, the chances of all the players, including the banker, are not equal. The stake in each game will not be more than €10 for each player. No player may win more than €3,000 in each game, whether that game is conducted in a single or multiple events. No stake will be hazarded by the players with the holder of the gaming permit, other than a charge for the right to take part in the game. Not more than 5% of the total proceeds of the ticket sales will be retained by the holder of a gaming permit in respect of any game.
What this will translate into in reality is the annihilation of an entire segment of the gambling sector. The conditions attached to the gaming permit are of no commercial value and will oblige all 40 private member clubs across Ireland to cease trading. Added to this, the Bill also establishes a gaming licence as a means of enforcing local council directives outlawing gaming at an amusement hall or funfair in its administrative area. The conditions attached would likewise lead to the closure of approximately 100 amusement halls or funfairs. Overall, we are looking at job losses of approximately 3,000 throughout the country, depriving the State of income derived from VAT at 23%, corporate taxation, income tax and employer social contributions, not to mention the impact on tourism. Representatives from the private member clubs and the amusement halls are all in favour of regulation. In fact, they have been lobbying the Minister of State and the Department for more than a decade. They are not in favour of prohibition or measures which would effectively make their businesses commercially unviable, however.
It is a concern that the Bill’s consequences are at variance with the recommendations of the interdepartmental working group report which recommended gambling and gaming should be regulated rather than prohibited. We are now the only one of 28 EU member states which does not regulate gambling in this fashion. By passing this legislation which prohibits rather than regulates, we are running contrary to industry best practice and what international research across Europe is telling us. If this legislation is passed and restrictions are placed on accesses to a gaming licence for amusement halls based on geographical region, it will be in breach of EU legislation as interpreted by the European Court of Justice in 2014. I am concerned no regulatory impact assessment has been provided for this Bill and there was no opportunity for meaningful consultation with the sector before it was introduced. Will the Minister of State advise me why these were not undertaken? I have serious concerns about the way this Bill is being described and framed to be positive when the consequences are disastrous. The Minister of State said the Bill will make arrangements for the better promotion of lotteries, updating certain stake and prize limits and standardising the minimum gambling age at 18. In reality, the Bill will provide for the de facto prohibition of land-based gaming in favour of online betting.
If there is an elephant in the room, it is the online betting sector which gets no mention in this Bill, despite assurances to the contrary three months ago. In December 2018, the Minister of State told The Irish Times he planned “to amend the 1956 Act, which deals mainly with gaming machines in amusement arcades, to include the burgeoning area of online gaming”. Why has he not included online gaming and what has changed in three months? The Minister of State is creating a situation where online betting and online gaming remains an unregulated activity. The lack of regulation in Ireland enables online service providers to beam their service into the State without any obligation to offer self-exclusion facilities, time-out facilities or to oblige new customers to set maximum spending limits when opening an online account. In other EU member states, unlicensed online operators are denied access to their citizens by Internet service provider, ISP, blocking. We have nothing comparable here, despite the technology being available to do so.
Common sense tells us that if private member clubs, amusement halls or arcades are put out of business, people will continue to seek opportunities to gamble and game. We already know those with Internet access and mobile devices will migrate to online gaming sites where the known risk of developing a gambling problem is three times greater than in land-based venues. The Bill effectively hands unfair commercial advantage to online operators on a plate. To gamble online, a credit card or debit card is typically required to access funds with which to gamble. The use of credit with no predetermined limits for the purposes of gambling will encourage individuals to gamble beyond their means. Research tells us there are already approximately 45,000 people suffering from a gambling addiction in Ireland. Ireland ranks third in terms of gambling losses per capita after Australia and Singapore. However, it ranks first in terms of online gambling losses per capita.
Who I am very worried about are the vulnerable persons in society who will be drawn into underground or back-street facilities where they could be exposed to sharp practices and moneylenders offering credit at exorbitant rates.
In February I said the scale of online gambling was fast becoming a crisis of epic proportions. I have since been gathering statistical information to back up this statement. The findings are frightening. It is anticipated that the global online gambling market will generate revenues of more than $74 billion by 2023, with a jump of over 47% in revenue between now and 2023. Our own Paddy Power is one of the top five online providers in the market and the top products are online betting, online casino and online lottery. In that context, I cannot understand why other European countries have successfully regulated the online industry and we have not. The Government is creating the illusion that it intends to regulate or is in the process of regulating it, but the reality is that, sadly, we are no further down the road than we were in 2011, despite the seismic shifts in technology, behaviour and online availability.
I regret that we are spending valuable time on legislation that will do more harm than good. It will undermine livelihoods, put the Government at risk of a legal challenge in the European court, offer zero consumer protection and steadfastly ignores and will contribute to an ever-increasing rise in online problem gambling in Ireland. I am sure that is not the legacy either the Minister of State or the Government wants to have. I am aware of the Minister of State's deep concerns about gambling. I believe he genuinely wants to do something about it, but I am not sure-----
We are way over time. I have allowed the Senator flexibility.
I thank the Acting Chairman.
I, too, welcome the Minister of State. It is worth pointing out that for a long time, before 2011, very little happened in trying to regulate gambling. We would not be where we are but for the Minister of State and the forensic knowledge he built up when Chairman of the then Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality which did a significant body of work in this area. In his period in office he has advanced significantly with the report he brought to the Cabinet at the end of March. The Government is committed to having a gambling regulator because, as Senator Craughwell stated, online gambling is a very serious problem which is developing at breakneck speed. We must have an appropriate professional and internationally in tune response to it. Setting up a gambling regulator will not be an easy piece of work. We are talking about recruiting up to 100 people to engage in highly specialised work to ensure they will not alone keep up with developments in modern technology but also move ahead of it to try to deal with the consequences of gambling. That piece of work is ongoing.
My understanding of the purpose of the legislation is that it seeks to tidy up previous legislative measures. It has not really been designed to deal with online gambling. That is a much more serious problem that requires a significant body of work to be done to deal with it. Until now, any young fellow at a race meeting could legally place a bet with the tote. This legislation will ensure young people will have to be 18 years of age before they can do so. It is fair to point out that the tote has voluntarily adopted an age limit of 18 years in the placing of bets.
I am concerned about the running of raffles at sports events that we all attend. I attended one at the weekend, as I am sure other Members did, at which we paid €5 or €10 for a cloakroom ticket. I do not know whether it is appropriate, as a colleague of mine pointed out, to legislate for the buying of a cloakroom ticket. That might be going a step too far, but perhaps it might be better to go a step too far to prevent unintended consequences.
I am open to correction, but I believe every Member of the House wants to see the activity of gambling dealt with and properly regulated to ensure people will gamble for enjoyment, not because of an addiction or any other need. I hope the House will not divide on the legislation on Second Stage and that Members will table amendments to improve it. Knowing the Minister of State as I do, he will engage with Members from all sides to ensure sensible amendments that will enhance the legislation are tabled in order that we can achieve our common goal, which is to protect citizens, while ensuring we are fair to those who make a livelihood out of gaming and gambling and that the local GAA or soccer club lottery can operate to continue to provide vital financial support a club needs to ensure children and young people can play an active role in sport and society.
This legislation is very important, but I acknowledge that it is only a start in addressing the issue of gambling. However, we have to start somewhere. The Minister of State has made a significant start with the interdepartmental report that was brought to the Cabinet. This legislation marks the start of a process to bring Ireland into line with best international practice in this area.
I welcome the Bill which I know is an interim measure as the Government intends to bring forward much more fundamental legislation to regulate gambling. The placing of caps of €10 and €750 on stakes is to be welcomed. The Bill allows the Minister of State to amend these limits in the future. That is important. It is also important that he engage regularly with those dealing with the consequences of problem gambling to see if the limits are having the desired effect.
The fact that the Bill seeks to amend legislation dating from 1956 shows that it is badly needed. Has the Cabinet seen and discussed the recommendations made by the working group that examined the general scheme of the 2013 Gambling Control Bill? In much of the lobbying on the legislation I have been asked why the Government did not introduce the more comprehensive gambling control Bill. We have the scheme of a Bill, had years of engagement with all relevant bodies in the sector and the report of the working group, but it was uncertain from the Minister of State’s comments in this House in February in responding to a Private Members' Business matter whether the Government had accepted the need for an independent, self-financing regulator as opposed to one that would be attached to the Department of Justice and Equality. When the control of gambling Bill is eventually brought before the Oireachtas, we will have to remember that it will primarily be to prevent harmful gambling and regulate the many people who enjoy gambling safely. Many do gamble responsibly. There are also responsible people in the gambling industry who have followed voluntary codes of conduct on age limits, etc. in the absence of legislation.
Before any final decision is taken on the gambling control Bill I ask the Government to reflect on its method of collecting data for the prevalence of problem gambling. Recently flawed and dated figures were released by the HSE which were at variance with new and anecdotal evidence. In good faith they cannot be used as an accurate basis for policy formation. The Government used different criteria to assess and identify the scale of problem gambling from those used in separate surveys in the North of Ireland and by the British Gambling Commission.
Is the Government honestly saying that the problem gambling rate in Dundalk is 0.8%, but the problem gambling rate in Newry is 2.3%? This is why an all-Ireland approach to such issues is vital. Sinn Féin wants to see an all-Ireland approach and that is why my party colleagues such as Sinéad Ennis MLA and Deputy Ó Laoghaire have recently launched an all-island policy document around problem gambling and I also want to acknowledge again the work done by Lynn Boylan, MEP on this subject at a European level.
Two separate gambling prevalence surveys carried out for the North of Ireland produced similar results by identifying a problem gambling rate of over 2%. The Government here wants us to believe that on the other side of the invisible line, the problem rate is 0.8%. We are talking about identical products, people and cultures but the Government believes the situation dramatically changes once one crosses the Border. We need a dedicated problem gambling survey with a straight comparison with the North, with Scotland, with Wales and with England. Furthermore, the data released in March are nearly five years old and are not good enough to base policy formation on. The South of Ireland has the highest online gambling losses in the world per capita and the third highest gambling losses overall per capita. The recent figures the HSE released do not reflect this and it would make one think that there is not a problem here. On Committee Stage, we will introduce amendments relating to concerns around gambling addiction and the lack of measures in this Bill to tackle it.
I know from dealing with the Minister of State and from working with him on the Domestic Violence Act that he is open to producing the best legislation possible and I know he understands the seriousness of the problem of gambling addiction as well. I also acknowledge the Minister of State's work in the project that I attended last Friday in the National Museum of Ireland - Country Life in Castlebar. That work with the school in Ballina and with the Traveller's journey is of great importance and it is particularly important in the times when we have moves to the extreme right and all of the negatives that are going on in society so I acknowledge the Minister of State's contribution to that.
At the outset, having read the information surrounding this legislation, I have to say that I was rather against it but I will not be calling for a vote. I will just see as the debate proceeds and as we get through Committee Stage and look at amendments and so on and so forth. I have been reassured by the comments that some of my colleagues have made on the Fianna Fáil side and on the Opposition side because if this legislation is intended to outlaw amusement arcades, to close gambling houses and to make various restrictions to prohibit rather than regulate, then I am all for it. There is far too much gambling in this country.
The reason I was concerned was because the note that was provided by the Cathaoirleach's personal assistant said that the Bill ensures "an important public interest in assisting the better promotion of gaming and lotteries." I would have thought we have had enough promotion of these matters already, particularly gaming and gambling. It is shocking what is going on. The explanatory notice and financial memorandum also says: "This modernisation will serve an important public interest is assisting the better promotion of gaming." I certainly do not want to see the better promotion of gaming so I gather this is all a lot of flummery to conceal the real intention of the Bill, which is to restrict gambling and I certainly hope that it succeeds in this.
I am concerned because the Minister of State has said that there have been contentions made on the issue of District Court certificates and Revenue Commissioners' licences in areas where there appears to be no local authority resolution in place permitting gaming, and then he says there is a court case so that we cannot comment too much on it. I have to say that I am quite happy with the provisions. If it is not legally possible to operate gaming machines in the city of Dublin, then that is the situation. It should be enforced and that is where the problem is. Then the Minister of State said that:
Section 4 of the Bill inserts a new section 9A into the 1956 Act. This section sets out the application process for a permit for gaming for either charitable or philanthropic purposes or for the benefit of the promoter.
Does this open the way for the vulture funds, because the Government has allowed the vulture funds to register as charitable institutions?
Then we have the question of the current seizure provision in section 37 on unlawful gaming, as defined in the Act. It is now extended to gaming machines. I understood that it already covered gaming machines. I was very surprised by a Sinn Féin colleague and friend expressing gladness at the raising of the limits, but they are enormous and vast increases. From 3 cent to €10 is bad enough, but from 50 cent to €750 clearly raises this situation beyond the question of gaming for amusement. If one is looking to win €750, it is not just amusement, there is a profit motive there so we are in danger at that point.
If we look at the situation as it exists at present, operators all over the country, but particularly in Dublin, are being openly allowed to flout the law. I would be delighted if Dr. Quirkey's Good Time Emporium was closed down, if Fitzpatrick's Casino on Parnell Street was closed down and if the whole bloody lot of them went. They are a disgrace to the main street of a European capital city to have nothing but knickers shops and gambling casinos in the street. Tens of millions of euro in licence fees, moneys which could fund much-needed addiction services, are not being collected. There is every reason to question whether VAT is being properly collected. Questionable licensing decisions have been made in the District Licensing Court and I will confine myself just to saying that because that is one the matters that is under consideration.
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 as to why the excise services have waited so long to become active. We have had some Revenue raids and in those raids, machines were seized. One operator lost machines from premises on O'Connell Street and in Phibsborough. While Revenue has been active in recent times seizing gaming machines in a number of high-profile raids, there are still questions to answer. 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 in the city. It is absurd. It is a classic Irish situation. Dublin Corporation banned gaming machines from the city but we have a proliferation of them. Over the past ten years they have multiplied all over the place.
I have to say that I am not particularly proud of Paddy Power as a business. It is a very efficient business but it leeches onto people and a lot of these big gambling houses actually give money to gambling addicts to feed their addiction. In the operations that have taken place, why were only a small proportion of the gaming machines in operation seized? If the Revenue go in and there are illegal gaming machines, why does it not seize the whole bloody lot? I gather that the Minister of State is on our side in this matter. Other than seizing machines, what further action will be taken? As mentioned earlier, it is possible that many of the gaming machines operating in areas such as Dublin city, where Part III of the 1956 Act is not operable, are being passed off illegally as amusement machines. With the rising of the prize money, they certainly cannot be passed off in this way again. If that is the case, it raises further serious questions for the Revenue Commissioners, the licensing authority for both gaming and amusement machines, such as why this is happening, when we will see its staff consistently applying the Revenue compliance manual and how the takings of amusement machines are being treated for VAT purposes. All takings of amusement machines are liable for VAT. If machines that are registered as amusement machines are being treated for VAT purposes as gaming machines, Revenue could be under-billing the operators to the tune of hundreds of millions of euro annually. These are some of the problems that currently exist in the system.
I applaud the Minister of State for having taken up this problem, even though it is an interim measure as he says himself, so to a certain extent it is just a stopgap. I am relieved to discover that under the apparent promotion of gaming, there is an attempt by the Government to restrict gambling.
I hope some of these businesses will be put out of operation. I remember receiving a letter some years ago from a constituent who was running some kind of gaming facility and she was concerned the law would inhibit her and she had a certain number of people employed. I wrote back to her and said I do not approve of gambling and that I was sorry but I could not take up her case because I believe in being honest with people. A bit of an innocent flutter on the Grand National or putting a couple of pence in a gaming machine satisfies the amusement part, but when people get into a situation involving amounts of €10,000, €15,000, €30,000, €50,000 or €100,000, it is terrible disease. If, as my colleagues suggested, the Minister of State is facing up to this squarely, I salute him for so doing and I look forward to that in our further examination of the legislation.
I thank colleagues for their observations and I look froward to further discussion on the legislation. The Bill I have proposed will have the effect of modernising and clarifying the provisions of the Gaming and Lotteries Act 1956. As Senator Conway-Walsh said, it is time to update this outdated law. Of that there is no doubt.
Everyone commented, and rightly so, on the reason we are not bringing forward the gambling control Bill now. It would be my dearest wish to bring it forward if I could, but I call tell colleagues it is extraordinarily complicated. We have spent the past year intensely studying this area and working on it with an interdepartmental group. We have published a report for everyone's information in order that people can reflect on it. We will have further consultation with the sector on this area shortly. We are consulting widely on it, but it is extraordinarily complicated and we want to get it right.
Setting up an office in the Department of Justice and Equality to regulate an operation which, nationally, could be worth anything between €6 billion and €8 billion per annum was not the way to go. It must be independent. To answer Senator Conway-Walsh's question, the intention is to set up a regulator completely independent of Government, with the usual caveats with respect to reporting to the Oireachtas and acting under the law. It must be robust. This is what they have done in other jurisdictions where it is independent, robust and properly resourced and established from day one. That is what we want to do. Unfortunately, that is not easy. It is a big operation. We have to put in place not only complex legislation but also a regulator to do the inspections, the enforcing, the advising and all that goes with that. As colleagues said, this area is expanding into the online sector in a big way, so it is getting more complex than it was and it is even more complex than it was in 2013 when we examined it at that time. The heads of a Bill were published then, not a Bill, as Senator Craughwell said. As colleagues will be aware, there is a big difference between publishing the heads of a Bill and drafting and bringing forward legislation, especially in the case of a Bill as complex as this one.
This legislation is an interim reform measure. The Government has agreed the plan for a comprehensive reform of our gambling, licensing and regulatory system. The Government has seen, debated and accepted the report. My Department is working to bring forward revised modern legislation to address comprehensively the deficiencies in our current gambling, licensing and regulatory infrastructure.
Everyone is rightly concerned about problem gambling. Senator Norris, who is leaving us now, spoke about it as a disease. That is probably close to the mark in one way, but it is also an illness, a sickness or an addiction in some sense, which is a health issue. In every country where they have robust regulation they still have the issue, as Senator Norris pointed out, of the problem gambler to a greater or lesser extent, as we have here. Therefore, it is a health issue. In the heads of the 2013 Bill, in the legislation we will be bringing forward and in the gambling control report, the idea was mentioned of setting up a fund to assist the treatment of, support for and provision of help for people with this problem of gambling addiction. We can go so far with regulation, but at the end of the day this is an addiction and it needs to be looked at as a health issue.
I thank the Minister of State for his response.
On the issue of the gambling prevalence study, it was a Department of Health study and, I understand, an all-Ireland study. I cannot comment on its findings here, but my colleague in the Department of Health may do that at another time. A new study for 2018 to 2019 is being carried out that will update the study's findings which were published recently, and it is hoped that will be to hand pretty soon.
With respect to this legislation, it is more robust in updating the 1956 Act. The question of gambling institutions going underground, which was raised, is a matter for enforcement by the Garda. All gambling and lottery activities promoted will require a permit or licence, and that is provided for. The self-exclusion register was mentioned. That will be considered in the revised gambling control Bill. The Fianna Fáil Bill was a replication of the 2013 scheme. The debate on it at that time was useful, but I want to go much further than merely setting up an office in the Department of Justice and Equality. That is why it is taking time and the reason it is so complicated, because we want to do it correctly.
I thank Senators for their contributions. I am pleased, as I understand it, that people are accepting this legislation, which is important at this time. I commend the Bill to the House.