Good afternoon everyone. I welcome the Minister of State, who has been here a lot this afternoon. The Minister of State has ten minutes, all spokespersons have eight minutes and all other Senators have five minutes.
Future of Gambling Regulation: Statements
I am pleased to have this opportunity to update the Seanad on progress made by my Department to establish an independent gambling regulator for Ireland focused on public safety and well-being.
As Senators will be aware, gambling reform has been in development for some time. The industry is large and complex. It is continuously evolving through technological development and many of our current arrangements are well outdated. Effective reform, therefore, requires fundamental and significant change.
To date, much good work and progress has already been made. My plans now are to advance the necessary legislation to drive forward this long sought reform. In doing so, I am determined to deliver on my Department's legislative programme to put in place a modern licensing and regulatory regime for the Irish gambling industry.
We have established a programme board in the Department of Justice to oversee the work and ensure that the different streams are progressed in parallel. The aim is to minimise the time between the enactment of the legislation and the date on which the regulator commences operations. We are targeting definitive milestones in the year ahead, and there is a clear pathway towards the gambling regulator being operational in early 2023.
I will now outline some of the key areas being considered. First and foremost, the new regulator will be an independent body established on a statutory footing. This reflects the recommendations in the 2019 report of the interdepartmental working group on future licensing and regulation of gambling.
The current regulatory approach, which is spread widely across a range of Departments and agencies, is fragmented. As such it facilitates an inconsistent regulatory environment and makes licensing of gambling activities cumbersome. It also limits the potential for revenue raising possibilities from licensing fees, duties and taxation. The new regulator will, when fully operational, assume all of the current gambling licensing and regulatory responsibilities as well as new and more extensive enforcement duties.
The current preparatory work involves a major updating of the proposals of the general scheme of the gambling control Bill published in 2013. It is envisaged that the draft general scheme will go to Government by the end of quarter 3 of 2021. The position of a CEO designate would also be advertised in quarter 3 this year with a finalised appointment scheduled for quarter 4. These will be important milestones. They will achieve objectives set out in my Department's statement of strategy and Justice Plan 2021, and build on the programme for Government's commitment to establish a gambling regulator. This commitment is very much directed towards the protection of the public and the gambling customer. The regulator will have a major role in this regard.
In developing the general scheme, we will consider possible measures to promote safer gambling. This may involve limitations on advertising and promotions, on bonus offers and so-called VIP schemes. When it is established, the regulator will have the necessary enforcement powers for licensing and powers to take action where individuals or operators fail to follow rules and regulations. Its key objectives will be as follows: to prevent gambling from being a source or support to crime; to ensure that gambling is conducted in a fair and open way for companies to make decisions in certainty; and to require the promotion of safe and responsible gambling, and to combat problem gambling.
Operators offering activities in whole or in part online will be subject to the licensing terms and conditions similar to other licensees with any necessary additions. The regulator, therefore, will cover online and in-person gambling and will also have the powers to regulate advertising, gambling websites and apps.
Gambling activity impacts society in Ireland in a number of ways. It is of significant economic impact. The interdepartmental working group report estimated the value of the Irish gambling market annually as being between €6 billion and €8 billion and employs upwards of 8,000 people. That said, it is important to strike a balance between the needs of business and the social implications of gambling.
Many people enjoy gambling in the context of a leisure activity but, unfortunately, some people fall into addictive gambling habits. While addiction treatment is predominately a matter for the relevant health authorities under the responsibility of the Health Service Executive and the Department of Health, I am mindful of how the gambling regulator may provide enhanced protection of consumers and vulnerable individuals.
In developing the Bill, we will consider possible measures to promote safer gambling. It is very likely that the legislation, similar to the position in many other states, will provide provisions banning gambling on credit. This is surely a very sensible provision and one that some of the gambling operators have voluntarily adopted.
A social fund will be established to address gambling addiction. It will be financed by the industry, in the form of levies on licensed operators. The social fund will support research, information campaigns and treatment by relevant health professionals. While I envisage that the regulator would manage the process of collection of the levy, it would appear preferable that any disbursements for health-related treatments benefit from the involvement of professionals in that regard.
I very much share the view that our young people must be protected, insofar as possible, from engaging in gambling activities that may lead to problematic behaviour. The new gambling legislation being prepared will require an effective “know your customer” process. This is already a requirement in the context of the prevention of money laundering. The development of an effective self-exclusion process to assist and protect persons prone to problem gambling is also part of this work. Age verification will be a central part of that approach so as to prevent persons under 18 years of age from engaging in gambling. The Betting Act 1931 and the National Lottery Act 2013 already impose an 18-year limit while the Gaming and Lotteries (Amendment) Act 2019, commenced on 1 December 2020, also provides for a minimum age of 18 years for engaging in gaming and lottery activity and betting through the Tote.
I acknowledge that work on the establishment of a gambling regulator has been ongoing for a number of years. I share the concerns of those who wish that reform could be achieved quickly. The reality is that developing comprehensive modern licensing legislation, with effective terms and conditions and a new regulatory system with an effective operational structure, is a large and complex task. The industry itself and the engagement of gambling customers is constantly evolving, not least due to new technologies.
While the general scheme of a gambling control Bill was published in 2013, a considerable amount of work has been undertaken since then. The interdepartmental working group on future licensing and regulation of gambling, which I have already referred to, reported in 2019. A European Commission-funded consultancy report on the possible structure of a gambling regulator was provided in December 2019. These reports have provided valuable research and insights into the gambling industry, both domestically and worldwide.
The task now is to bring all these elements together within an operational framework. In order to achieve this, it is important that the regulator be established on a strong footing and adequately resourced to carry out this important task. It is not possible at this point to estimate the eventual annual costs associated with the establishment and operation of a gambling regulatory authority. These costs will be significantly influenced by the nature and extent of the regulatory tasks required in the context of the gambling activities to be licensed in the State. Appropriate staffing resources will be required to ensure compliance with licensing terms and conditions. Initial seed funding of €100,000 for the gambling regulatory authority was provided in budget 2020 and additional funding of €100,000 to support the establishment of the office of the gambling regulator is included in budget 2021.
Consultation is, of course, a particularly important aspect of informing and developing new legislation. In that respect, my Department organised a major seminar on the future licensing and regulation of gambling at Farmleigh House in May 2019. That seminar brought together a large number of interested persons and concerned stakeholders to discuss the report of the working group and to consider a range of critical issues and further developments.
As I have already stated, I hope to be in a position to publish a revised general scheme later this year. Following publication of that scheme, I expect there will be engagement with interested stakeholders. Information on how that engagement will be structured will be provided in due course. It is widely known and accepted in the industry and among stakeholders that reform of the gambling sector is on its way. My Department continues to welcome any submissions that stakeholders wish to make.
In conclusion, the Government, my officials and I are committed to driving reform in this important area. Significant progress has been made. Resources have been allocated and definitive milestones have been set to introduce comprehensive legislation and establish an operational office of the gambling regulator in early 2022. I acknowledge the importance of the co-operation of the Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas in bringing this legislation to enactment. I look forward to further engagement with all Senators.
I propose to share my time with Senator Malcolm Byrne. I will take six minutes and he will take two. I thank the Minister of State for being here and for giving us his update. This is a really important debate. Any addiction is difficult and tough. Addictions often have very far-reaching consequences for individuals and for their families and friends. Families are often torn apart, trust is broken and finances are impacted. Obviously, it not only the addicted individual who is impacted but also his or her family and friends. The good news is that many addicts have been able to turn their lives around and begin lives of recovery with the necessary supports. That is where we come in. Recovery is hard for any addict but regret is harder still.
I say that having spoken to several of my friends who, unfortunately, have suffered with addiction.
Drugs and alcohol have a physical manifestation and, as such, others become aware of the issue and can help, intervene, encourage and support. However, gambling is different. It is a silent addiction; a serious problem that can silently destroy lives. Sometimes loved ones do not know about the problem until the bank manager comes calling, a person loses his or her job or members of the Garda come to the door.
Some of the statistics are stark and frightening. Ireland has the seventh biggest gambling spend in the world, while 75% of Irish people know a person who they know to be a gambler. A website for gambling addicts that I looked at this morning states that traffic to the site has increased by 46% since the pandemic started. Many of those who traditionally bet on sport have moved on to online poker and casinos. What I found particularly frightening is that 7.6% of teenage boys and 2.8% of teenage girls have developed a gambling problem. As all present are aware, it generally begins with a few small bets at the weekend or at an event such as the Punchestown Festival, which is coming up next week and which we in County Kildare always look forward to for a bit of a flutter. However, the problem gradually worsens over time, with the ever-present lure of the one bet that could be life-changing. I do not get to see many soaps on television but I happened to see an episode of "Emmerdale" recently. It really depicted this problem very well. The character says this bet will be the one that will work for him, he will have all the money he needs and it will change his life. Those who develop gambling problems may show no signs of them until their families become aware of missing mortgage repayments, maxed-out credit cards, money owed to moneylenders or stealing from employers. Apparently, approximately one in five of those with gambling problems attempt to steal from employers.
As the Minister of State is aware, Fianna Fáil has a long-standing commitment to implementing regulations for socially responsible gambling. He is bringing that commitment to reality and I thank him for that. He is setting out clear regulations to prevent the sector doing more harm. We absolutely need effective regulation of the industry to give those in the sector certainty through socially responsible gambling. The Minister of State referred to a gambling regulator being essential to oversee a rapidly evolving sector. That is absolutely the case. The regulator should cover the industry, issue fines, conduct research and operate a social fund funded by the industry to help individuals who are suffering from gambling addiction. It was certainly welcome that when the Government put together the programme for Government there was a clear commitment to establish a gambling regulator focused on public safety and well-being, covering gambling online and in person, and with the powers to regulate advertising, gambling websites and apps. A modern and effectively regulated gambling environment must 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.
No matter how far gone a person has gone on the road to addiction, there is always an inner voice telling that person to find relief by changing their habits. None of us were born to be enslaved by drugs, alcohol or gambling. As legislators, we have a responsibility to ensure there is a commitment to socially responsible gambling. Experience is not what happens to you; it is what you do with what happens to you. We all have the power to change things in our lives, be that overcoming addictions or whatever else comes across our path. What the Minister of State has outlined is very significant and important in terms of helping people not to go down that road or helping those who have gone down it to overcome their addictions. I wish him well with the implementation. I will hand over to Senator Malcolm Byrne.
I apologise to Senator Malcolm Byrne but there is a difficulty as he has not been allocated a seat and, as a consequence, is not supposed to be allowed to speak.
However, I understand from our conversation that the Senator made arrangements with Senator McGreehan on that.
I thank the Minister of State and his officials for their work on this long-needed reform of our gambling legislation. I know he is personally committed to it. My colleague, Senator O'Loughlin, has underlined many of the challenges around addiction and I will speak around some of the regulatory issues that will arise.
It is important the new regulator's office will cover advertising, gambling, and social responsibility. We also need to address the taxation of gambling, which should also form part of the discussion. It is essential all players in the sector will come under a single regulatory framework because part of the problem in certain areas of gambling, including casinos, is that it is a wild west. There is a complete lack of regulation in this area. We must ensure there is fair competition and all players are treated in an even-handed way.
There will be new responsibilities for the media commission. The relationship between it and the new gambling regulator will need to be clarified, particularly around advertising. The legislation should maintain the role for local authorities especially around bookies, gambling halls, casinos and any other betting places. If they are to be located in a local authority area, control should be with the local authority and its elected members.
The Minister of State said this is legislation which has been coming for an awfully long time. In 2007, the then Minister for Justice and Equality and now Senator, Michael McDowell, in proposing setting up the office of the gambling regulator, said it would be coming soon. He gave a commitment then that the office of the gambling regulator would be located in Gorey, County Wexford. I ask the Minister of State, as a Wexford colleague, that he would honour that commitment of 14 years ago. I am sure he will agree.
I thank Senator McDowell for facilitating a change in speaking times. I welcome the Minister of State to the House for this very important discussion. According to some of the latest figures on gambling spending, Ireland is spending €9.8 billion a year, marking us out, as my colleague said, as the world's seventh biggest spenders on gambling per head, at almost €380 for every man, woman and child. That is the starting point of an industry that needs urgent regulation due to the large increases in those reporting gambling addiction problems and those who are suffering in silence, afraid to reach out for help or, more worryingly, think they can gamble their way out of their problems.
Over recent months, I have spoken to a large number of people who have developed gambling addiction problems and have taken time to speak to the dedicated people who, with very limited resources, are firefighting this almost invisible problem we, as legislators, need to tackle. Last Monday I introduced the Gambling (Prohibition of Advertising) Bill 2021 on behalf of the Labour Party to combat the takeover of ads on social and print media and TV screens by gambling companies. There can be no other description of what is happening. We are exposing children as young as six years to gambling ads as their parents home school them, and there is no legislation to prevent this exposure happening.
In a recent survey which we carried out, 80% of respondents reported seeing an increase in the number of gambling ads they see. More worrying was that almost 65% said they were more inclined to gamble after seeing these ads, a figure that will please gambling companies but which should set off serious alarm bells here and for the health system. From the College of Psychiatrists to gambling addiction support advocates such as Oisín McConville, Niall McNamee and Davy Glennon, there has been one consistent recent message: we must get rid of the amount of gambling ads in this country. I hope the Minister of State and the Government will support our Bill and that it can be enacted quickly. Even given the timeframes he has outlined, we cannot afford to give oxygen to these companies and their ads much longer.
There are a few issues I would like to raise with the Minister of State.
The first one, which has been raised with me by a number of people, is the very serious issue surrounding so-called loot boxes in various video games. Recent research in the UK has found that loot boxes are structurally and psychologically akin to gambling. The report found that 93% of children play video games and upwards of 40% had opened these loot boxes. The issue, of course, is that the players are sometimes charged for the privilege of opening these boxes in the hope of gaining an advantage in the game, the problem being that parents are unaware of the cost and the amount being spent by their children, or older players spending beyond their limits. It is time to legislate in this country for loot boxes. We cannot afford to develop more gambling behavioural problems.
During our research, many people raised an issue in regard to the national lottery. Notwithstanding the community benefits outlined in the House this week, there is a very important issue that I have been asked by many people to bring to attention in this debate. Every Saturday evening, thousands of Irish families sit down for family time and to enjoy the Saturday evening movie, but their family time is interrupted each week by the national lottery. Why does our national broadcaster allow this to happen? It is time for this to change and for families to enjoy their family time together and to simply have the lottery on after the movie.
In regard to the forthcoming legislation referred to by the Minister of State, I want to make the following comments. At this late stage in the debate, some important facts stand out. First, at no stage in the decades we have been working on this Bill has anyone in either party sought the views of the general public. There have been official reviews and working groups and so on, but they have all been stacked with officials and civil servants, with no outside or lay representation and no public consultation. In other words, no one at any stage has ever paused to ask the public if what we really need right now is more gambling, or how it is affecting them. We have tried, through the Labour Party's recent survey, but this hidden problem needs public discussion, now more than ever.
Another and more disquieting fact is that officials have told us for decades that there is some flaw in the 1956 Act and that the private clubs already mentioned are exempt from it. However, they have never had this theory tested in a court of law, so there is no court judgment to back them up, and they stoutly refused over the years to tell us exactly what the flaw might be so we might set about fixing it. We have a situation where these private casinos are, at best, of dubious legality but they are nonetheless registered and monitored by the Department under EU anti-money laundering regulations. There are establishments throughout the State where gambling takes place in a zone of uncertain legality, waiting for this Government Bill to sort them out and to put a legislative stamp on their licence. This Bill cannot come quickly enough to regulate these clubs.
As I stated, I have spoken to many citizens of this country who have lost so much as a result of gambling, from loving partnerships to family homes to their jobs. I would like to finish with an email from a young lady who reached out to me just last night. It is always important to tell the human side of these stories, and it is always important to listen and to give reasons urgent legislation is needed in this country. The email began:
I started gambling following a visit to my local pub. I wanted to join in the fun and I placed my first bet. I was lucky at first and the initial wins reeled me in. Then came the losses. I remember the first time I spent an entire day in the bookmakers and walked out without a penny to my name. At that time, I told myself that I had gotten a bit carried away and so borrowed some money to get me through until the next payday. Of course, when the next payday arrived, I thought the smart choice would be to take my wages and double it, so I could pay back what I owed and still have my own money. That, however, did not happen and the following years of my life would become a vicious cycle of self-destructive behaviour that would eventually lead to my hospitalisation. I felt like I was dying and I wanted the doctors to tell me what was this terrible physical disease causing these issues, rather than truly admitting to myself that my suffering was a result of my addiction.
At this stage of my life, I had become a mother and although I felt my children would be better off without me and my destructive presence in their lives, I also knew that I did not want them to grow up without me because I love them. I knew I had to change so from my hospital bed I rang an addiction counsellor who had a high-profile case of his own gambling addiction. His lived experience meant he could genuinely identify with every experience, every feeling, every emotion I had. He worked with me for some months, helping me to get in the right frame of mind for recovery, and now I am happily in recovery and living my best life. I feel joy in every day and gratitude for the people in my life, all of whom cannot believe the person I am without gambling in my life. This peace I have experienced in recovery is so powerful and those who are suffering from gambling addiction need to know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel and they can reach it.
As a mother of two young children, I have neither the money nor the time to access a residential treatment programme, and this is true for a huge proportion of the population. There is also the fact I am a woman and a mother, which meant it was even more difficult for me to access the help due to the stigma and shame that our society puts on those suffering with gambling addiction.
This is just one young woman who now wants to use her experience to help others out. That type of help is what is urgently needed here.
We need to enact the Gambling (Prohibition of Advertising) Bill 2021. We have to stop the bombardment of gambling advertisements. It is beyond time that we were all allowed to enjoy sport once again without this forced normalisation of sport and gambling. We must introduce a regulator through the Bill the Minister of State is proposing. The time for talking has long passed. I welcome his commitment to introducing this Bill and we look forward to it coming before us.
I welcome the Minister of State back to the House. I know my colleague, Senator Joe O'Reilly, has been a long-standing advocate of gambling regulation and will agree with what the Minister of State has been saying. I also agree. I particularly welcome the fact that throughout this discussion, both before now and today, we have used the word "gambling" rather than "gaming". The industry has attempted to use the more socially acceptable term "gaming" when what we are talking about is gambling. In recent years, the gambling industry has changed significantly. Gone are the small bookmakers we might remember. It is now much more a corporate, global industry. We have heard other Senators talking about how this particularly exists online and the impacts of advertising. The organisations behind gambling in Ireland are often not really known to us and are certainly not local. I welcome the idea of a regulator in this regard and look forward to the proposals the Department will bring forward.
Other calls for a single regulator are very important. We sometimes have a propensity in this country to have multiple agencies looking after different aspects of an area when, in fact, this issue crosses over many different areas. Having a single regulator with an eye on all aspects of gambling is tremendously important. In that regard, I think Dún Laoghaire would be an excellent location for its headquarters. We do not need to go to Wexford because the transport links to Dún Laoghaire are excellent. I would welcome that being considered.
The Minister of State will be aware that I have this week put forward a proposal for a Bill in respect of the national lottery. The latter is one of the few areas of gambling in respect of which there is regulation. There is a licence given by the State and there are safeguards in place. The national lottery is still gambling but there are restrictions in place to protect consumers to a certain extent. They can only spend so much on it per day and cannot bet after certain hours. That is in stark contrast with some of the online gambling offerings that are now available where people can bet large sums of money at any hour of the day or night, no matter their state of sobriety or state of mind. Those safeguards are not there for private betting organisations. The difficulty is that some of those bookmaking organisations are entitled to use the national lottery infrastructure to make money and make betting offers to consumers around Ireland. The reason that is a bad thing is because for the small shops throughout this country that give people access to the lotto and for the national lottery itself, there is a significant cost to the implementation of the infrastructure, both in terms of centrally drawing the numbers but also the machines that go into every shop across the country. That costs money. It is there for a reason and is a part of a collective, regulated industry. If we allow private companies to make profit out of that, we are taking revenue out of that stream and giving it to private organisations.
Another important thing is that up to 30 cent of every euro that is gathered by the national lottery in respect of its products goes back into the community through a good causes fund. That does not happen with private gambling organisations. A bookmaker in Ireland takes that money and profit. That is legitimate but the reality is that from the point of view of a social dividend, there is a much greater good available to the State through the national lottery.
People here have spoken about addiction and that is probably at the root of all of this. I am not opposed to gambling because it is not, in and of itself, a bad thing. In moderation, which is, thankfully, the only way I would ever do it, it can be enjoyable and worthwhile. The difficulty, as we have heard from other speakers, is there are people who are not able to do that, just as there are people who are not able to take other things in moderation, and I include myself in that regard. Such people are equally exposed to the constant barrage of advertising and attention from gambling organisations that attempt to draw them into their custom.
The reality is that this has a very negative impact on them. Since there is a constant barrage, both online and on television but even on radio, it is a genuine problem. I absolutely agree with the sentiments expressed by Senators not just on regulating advertising but also on restricting it and the extent to which we can continue to invade the space of those who may be susceptible to becoming gambling addicts. We have heard from other Senators on the significant impact this can have. I have met and spoken to victims of a gambling addiction. It is as pervasive as any other addiction and we must step in to protect those affected.
I hope, based on what the Minister of State said about the gambling regulator, that there is an opportunity for the State to safeguard its citizens and to have a gambling regulator that has an eye out not for the industry but the consumer and that is willing to step in to identify the vulnerable and outline what it will do to protect them from exposure to what the gambling industry is doing. I welcome that idea and the fact that there is now an opportunity for the State to step in and protect people.
I thank my colleague. I apologise as I made a mistake and believed we were starting at 4 p.m.
I thank the Leader for scheduling this debate, which I have called for three times. Let us establish first what we are not talking about. We are not talking about the 64% of the population who have the occasional flutter, buy a weekly lottery ticket or play bingo; we are talking about the more than 29% who gamble in a problem way, defined as gambling to a level that compromises, disrupts or damages family, personal or recreational pursuits. The 2019 interdepartmental report on regulation found that problem gambling can be associated with a range of harms, including a higher risk of psychiatric disorders, alcohol and drug misuse, physical and mental health issues, separation and divorce, unemployment and insolvency. All of us know people on whom the scourge of gambling addiction has visited devastation and harm. If Senators want a genuine insight into gambling, they should note that an amazing, riveting read is Tony 10, written by Tony O'Brien, who was himself and addict, and Declan Lynch from the Sunday Independent. It chronicles Tony's decline into the abyss from having a good, secure job and good family and from a first outing with a minuscule bet. His username with Paddy Power was Tony 10 and he became an addicted, self-harming being.
A systematic review of 16 studies on educational intervention found that while we basically need education, we also need limit-setting, as in a maximum amount of time or money that may be spent by an individual. I believe the limit should be €100 per day but that can be debated. Only debit cards, rather than normal credit cards, should be allowed. This is now the policy of the national lottery. Having stated the problem, we must consider solutions. As for the programme for Government, a well-resourced gambling regulator with adequate powers must be put in place along with gambling control legislation. Then we will need actions, including educational programmes and videos for young people in schools, etc. These, however, are not the most effective because young people do not have the problem at that stage. We also need bet limits. These are important. We need win and lose limits. Studies show that only when they are compulsory, irreversible and applicable through all gambling opportunities will these measures work. Also required are pop-up messages in the centre of telephone screens about time spent and losses, messages setting out the probability of winning and losing, an end to free start-up bets for youngsters, which are cynical in the extreme, and health warnings such as those on packets of cigarettes. Messages should be brief and easy to read, and gamblers should have to take action to remove them. Gambling behaviour surveillance, with information on support services, and direct interventions are required. There should be forced interventions that link people to the Gambling Awareness Trust and all the various NGOs and supports.
There is a gambling awareness trust funded by the industry. While that is good, my main focus would be on NGOs and Government agencies being funded independently.
I thank the Acting Chairperson for the indulgence and I am sorry I was late. I consider this an extraordinarily serious human issue. The devastation that compulsive and addictive gambling has visited on many of our friends, neighbours and people we all know is enough to say that we, as legislators, have to address the issue urgently by bringing in the gambling control Bill and a gambling regulator.
I thank Senator O'Reilly. I know he is very passionate about this issue.
I will not take all of my time. I would have been happy to share some of my time with Senator O'Reilly. Gambling is a booming industry in Ireland. We talk about solidarity with those financially affected most by Covid-19. I suggest this is one place to start because 100% of betting duty is going to the horse and greyhound industries. Everyone here will be in no doubt as to my views on that, and I respect different views. However, in terms of animal welfare alone, I suggest that needs to be examined and the industries decoupled. I was sad to see that we are the only party in this House that does not support the funding of the greyhound industry. In that regard I am powerless to act unless others join us and commit to supporting doing all we can in a practical way. At the very least that duty needs to be re-examined in light of one of the many pandemics in this country, namely, gambling, and redirected in part to support people affected by gambling.
The overall profits of the entire industry need to be examined. Gambling has increased during the Covid pandemic but it had sharply increased over recent years even without a pandemic. There are several reasons for that. Some aspects are not easily managed. Advertising, which was mentioned by many of my colleagues, is one. I look forward to seeing the legislation that the Minister will shortly bring before this House to address those problems.
The interdepartmental report specifically looks at the issue of advertising and has recommended that no gambling related sponsorship of events involving persons under 18 should be allowed, including branded clothing. We know that up to now, advertising has been largely unregulated in Ireland. When we talk about league tables in sport let us talk about our position as one of the countries at the top of the global league table when it comes to gambling. Currently, compliance with advertising standards is voluntary. The entire area is not easy to address given that our regulations cannot apply to those outside the jurisdiction and sport, in particular, crosses all borders. Advertising for gambling is everywhere. It is on our phones and apps. Betting odds are appearing at half time during matches. Essentially, it is in danger of taking the health and joy out of sport and making it something that is bad for us. None of us want to see that.
For those who are already identified as addicts, the pervasiveness of advertising means that falling back into their addiction is a real risk. An addiction devastates people in terms of the mental health impacts and the well-being of families financially, especially during the current ability to gamble on credit amassing debts not only for the gambler but also for entire families.
Gambling is also a child welfare issue. Based on census figures 3,400 Irish children aged between 15 and 16 gamble either problematically or excessively, with problem gambling having doubled in the past five years. However, that figure is likely to be far higher in the pandemic. Teenagers of that age have been at home, largely online, for much of the past year so, in fairness, what did we all expect? It is now time to address that problem.
I am a fan of video games but at this stage they are not always a fun, innocent way to pass the time. Increasingly, they are a training ground for gambling. Loot boxes in video games are one of the key areas of concern. They are mystery boxes which can sometimes be purchased and the value in that box is entirely down to luck. Research published this month from the universities of Plymouth and Wolverhampton found that loot boxes are structurally and psychologically akin to gambling and impact on vulnerable people disproportionately. Of the 93% of UK children, and this was UK research, who play video games, 40% opened loot boxes.
Is it any wonder that we are seeing such a spike in gambling among our teenagers? This is why the work of a gambling regulator must be integrated with a digital safety commissioner. The report recommends that the odds of winning are clearly shown, that no engagement in these types of games should be permitted until it is verified and that there is a warning on these games that they include loot boxes. I welcome the Gaming and Lotteries (Amendment) Act 2019, which was commenced last year and which went some way to get this country out of the 1950s when it came to regulation and legislation. It went nowhere near enough, however, and that is why the Minister of State is to bring forward this legislation which I greatly welcome. In the programme for Government the three parties commit to establishing a gambling regulator focused on public safety and well-being covering gambling online and in-person and the powers to regulate advertising, gambling websites and apps.
Many families silently look forward to the day when they are lifted out of the darkness that this silent addiction has created about them.
I thank Senator O’Reilly. Our next speaker is Senator Gavan and my understanding is that he proposes to share time.
I propose five minutes and three minutes per speaker, respectively, if that is acceptable to colleagues.
The Senator will be sharing with Senator Boylan. Is that agreed? Agreed.
It is good to see the Minister of State here today and I thank him for coming in for this very important debate. We need to first address the elephant in the room, which is the obvious fact to all of us, hopefully, that politics has failed in respect of gambling. It is eight years since the gambling control Bill was first thought about. Over that time, I have seen colleagues from all parties, including the Leas-Chathaoirleach's in particular, highlighting the need to address this critical issue. The fact is that it has not been addressed. While I welcome the Minister of State’s commitment today and the plan that he has put in place, I have to question whether we really have to wait a further 20 months before we have a gambling regulator actually in force and working. The Minister of State alluded to the fact that a great amount of work has been done. If that work has been done, we should not then have to wait that long. This has been appalling.
I ask Members what has happened over the past eight years where politicians have failed to enact a gambling control Bill. What has happened is that gambling has become all-pervasive. It has literally reached into every aspect of our lives. When I drive home to Limerick this evening I will be bombarded with gambling advertising. When I sit down to watch Spurs on Sunday - please God we will win - I will be bombarded again with advertising. When I sit down with my teenage sons, we are bombarded with images of people who look just like them. The gambling industry wants us to believe that it is not just normal but that it is necessary to have a bet. Otherwise, one is not really going to enjoy the game.
This has not just been a benign eight years of failure where we have not gone one way or the other. We have allowed this multi-billion euro gambling industry to work away and to do what it likes. As someone alluded to in this Chamber not so long ago, eight years ago we might have seen gambling advertisements at night, now it is literally day and night, 24-7, on radio, television and online. I was concerned that there was just one mention of advertising in the Minister of State’s speech, in a reference to a regulation of advertising. We need to end advertising before the watershed time. We need that type of radical measure to fight back for families and for people because all of us - I know I am not unique in this - come across people whose lives have been ruined, and in some cases taken, by gambling. We have seen a failure of the State to regulate and to act. We need a severe change now.
I welcome a number of the comments that have been made as to what needs to be done. Of course, we need a gambling regulator. We have to end these incentives and free bets to sign up online with gambling companies. It is an absolutely disgraceful practice that needs to end. We also certainly need limits in betting.
Above all, we need the political will to make this happen but I worry. When the Minister of State responds, perhaps he might tell us honestly, although he has only had the job for the past year, what has been holding us back for these eight years?
We know it is complex. So was nationalising the banks but we managed to do that in 24 hours. In eight years, we have not been able to deliver this. There is no end of statistics that demonstrate how much worse the problem is. There are estimates of 29,000 and, in one case, 40,000 people with gambling addiction problems. GambleAware tells us 1% of those addicts are getting the help and support they need. It is time for all of us to call out the industry. It has done nothing; it does the opposite. It takes people, exploits their addiction and insists its right to make money is more important than the rights, health and welfare of our people.
I can see there is a consensus across the Chamber about the urgency of this matter. I want to see a commitment from the Minister of State to fast-track this issue. We have had eight years of waiting already. If the Minister of State tells us it will be another two years, will that be in reality another three or four years? We need to make sure, above all, that it is not soft touch or light regulation, but real regulation to push back so we do not have gambling encroaching into our lives, particularly the lives of our younger people.
I welcome the Minister of State's statement on gambling control. We all know Ireland is the wild west of gambling and successive Governments have done nothing to rein it in. We have been talking about a gambling control Bill since 2013. Today, I will particularly focus on the issue of underage gambling and the impact of gambling on young people.
We know that in our nearest neighbour the number of people aged 11 to 16 with gambling problems has quadrupled in the last few years. Gambling rates there are higher in young people than they are for alcohol, smoking or drugs. Recent data for Ireland shows that problem gambling among male teens has more than doubled in four to five years.
In 2017, I held a conference called "We Need to Talk About Gambling". At that conference, Professor Samantha Thomas outlined the impact that gambling advertising has on young people, how it normalised the association of sport and gambling and how children identified teens with their betting sponsor. Terrifyingly, her data showed children as young as 10 had a basic understanding of odds. They knew if their team was 2/1, it was favourite to win the match. Her research was carried out in Australia and New Zealand but it could just as well apply here. We have a completely normalised relationship between sport and betting. We have no watershed on gambling advertising. Sports and gambling go hand in hand.
I encourage the Minister of State to go on Greyhound Racing Ireland's website. It says it is paused but dog tracks are continuing to offer communion and confirmation parties to families with at-table betting. For as little as €35 per table one can bring one's family along for a communion. Until as recently as 2019, when the Gaming and Lotteries (Amendment) Act was passed, the children making their communion were able to participate in that tote betting. Children are also targeted on social media platforms and through family-friendy gaming apps with cartoon characters that offer in-app purchases and gambling functions.
We have to stop the cycle of problem gambling and we do that through robust advertising legislation with no self-regulation and no soft touch. We need tighter age verification processes and the breaking of the link between sports, gaming and gambling. We also have to recognise that problem gambling is not just the extreme stories that make the newspapers of individuals who lose their homes or suffer marital breakdown. Problem gambling is when people have to sacrifice on essentials in their family because they are spending money on gambling. Problem gambling is when they sacrifice on quality time with their children and family because they are spending that time gambling. We need to recognise that it is not about the extremes. Problem gambling is a huge problem in this country.
I will start by addressing the question of the horse racing industry and, particularly, the greyhound racing industry.
While we are not a party, the Civil Engagement Group has been active in challenging some of the practices related to the funding of that industry and the animal welfare issues in the industry. Some have been addressed by rehoming but there are substantial issues with overbreeding and exporting of greyhounds, which have not been addressed.
We are here to talk about gambling and I am going to talk about the money. There was heated debate about the horse and greyhound racing funding last year. There was an increase to the greyhound sector of €2.4 million. Some €96 million goes to this area which, as a previous speaker said, uses up the entire betting levy. We need to be clear that none of the betting levy goes to anything else except right back in to those industries. Other issues about horse and greyhound racing have been aired but when we look to financial issues related to gambling, let us look to this year. This is important. What has happened this year? For many families, it has been devastating. There have been reports of increased rates of unemployment, bankruptcy and problem gambling associated with increased alcohol use and mental health issues. Those are concerns for families this year. It has been a hard year for many people.
Financially, it has been a good year for the gambling industry. Flutter, which owns Paddy Power, Betfair and others, has seen an increase in its earnings of €1.4 billion, a 23% increase in its overall earnings. The company that owns Ladbrokes has seen a 25% increase from its online operations. While the betting shops may be down on revenue, let us be clear that the gambling industry has treated this year as a bonanza of access online. In 2020, where profits increased so substantially, we saw the Government give a €50,000 relief to bookmakers from their paltry 2% betting duty. For context, that betting levy has gone down from 10% in 1999. As Senator Gavan said, it is not like we are standing still. We have been moving backwards, from a 10% levy on betting in 1999, which went back down to 1% and then crept back up to 2%, but then we took €50,000 in tax relief out of that too. That is the financial treatment that we have had for the gambling industry in this period, at a time when families have been in significant crisis. We have seen the increased use, advertising and relentless promotion of online gambling.
When we talk about Covid and the cost of the betting industry, let us also talk about all those events that were happening for betting purposes. I know others may have forgotten, but I have not forgotten Cheltenham last year, or the Covid spike and the coronavirus hotspots that came after Cheltenham, and the push for Cheltenham to continue, and the reluctance to send strong signals against that. We have seen races take place behind closed doors in order to maintain betting. This is not about sports that are happening behind closed doors but sports that are specifically and deeply tied to the gambling industry.
We were speaking to an addiction counsellor who said it is heartbreaking that the gambling regulator will not be in place for two years because Covid-19 has created the perfect storm for people with betting problems. I appeal to the Minister of State to please not let the appointment of a gambling regulator be postponed until 2023. I ask him to hear what we have been telling him, not just about gambling as a problem overall, but about this year and the moment we are at now, where there is an industry that has made much money and many people who are in distressed and difficult situations.
We must make sure there is not more of the same in 2022. We have to protect people. There has been mention of the heartbreak caused by gambling. We must ensure hearts and families are no longer broken by this. Senator Boylan and others have spoken about the impact of gambling. I know people who have lost their homes. Things like that are not a rare exception. They happen quite frequently. There are also all the other losses in terms of time, relationships, all the essentials of life and opportunities for other family members. There is a huge impact on children. My colleague, Senator Black, who works with the RISE Foundation, has spoken about the impact of gambling addiction on families and the next generation.
Other speakers have pointed to the lack of online regulation of gambling advertising as a major issue. That lack of regulation means we are getting all-hours and all-locations advertising, which is a concern. We know we can take action to address this, as we did when we placed constraints in legislation on the advertising and sale of alcohol. It is something that needs to be done very soon, before the end of the year, in order that, by 2022, we are looking at a different situation in terms of online, radio and television advertising of gambling.
Another point to consider, which was made very eloquently by a couple of speakers, is to do with our relationship with sport. The idea of the exception culturelle, which was introduced in the 1990s, is something I really like. It is the principle that there are certain kinds of sporting activities that are of such importance that they are about a shared experience and cannot be treated as commercial activities. That principle is seen, for example, in the fact that the broadcasting rights to the all-Ireland GAA finals can never be sold or made available on a pay-per-view basis, because those sporting events represent a cultural good everyone should be able to access. If we turn that on its head and look at the other side, we should not tolerate a situation where advertising of, and sponsorship by, gambling companies is in any way acceptable as a price for having sport in Ireland. We should recognise that sport has value, needs investment and support, and it is not acceptable to have it made simply a by-product of, or subject to, a commercial market in gambling. To do so damages the relationship we have with sport as a collective activity.
Others have spoken about loot boxes and the training of people in gambling and gaming behaviour. That is something we need to address. Related to that, we should consider moving away from the laudatory treatment of speculators, stock market investors and others who take big risks and gambles. We need to address the lionisation of that form of economic activity, as opposed to the kinds of economic activities engaged in by those who build businesses more slowly and steadily from the ground up. That is another way we can send a cultural signal to people, including children, around what should be valued in life.
I am glad the Minister of State is here today for this discussion on gambling regulations. I am hopeful that he will act swiftly to take on the issues in this regard. It is a sector that, unfortunately, has free rein at this time. Without stringent protocols in place, it is wrecking the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, young and old, male and female, in this country.
The industry will be interested in what the Minister of State says here today. He should not kid himself that the companies involved will not parse every single utterance he makes. The reason for this is that the betting industry in this country is worth €10 billion a year. It is worth its while to listen to what the Minister of State is saying in this House. I have seen lobbyists for the industry in the coffee dock and elsewhere around this place for years. They have had free rein. We should think about that figure of €10 billion for a minute. We spend €9 billion on education, €3.5 billion on transport and €2 on agriculture, but nearly €10 billion is spent on gambling in this country.
A very sad statistic is that the money being spent in casinos, at bingo and in gambling machines exceeds the amount bet on horse racing. It is easy to recognise when someone has a bad drink problem because he or she may be seen stumbling around the streets but a gambling addiction can be hidden, unfortunately. In March of this year, Barry Grant who runs the website problemgambling.ie reported a 46% increase in gambling addiction problems during this pandemic. There is a human cost to gambling. There are kids who go hungry in this country because their fathers, and it is primarily fathers, gamble their income away leaving themselves and their dependants destitute and, in turn, that can lead to even further problems within the home. What the hell do the gambling companies think about that? They just stick up a logo and text number in small print that cautions people to gamble responsibly.
The people at the head of these companies are the best paid executives on the face of the earth. We have debated what Secretaries General are paid. The head of a betting firm would wipe their rear end with what a Secretary General is paid. The head of the betting company Bet365, Ms Denise Coates, set a new record last year for the best paid executive by getting €493.5 million a year, which made her one of the highest earning corporate figures in the world.
A few weeks ago, I made the point that RTÉ had an extensive discussion on its popular "Sunday Sport" radio show with Oisín McConville, who is a high-profile sports star and who has toured Ireland to explain how gambling ruined his life. He tries to make sure that people do not fall into that same hole. At the end of the debate, the coverage went to the Curragh where the opening day of the flat races was happening, and straight after the race there was a message on the radio show stating that today's race meeting on RTÉ was brought to us courtesy of Boyle Sports. That is like going to a place to dry oneself out yet the place is sponsored by Guinness. The gambling organisations are laughing all the way to the bank. They would let RTÉ talk about problem gambling all day because the little jingle advertising the betting company was played all day long. They think they are untouchable because, quite frankly, at this moment in time they are. I know that the Minister of State has taken on this project of providing gambling regulation with real gusto. More importantly, he has the steely toughness to see this through to the end. They will go after him because, mark my words, the lobbying factor involved in the gambling world is massive.
The Minister of State mentioned in his speech the technological advancements in the betting area. Of course, Covid has been a godsend to these guys as it has driven them online. They do not want the bookie shops because it is a hindrance to them to have to pay rates and staff costs. One can set up an online account without any age ID verification. If one wants to get one's money out of elsewhere one needs to show a passport but one can gamble away to one's heart content.
The advancement of online gambling companies means that they can target people by sending tailor-made ads to their mobile devices so get people hooked and they keep them hooked. Gone are the days of a €5 coupon on the front of newspapers because now an online voucher can be sent to one's phone.
I am someone who enjoys racing and I am a former sports journalists but the regulation does not come down hard on people who want to have a punt and enjoy a day at the races or Friday night in Dundalk. The companies are not interested in those punters. What do they want? They want people hooked on cartoon races. On top of that, the figures from Revenue are quite frightening. As many as 11,000 gaming machine licences were issued last year and the year before. It is crucial, therefore, that when we come to regulation that there is a wide encompassing view taken of this. We have 1950s legislation regulating an industry that operates with the latest algorithm technology available.
Finally, as with any other legislation that comes before the House, the laws can only go so far in tackling any social issue. There is a broad responsibility on everyone in this regard and the sports stars who charge very large appearance fees to perform on television and in online advertisements for these companies need to take a long, hard look at themselves because they are complicit, as are our premier sports clubs in this country. Shamrock Rovers is sponsored by 888, which is one of the largest sports gambling companies in the world. There is a social duty of care here. These are not harmless companies and everyone has their part to play. I urge the Minister of State to maintain his steely toughness and make sure to tackle gambling.
I remind Members that it is important that in their contributions, however passionate and emotional, that they do name any individuals outside the House as per Standing Orders.
I call Senator Seery Kearney and I understand that she wishes to share her time equally with her colleague, Senator Buttimer. Is that agreed? Agreed.
How does one follow Senator Cassells's very powerful contribution? Part of me just wants to say "Hear, hear." There is no question but that gambling is an appalling blight on families throughout our country. Senator Wall read out an email from someone who was affected by gambling. When he referred to this person as "she", it came as a surprise. That is one of the issues. There is misperception that this is a men's issue when it is not. It affects both men and women. Women are also affected through bingo and the many apps women can use which give them a sense of community. People are connected with one another if they are all in it together. All the while, lives are being stolen. Homes are being stolen from people as their vulnerability and addiction is preyed upon.
I welcome the establishment of the regulator. The Minister of State indicated that the regulator will be resourced. I really want him to make sure it has really strong teeth to allow it to tear apart those things that are undermining individuals, and their families, through the exploitation of their vulnerabilities. Throughout the Covid pandemic, we have seen an absolute explosion in addiction across the board, whether it is to drink, drugs or gambling. To hear the profits being announced despite the absence of those sporting events that would normally be bet upon is shocking and drives home the message that gambling, and people's spending on it, has just exploded.
The phones in certain people's hands are their greatest enemy. They cannot be escaped. At least a betting shop closes, as does the pub and the off licence in the case of a drinker. The phone in the hand is so accessible that we need to ensure that promotional codes are banned altogether. We need to take a strong stance against that. People can stop using the app but still find themselves getting emails and flashing promotional codes or free opportunities to bet.
My final point is on advertising. We need to make sure that this is kept to after the watershed. I am horrified that my six-year-old knows the name of one of the bookies. She knows the colour worn by that man who comes on the television and makes it seem so fantastic to be part of this. There are attractive, fluffy ads aimed at people who are lonely and isolated. We need to make sure these are shown only after the watershed. The national lottery should not be advertised in the middle of a family film on a Saturday evening.
I will begin by praising the former Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, for his work prior to the Minister of State, Deputy Browne, taking office. Deputy Stanton did Trojan work.
This is an issue we must grasp. It is the generational issue of our time. We have an obligation and a duty. If we are waiting on the jungle that is the gambling industry to act, we might as well forget about it. The O.K. Corral must be shut down and it is up to us to do it. Social responsibility must be imposed on the gambling industry and betting shops.
It is not just about gambling, however. It is also about the issue of loot boxes. I commend a good friend of mine, Eoin Barry, who has done a lot of work with me on the issue of loot boxes and young people. This is a modern form of gambling for young people. Senator Cassells is right in that young people are on their gadgets morning, noon and night. We might only hear a beep but that beep could signify something sinister and insidious that involves spending their parents' money. We need gambling reform. It is absolutely necessary. A regulator is a prerequisite. We must also regulate the in-game purchase of loot boxes. That should be done immediately as a matter of priority. We are behind Europe on this. These hide behind the FIFA games and Fortnite. It is about capturing young people. Their experience of gambling is beginning at a very early and formative age.
It is an insidious form of gambling and we have an obligation and a duty to work to ensure that we change and reform behaviour for a generation. If we do not, we will pay a significant social cost.
I am disappointed by the remarks of Senator Higgins regarding horse racing and the greyhound industry. These are very important industries. There are hundreds of thousands of jobs in the industries and it is unfair to masquerade the men and women who work in the horse-racing and greyhound industries in the way that was done here today. It is very unfair. Some of the Senators who were waving flags last Saturday week for Rachel Blackmore are coming in here today and criticising the horse-racing industry.
On a point of order, Senator Higgins is not in the Chamber.
I am not taking a point of order. I am entitled to make my point.
Senator Buttimer is referring to Senator Higgins-----
I am referring to her contribution.
It is a political point.
The horse-racing industry and the thoroughbred breeding industry are worth jobs and money. Sinn Féin has changed its position on the horse and greyhound fund.
Does Senator Buttimer think it is right that-----
The point I am concluding-----
Senator Buttimer without interruption.
Senator Boylan cannot have it both ways. I will conclude on this. It is important. We have unanimity on the fundamental point, which is that gambling reform is necessary. I support the endeavours of the Minister of State in that regard.
I am sharing time with Senator Murphy.
Is that agreed? Agreed.
I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach. The Minister of State is very welcome to the House. I welcome his commitment on this issue. We need to push on with it. It is evident from the contributions on this issue from across the House today - I was following the broadcast of the proceedings in my office - that there has been unending commitment and that we have a common goal, which is for the Minister of State and his Department to succeed in implementing proper gambling regulations.
All Members recognise there is a significant gambling problem. There are other addictions such as drugs and alcohol and we need to be aware of those problems and deal with their consequences, but gambling is secret and goes on behind closed doors. It is usually only uncovered when it is a situation of last resort and homes and possibly lives are lost and families are ruined. I have seen lives being destroyed by gambling. It is incredible to see a family just torn apart. I hope this is the start of stopping that from happening.
I have always advocated prevention being better than a cure. We need to prevent people falling down the rabbit hole of gambling addiction. Recent research found that 40,000 people in Ireland have a gambling addiction. More than 40% of the adult population plays the national lottery regularly and approximately 12% of adults bet with a bookmaker weekly. As a non-gambler, I find that phenomenal. Each year, €5 billion is gambled. That is approximately €10,000 every minute.
I very much welcome the commitment of the Minister of State. All Members agree that effective regulation is necessary for this industry. We need the gambling regulator to have teeth, be strong and have enforcement powers to stop advertising. The increase in advertising in recent times has been incredible. Senator Seery Kearney mentioned that her child recognises gambling businesses, as do my children. These advertisements portray it as a fun family activity, with everyone coming together in the living room and having great craic. It is not great craic because gambling can ruin lives. Everything in moderation, but there needs to be proper regulation. I look forward to such regulation being put in place.
I thank Senator McGreehan, the Leas-Chathaoirleach and Members for giving me the opportunity to speak for a few minutes on this issue. Like Senator McGreehan, I acknowledge the cross-party contributions from across the House.
We have a serious issue with gambling in this country. Boy, do I admire the passion shown by Senator Cassells here today. He is dead right.
A person came to me recently who said that a gambling thing had come up on their phone but they had nothing to do with gambling. That is another issue, although I will not mention the companies. This thing flashes up in front of people when they might have nothing to do with gambling. This sort of interference on social media must be dealt with.
When I was a Member of the Dáil, I dealt with the Minister of State, Deputy Browne, in respect of addiction issues. He has been very good and he is a man who takes his responsibility extremely seriously. I have to acknowledge that the former Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, was very committed to this as well. I have no doubt that the Minister of State, Deputy Browne, will do it. I back Senator Cassells in saying to the Minister of State to take on these boyos.
I want to give one interpretation of the way people respond at times. It is taken from a personal situation. By the way, I sometimes put on a small bet of €2 each way, and I might put a bet on today and then leave it for six months. I do not want to stop people who can handle betting from doing it. That is fine. Those small race meetings in places like Roscommon are very good. I want to give the example of something that happened a couple of years back when I was talking to a certain person I know, although I will not mention names. He said to me that such-and-such a lady had gone in because she had an addiction. I said I knew about that and I asked could we do anything for the young family. He said we would wait and see. I said I never knew that she was an alcoholic. However, she was not. She was a gambler and she gambled every penny. That man and those kids suffered and suffered, as do many families. It is simply not right to see that going on in our society.
We see these super advertisements and the Minister of State also referred to those on television, where we see a race and then we see that the programme is sponsored by such a company. I would tighten up on those companies because they are using and exploiting people. It is an addiction we have to handle. We have to be serious about it and we have to tighten up on it, there is no doubt about that. This debate is very important. With respect, I say to the Minister of State to take this legislation forward as quickly as possible and to stop this epidemic. We have to try to help people out there who are in a desperate situation. As Senator McGreehan said, a lot of it is silent and people do not know about it. Even families do not know about it until someone comes knocking on the door and says that €10,000 is owed somewhere, which causes shock, horror and absolute outrage. Children suffer dreadfully because of this.
I thank the Senator for allowing the Minister of State the time to respond. I point out that as a number of speakers did not show up. For want of speakers, the debate finishes now. It would have gone on to another day had there been other speakers. I want to make that clear because there is an expectation abroad that there will be another day. The fact that there are no other speakers offering is why there cannot be, as per the rules of the House. I call the Minister of State.
I thank all Senators for their contributions. The House is very much united in attacking the scourge of gambling and gambling addiction.
Senator O'Loughlin rightly pointed out that a key difference with this addiction compared with others that are every bit as devastating is that we can see the downward trend in people who have a drug or drink addiction. With gambling, the first time people often know that a partner or a loved one in the family has this addiction is when the sheriff is at the door, when there is a letter from the bank or when gardaí arrive to say that a family member has been involved in criminal activity or, even worse, that someone has taken their own life as a result of the stresses they put themselves under because of a gambling addiction.
Senator Malcolm Byrne rightly pointed out that was a major issue even as far back as the 2007 general election. Our laws date right back to 1956. What we now have, effectively, is analogue laws in respect of a digital world of gambling. It is not that long ago there were serious debates about a proposal to put a casino in Tipperary and the impact that would have on our society. Now, as Senator Buttimer pointed out, every ten-year-old is effectively going around with a casino in their back pocket. That is how dramatically the gambling situation has changed, even in the last ten years alone.
Senator Wall rightly pointed to the blurring of the lines between sport and gambling. In some cases, sport has almost become a means to an end, which is gambling itself. The whole purpose of sport is being lost.
That has happened, especially in certain sports. We saw the proposals for the breakaway league in soccer during the week and how greed and corporates have completely taken over the sport. Senator Ward touched on how gambling used to be about independent bookies and small companies but it is now big business and big corporations. He pointed to the campaigning by Senator Joe O'Reilly and how passionate the Senator been over many years, raising issues around betting limits and ending free bets and special odds that encourage people to continuing gambling when they are trying to get out as well as the need for interventions to tackle advertising.
Senator Pauline O'Reilly made the important point that the primary remit of the gambling regulator will be public safety and well-being. It will not simply regulate the industry but will do so from the point of view of public health, which is critical.
One reason for delays in this area has been the speed with which gambling has changed. The new scheme to be published in the summer is an update to the 2013 scheme but also a radical change from it. This was necessary because of the changes in the area of online gambling. We have seen the impact of that during the pandemic in particular.
Senator Cassells spoke passionately of how the gambling industry is given free reign to wreck people's lives. We cannot deny that it is the wild west out there at the moment with our gambling laws. They are simply not fit for purpose, which is why I am determined to have them changed.
Senator Seery Kearney pointed out that more and more women are becoming addicted to gambling because of its availability online and on their phones. Traditionally, not many women visited the bookmaker's office. There is no gender distinction that makes one person more addicted than another. Gambling was just more of a tradition among men. Senator Cassells is completely right that we have a social duty of care.
Senator Buttimer referred to the work done in this area by Deputy Stanton when he was a Minister of State and Senators McGreehan and Murphy also made very important points.
When I was appointed Minister of State with responsibility for law reform, gambling reform was the key piece I wanted to get done because it had been talked about for so long. It has been discussed for decades but has not occurred for various reasons, which I will not get into. I was not in government before last summer but I am here now. I set targets in the autumn and we are still on target to publish the scheme in the summer, advertise the CEO designate as a gambling regulator during the third quarter and make the appointment by the end of the year.
I must address Senator Higgins who may not have been listening to my opening remarks. The regulator will be appointed this year, not in 2023. The reason we are appointing a regulator this year and not at the end of the process is to ensure the staff, offices, equipment and so on that are needed are in place when the legislation is passed by these Houses and signed by the President. The regulator will then be able to kick off with what it needs to do on the same evening. When we say operational we mean the regulator will be ready to hit the "Go" button the minute the legislation is passed and signed by the President.
I thank the Minister of State for his patently sincere and comprehensive responses and his proactive approach to this issue, on which there is clearly unanimity in the House. When is it proposed to sit again?
At 10.30 a.m. on Monday, 26 April 2021.