The combined opening speeches of the proposer and seconder shall not exceed 16 minutes. All other Senators will have six minutes and the Minister will have 15 minutes. The proposer will have five minutes in which to reply.
National Lottery (Amendment) Bill 2021: Second Stage
I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
It is my honour to move the Bill. I am delighted to see the Minister of State, Deputy Ossian Smyth. He was my neighbour and colleague for a long time on the council in Dún Laoghaire. It is great to see him taking the Bill on behalf of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.
In essence, the Bill seeks to prohibit the use of commercial or private gambling or betting operations on the infrastructure put in place by the national lottery, predominantly the lotto and there are other games with which people around the country are familiar. I will outline why we want to do this. I will also address some of the issues that have been raised by various people who have contacted me with concerns about jobs.
The national lottery operates in this country under a licence that is granted by the Government. In doing so it operates in a very privileged position. It has a monopoly on this type of activity in this country. It does so in the interests of the public and the State. The way it works is that it takes money in as part of its operations but much of this money, or a significant portion of it, come back to the country in good causes. Between 28 cent and 30 cent in every €1 spent on the national lottery in Ireland comes back to the State and, therefore, to the people as part of the good causes fund.
I call that the social dividend that comes from the national lottery because we can all recognise the dangers associated with gambling. In this House, we have had many conversations about what those dangers are and where the risks lie, particularly for people who are susceptible to addiction and dangerous gambling habits. None of us wants to see that happen. I am not here to promote the national lottery in any way but the reality is when people in Ireland spend money on lotto products, or whatever it might be with the national lottery, there is a social dividend that comes back to us. The good causes money comes back to communities, villages, towns and areas throughout the country through sports capital grants and all kinds of other grants that are given for activities at local level. That has to be recognised as a good thing.
At the moment, many private commercial gambling companies, betting companies and bookmakers operate a system whereby they allow people to bet smaller sums on the outcome of the lotto. In doing so, people spend less money but also win a sum of money because the odds are different and all that kind of thing. It is not to pass any judgment on that, but the reality is when people spend money in a bookies rather than their local shop or wherever it might be, it is money that is diverted from the national lottery and put into the hands of private interests in this country. These companies essentially make a profit off public infrastructure. We should be in no doubt that the establishment of the national lottery, and the infrastructure it puts in place to run the lotto with which we are all familiar, costs money to establish and to run on a weekly basis. All the checks and safeguards that go with that are important to make sure that people can have confidence in the correctness, fairness, impartiality and appropriateness of the way in which the lotto runs. It is inappropriate that private interests are allowed to piggyback on that infrastructure, take what is paid for, in essence, by the public purse - the licence is granted to one company - and then use that to make profit for their own gain.
I am not here to say that bookmakers should not be allowed to make profits or to say they should not be able to make money. Of course, they should. I recognise a large number of people in this country are employed by various bookmakers and betting companies, many of whom have been in contact with me. I understand they might fear for the future of their jobs but I do not believe that what is proposed in this Bill will in any way impact in real terms on jobs in the betting industry. I have heard from various sources the amounts of money that might be involved in this and I take all those figures with a grain of salt. I do not know, and I do not think anyone knows definitively, how much money this might cost bookmakers or might profit the national lottery or vice versa. The reality is a very significant amount of money is being spent by Irish people in bookmakers who are betting on national lottery products. Every penny they spend in a bookmaker rather than in their local newsagent, grocery shop or lotto agent, is money that is diverted from the national lottery and, therefore, diverted from the good causes I spoke about. A third of that money goes back into local communities, which is why this is a bad thing. I am not saying there should not be betting or gambling. I am saying we should not allow private interests to profit from the infrastructure the national lottery has put in place.
If we imagine a person going into a bookmaker to spend money on betting on the national lottery other than putting it through lotto, there are two effects. First, the money they spend on that bet is money they do not spend on a lotto ticket. I do not think for a moment that somebody who spends a smaller sum at a bookie is now going to buy a lottery ticket if they did not before, but some people undoubtedly will or they might irregularly or less regularly buy a lottery ticket. There is, therefore, a profit or a sum of money that could be identified that does not go into good causes. More than that, all over this country, newsagents, small shops, groceries and local shops provide a service to communities and are the lotto agents that sell the tickets. Every time somebody goes into a bookmaker to bet on the lotto rather than going into their local shop, they do not buy a pint of milk, newspaper, loaf of bread or whatever it is while they are in there. That is another important part of what this Bill will do. It will preserve the footfall into small shops the length and breadth of this country, which are the lotto agents that provide a valuable service above and beyond what the lotto does. That is an important aspect of this as well.
The Bill amends section 46 of the National Lottery Act 2013, which is the underpinning legislation. Essentially, leaving aside all the definitions, it does three important things and amends that Act in three respects. It makes it an offence for any private bookmaker or betting company to use the national lottery infrastructure to sell a betting offer or to create a bet; it increases the penalties because there are already penalties in place in that Act for abusing national lottery infrastructure or whatever it might be; and, importantly, it also creates a corporate offence. This is not about penalising individuals. The reality is what we are talking about here is often done at a corporate level by the large bookmaking companies we are all familiar with. It is not about an individual person in a shop who might run this but penalising the company if it breaks the law. In fairness, given these are all legitimate operations, I suspect that if this Bill was to become law there will not be any need for these penalties. The point of the Bill is that it criminalises or outlaws the use of national lottery infrastructure. I have gone into some detail on why we are proposing this change.
It is important to say this is not anti-bookmaker legislation. The proposal is not to do down legitimate and responsible bookmaking organisations, which are companies we are all familiar with because they are household names. It is to divert money currently going to those private interests back into the national infrastructure to provide for a situation whereby the citizen gets the social dividend I spoke about. The more money that goes into the lotto, the more money that comes back. I say that not by way of promoting the national lottery but in recognition of the fact the licence is designed in a way to maximise the benefit for society and the citizen through the good causes fund that goes through the Department and is redirected into communities through things such as sports capital grants. It is extremely important we make sure the national lottery is viable and makes a profit. As I said, I do not speak on behalf of the national lottery and there are some people who will say that the national lottery holds a unique position. That is undoubtedly the case but it has that position with a view to, ultimately, benefiting the entirety of society to allow it to benefit from the good causes fund.
I hope the Government will accept this proposal. It is something that is measured and makes sense. It also recognises the fact that, and my colleague, Senator Carrigy, will speak a little about this, the national lottery operates other strictures on its activities that are built-in protections for citizens who might be susceptible to gambling addictions. I am not saying the bookmakers do not provide that, but they are much less restricted in what they can and cannot do. This is a sensible, measured and conservative proposal to allow a situation where the citizen of Ireland gets the most he or she possibly can from its national lottery through the good causes fund. I hope the Government will support it.
The Minister of State is very welcome. I am delighted to support this Bill. It is important to state that I am a national lottery agent. I will put that on the record. I speak on behalf of the 5,500 retailers who have licences throughout the country. As I said, I am one of them. Emails were recently sent by another organisation claiming that lobbying took place with regard to putting this Bill forward. That is not the case. Senator Ward has made it perfectly clear why this legislation needs to be put in place.
This is about outlawing the use of private operators of national lottery activities to profit, or otherwise, from making further betting offers. In short, they are using the drawn numbers on a Wednesday or Saturday night to sell odds. That is the reality of it. It is important to note this change in legislation only affects bookmakers and not the large number of community fundraising bonus number draws that take place in every single town and village throughout the country. You may ask, why introduce the Bill? The national lottery was set up and granted a licence to provide a lottery for the people of Ireland but, more important, approximately 30 cent in every €1 earned is given back to the people through funding for good causes projects and schemes that benefit communities throughout the country.
It is also important to note there are a large number of restrictions to safeguard customers by limiting the number of sales, a strict age policy and an end-of-day time of 10 p.m. I will share with Senators what we, as agents, go through.
Twice this year a mystery shopper has come to my business. Every single staff member must be certified to comply with the legal and regulatory obligations that relate to the promotion of lottery products. A mystery regulatory shopper visits premises to assess whether we have adhered to the strict rules. If one sells too many tickets or sells them to an underage person on more than one occasion then there is a strong risk that one will lose the licence. There is strict compliance and a licence is at stake for every licence holder. For me, as one of the 5,500 agents, the national lottery regularly conducts checks. Agents must also go through a yearly online certification process on the national lottery's rules and regulations.
Last August, the sports capital and equipment programme awarded €16.6 million in funding for projects with significant further capital projects due to be announced next November. My local GAA club is one of those clubs that awaits the announcement in order to erect floodlights. Over the years my club has received grants to develop a pitch, dressing rooms and funding went towards an extension for a meeting room and gym. Would we have been able to carry out these works without the support of the sports capital programme? No. I have given the example of the funding given to one small village in Longford and such provision is replicated throughout the country. The programme has been expanded to fund other good causes; not just sports. One only has to look at my local area where the national lottery has a access for all scheme that allows boats to be hired so people with disabilities can go on the Shannon.
I am not anti-gambling and enjoy a flutter on the horses now and again but the bookmaking industry needs to change. For example, we should ban the publication of free bets in newspapers every time there is racing at Aintree, Cheltenham and Galway. I accept that the Irish Bookmakers Association has put forward a number of proposals, which is an extremely positive move. This legislation does not stop the association from continuing to carry out the draws that its members do but stops them from using the national lottery numbers, which is only fair.
As Senator Ward has stated, the funds and profits generated by the national lottery are spent on good causes in every single town and village in the country. People will contend that the proposed change will affect jobs. However, as things stand, the jobs in 5,500 businesses are already affected so I just hope that the Government will support this legislation.
I fully support the general thrust of this Bill to limit gambling. As Senator Carrigy has said, they have not canvassed anybody and certainly have not talked to me about this matter heretofore.
The argument that the lottery has a monopoly, which is the case in Ireland, has passed me by somewhat. On altering certain freedoms concerning gambling and the lottery in Ireland, I would say it is a given that more people are addicted to the lotto and scratch cards than to gambling on lotto numbers. I would have no problem in respect of other forms of gambling, such as gambling on horses, online gambling and everything else.
The minimum cost of a lotto ticket is €4 and I am sure that most people spend €6 on the lotto plus ticket, for which Senator Carrigy might have the figures. The small man who cannot afford to spend €6 on the lotto a couple of times a week or whatever might like to spend 10 cent, 50 cent, €1 or whatever and pick two numbers in order to have a chance of winning a few bob, as alluded to by Senators.
The programme for Government is full of ways to open up monopolies be it Bord Gáis, Bus Éireann, Dublin Bus or the ESB, which is heavily in the news at present due to the issues with power and whatever. There are more monopolies in this country. I am surprised with the timing of this legislation as a regulator for the gambling industry is due to be appointed. The appointment has been talked about for a while and is mentioned in the programme for Government.
Lastly, I am quite disturbed by some of the national lottery advertisements. I am seriously concerned with the advertisements broadcast on television because they try to manipulate by looking like children's entertainment. One advertisement shows a water slide on the side of an apartment block in Dublin city centre. Do these advertisements seek to manipulate the next generation into gambling? I am uncomfortable with the advertisement and am very disappointed with the national lottery.
I am delighted to be able to say all that in this forum. I am not anti-gambling but if I had my way, I would ban Internet gambling. I am certainly not overly pro-gambling either. To me, the advertisement showing a massive water slide coming out of an apartment block in Dublin is what children would see as entertainment and the advertisement is shown during the daytime as part of mainstream media. To me, the advertisement is wrong. The management of the national lottery should hang their heads in shame for running such an advertisement. I have explained how I feel about these matters and hope that the Senators, and the Minister, will take them on board.
We are all aware of the difficulties that are faced by people who are addicted to gambling. We all know that every day gambling can and has ruined lives. Gambling charities have called for stronger regulation and legislation for years. In 2017, I held a high-level conference in Dublin that included international academics to speak on the issue of how gambling and gambling advertisements have an impact on children.
The Government has promised to bring legislation to include imposing spending limits on customers, having a stronger age verification for mobile gambling, curbing advertising, and especially a ban on advertisements aimed at returning customers to gambling. We were promised this legislation by the end of quarter 3. Unless the Government plans to publish the legislation tomorrow morning, it looks like it will have reneged on its commitment.
We need a strong and flexible regulator. A commitment to provide a regulator is contained in the programme for Government and was supposed to be delivered at the end of this year. At the rate the Government is going, I will not hold my breath for that either.
Realistically, and I do not mean any disrespect to the people who brought forward this Bill, if we had a proper regulator there would be no reason for this legislation. What we need is a proper gambling control Bill with a proper regulator. Fine Gael has promised legislation to tackle gambling issues as far back as 2011. The heads of a gambling Bill were published in 2013 and more legislation was developed by Fianna Fáil in 2018. Considering a gambling control Bill has essentially been written already, it should not have taken this long for us to discuss that legislation. Yet here we are, over a year into the lifetime of the Government, and we are left waiting.
Given all of the can-kicking that has happened, it is disappointing that this legislation before us has been framed as a support for problem gambling. I say that because the Bill has been framed in a way that will not address the issues that we have been told it will address because, using the Paddy Power website, one can still place bets on the lottos in the UK, Spain and New York. From my reading of the Bill, it seems to just cover the Irish national lottery. If there is such concern that people will fall victim to problem gambling or that money will be diverted away from the social dividend of the national lottery through betting and gambling shops, why does the legislation not cover all lottos? I agree that there will be people who will not have €6 to play the lotto. My dad is one of the people who likes to place a small bet on the lotto in a bookies shop. He will not be happy with this legislation but he probably will simply move to doing the UK lottery instead.
No charity or NGO that I have ever engaged with that worked on gambling has called for more to be done to tackle this particular issue and I have met them at length. In fact, they have brought up the issue of the national lottery advertisements, as has been said here.
The Advertising Standards Authority for Ireland suggests that gambling advertisements should not be giving out a message of life improvement. The national lottery adverts clearly do that, whether with the advertisement featuring the big garden and the woman bringing in the fellow to cut the grass or the one featuring the slide. They are well-made and funny advertisements but they are clearly showing you that if you win the lotto, your life is going to significantly improve.
Another issue around the national lottery that was brought to my attention by those who work at the coalface of problem gambling is the fact that it interrupts the family film at the weekend. Family time is interrupted by the drawing of the national lottery numbers.
People are trying to do their best. I would much rather we were debating actual legislation that would put in place a gambling regulator or legislation relating to advertising that targets vulnerable people. I know that my colleague, Deputy Gould, has brought significant legislation that would ban the use of credit cards, which would protect vulnerable people. As I said, we will support the Bill moving to Committee Stage. However, we feel that, of all the issues with gambling, this is the one that has not been brought to my attention by any of the organisations working with those affected with gambling addiction and problem gambling.
I support this Bill on the simple premise that this is our national lottery. It is independently regulated. It should have an ethos of care that goes above and beyond. It should be a more controlled environment. Thirty cent from every euro collected goes to good causes and that dividend, on which the national lottery is based, is not going where it should go when a ticket is purchased in the bookies.
I am very much of the opinion that we should be separating the national lottery and good causes, low-odds draws and community lotteries, on one hand, from gambling, on the other. We have two items of legislation that govern those two areas but we must do everything we can around that ethos of care because the consumer does not make the distinction.
I read what the Irish Bookmakers Association sent. I am not a hypocrite. I enjoy a flutter at Punchestown or Fairyhouse but I have opted into those events as an adult introduced to gambling in a lesson-based way in an environment that was much more controlled. That is very important because the blur between gambling and entertainment has gone too far and it does bleed into family entertainment. Gambling is very accessible. Looking at the Irish Bookmakers Association's reasons for retaining the situation as it stands, it is not the controlled environment that my colleague, Senator Carrigy, has outlined relating to the local retailer. That five cent that might be used to buy a lottery ticket or to put down a bet is upselling and that is not what this is supposed to be.
I believe player protections are there in terms of not using credit cards. Acquiring or purchasing a ticket for the lotto through the bookies definitely displaces money for good causes whereas there are transaction limits, ID verification and time restrictions elsewhere, even for the lotto's online presence. There is a responsibility to pursue best practice there. That needs to continue and be taken seriously.
Organisations have benefited through the sports capital grant, even in my own area. It is a phenomenal amount of money. Some €6 billion has been paid out since the start of the grant. I will welcome it when we see gambling regulation.
I agree that we need to do a lot of work on advertising. Bookmakers have rebranded over the past ten years. Bookies used to be smoke-filled places that only men over a certain age would have gone into. They rebranded and repositioned themselves ten years ago and completely changed their market, not just online but also physically. That has had a big impact. We need to take control of that. I do not see the national lottery in that guise but we need to protect that, commit ourselves to that and make the ethos of care a priority. We must make sure the social dividend is going where it should go.
I welcome the Bill and congratulate my colleagues for bringing it forward. I know the hard work and thought that went into it, particularly on the part of Senator Ward. I appreciate that and commend him for it.
I need to declare that I am anti-gambling for many reasons. I have counselled families who have had an individual gamble away the home from over their heads. Because of the experiences I have had in seeing the absolute devastation coming from gambling, I come with a particular bias that I find hard to shift. I appreciate the horse industry and all the employment that goes with it. We certainly received a formidable email from the Irish Bookmakers Association reminding us of all of those things in the context of this legislation. That notwithstanding, nothing takes away from sitting down and hearing somebody talk about these matters. At least if someone drinks, they will eventually fall down. If they are on drugs, they will eventually pass out. However, somebody could be gambling away food and the roof over the head of someone else.
I appreciate and value the social dividend from the national lottery. I have been involved in an organisation that was a recipient of the sports capital grant and very grateful for it. I appreciate all of that and the role it plays, but I wonder about the State's role in gambling of any type. That said, it was heartening to hear Senator Carrigy's experience of how the industry is regulated.
I concur with Senator Davitt's views regarding the national lottery. Its advertisements are absolutely outrageous and are intended to attract a younger audience. The breaking up of the family movie at that time on a Saturday evening is appalling. Allowing any advertising before the watershed is appalling. The same thing applies to the large, well-known brands of bookmakers. Their advertisements are intended to look attractive and to attract a whole generation and to attract women. In the context of the statements around regulation, my then five-year-old child thought that one of these brands and its colours are great. I had to sit my child down and tell them, with my particular bias, that this is not a happy thing. These advertisements mask significantly unhappy families. From that point of view, I will welcome the regulator and the full force of the law and the oversight coming into the industry. I support any step in that direction in this Bill, anything that reduces those effects. It is described in the correspondence we received from the Irish Bookmakers Association as consumer choice. Perhaps that is the case, though not in my view. I do not see it as a problem that the lotto is removed from the bookmakers.
I want to call out something else.
Today, for the second year running, I have participated in RED C questioning that occurs on behalf of the national lottery. The entirety of the question process is aimed at finding how much public representatives understand and know about the social dividend of the national lottery. I resent it. Today was the sixth phone call to my office to get me to participate in the poll and I expressed that, in no uncertain terms, to the person who rang me. It really is a reminder to public representatives of the reason this Bill is so great. The lottery breaks up the family movie on a Saturday and has inappropriate advertising. I told the person on the phone today I would say that tonight. I do not like it or think it appropriate. I welcome the hard work done by my colleague. I know the thought that went into the Bill. I fully support it.
I welcome this debate on lottery betting. This Bill is well-intentioned and I support its spirit. The regulation of betting must be carefully managed. Betting cannot be allowed to get out of hand. I have some concerns that I wish to express on behalf of a colleague, Senator Crowe, who cannot be here today. I told him I would pass his wishes to the House. He has fears around some of the matters that are being conflated without a thorough examination. It is his understanding that the product offered by bookmakers on lottery betting is separate and distinct from that which the national lottery operates, with consumers having the option to bet anything from one number to five numbers emerging from a draw. It is to allow people to enjoy the option to bet on fewer numbers as this clearly increases their chances of winning. This is not a facility provided by the national lottery.
There also seems to be a separation in the target market between those who buy national lottery tickets and those who make bets on the outcomes through external bookmakers. Bets are placed in licensed premises, which only adults can enter. That is as opposed to the lottery being accessible in shops and petrol stations, which may be frequented by minors. Bets can also be placed at a lower amount than the minimum stipulated by the national lottery.
The national lottery licence was sold in 2013 for a period of 20 years under the market conditions of the time. Since then, it has moved from 45 to 47 numbers, further reducing the chances of winning. The jackpot is now at the second-highest figure ever recorded. When it was sold, bookmakers offered these markets, as they had done for decades, allowing for more chances to win for those who wished to participate in the betting market.
I acknowledge that the national lottery generated €245 million in funding for good causes throughout Ireland last year, with that contribution amounting to more than €6 billion since 1997. However, it seems concerning that the landscape could be altered for private operators who provide gambling products and, in effect, a monopoly could be created in favour of one operator. This is especially true where the operator caters to different target markets. It is worth noting that the bookmakers support thousands of jobs across the country and paid approximately €100 million in betting duty in 2019. Removing the private betting market would, in all likelihood, not have a significant effect on the income of the national lottery, as there are no guarantees that those who would be prevented from betting on the national lottery in bookmakers would switch to buying lottery tickets.
When this matter first arose in 2019, the then Government opposed this proposal on the advice of the Attorney General. The then Minister of State, Deputy David Stanton, indicated that it could lead to further demands on the national lottery, perhaps at the expense of local lotteries that support sports clubs and community organisations. One could argue they are in direct competition with the national lottery. There is no certainty the national lottery would make further demands or prohibitions on local lotteries but we must consider unintended potential pitfalls and examine the precedent we set when questions like these come up for debate.
The Bill is well-intentioned but it attempts to make a direct link between those who spend their money buying national lottery tickets and those who bet on the outcome in external markets. I find these to be two different practices with varying methods of betting. Limiting the ability of one group to bet on the outcome will not necessarily divert the money being spent to the other. Of course, there is overlap between the two groups but this Bill addresses some of those concerns.
I welcome the Minister of State and thank Senator Ward for bringing forward this legislation. As others have said, no legislation we bring through in Private Members' time will address every issue but it is nonetheless very important to highlight this matter and attempt to address some of the concerns. In Ireland, we have one of the highest levels of online gambling and gambling losses per capita in the world. The issue is not just with those who bet but the families who see an impact through losses in money brought home or even the loss of the roof over their heads. There is also the question of quality of life, which everybody should have.
I was listening earlier, although I could not attend the Chamber at the start of the debate. Many valuable points were raised about advertising for the national lottery. I know this as somebody who has children. The nature of gambling has changed. It is at our fingertips now more than ever. The advertisements for the national lottery are also advertising, in a way, the online betting mentioned by Senator Boylan. It is more accessible to those who may not have the funds to fork out €6. It is much easier on a phone to send a couple of euro. I have a young teenage boy and it is shocking that the rate of gambling among male teenagers in Ireland has more than doubled in the past four or five years. That is a shocking rate and we must do something about it. Gambling is another epidemic affecting our children.
Let us commend the Minister of State, Deputy James Browne, on bringing forward the Gaming and Lotteries (Amendment) Act 2019, which addressed some of the concerns, particularly in trying to protect those under 18. It has not resolved everything and there is much more to do. In particular, a gambling regulator is required before the end of the year. That is in the programme for Government and there is an obligation on all of us to ensure we support that and bring it forward as soon as possible. Our children cannot wait. They have been affected by Covid-19 and the rates have probably increased during that period because our kids were at home looking at these advertisements before the watershed or the family movie. I would like to know the current rates because the figure showing they had doubled in the past four or five years is slightly out of date. We do not know what they have been over the past few months.
As a Green Party Senator, I have spoken before about how betting duty receipts go to the horse racing and greyhound industries. When people are playing the national lottery, there may be an understanding that some of the money goes towards a social dividend. I found out recently that only 30% goes to projects. I thought the amount was much higher. I was contacted by RED C as well but at the end of the conversation I was less likely to support the national lottery, which was probably not what the caller expected. The receipts go to the horse racing and greyhound industries.
The greyhound industry in this country should be ended. Some of the practices are barbaric. That is another issue I would have around this funding. People do not realise what they are supporting when they are putting those bets on. I will support the Bill and I thank Senator Ward for bringing it forward.
I welcome and support this Bill. It is about amending the Act. It will outlaw the use by private operators of the national lottery's activities to profit or otherwise make further betting offers. The national lottery supports good causes. Over 30 cent in each €1 is put towards good causes. Recently, I checked what the good causes were. One with which I was very familiar is the wonderful Lough Ree Lanesborough Angling Hub where the Lough Ree disability boat was funded. This is one of the first in the country and will allow people in wheelchairs or who have mobility access problems to take up sport. It is a phenomenal investment. What is even better is that it is in rural Ireland - places where one might not get the funds. Imagine having funding to develop a boat such as this, which is extremely popular and has a social enterprise behind it. Some of the other funding involves health, well-being, sport, heritage, arts and culture, youth and community. It is funding vulnerable groups such as people with special needs. There is an awful lot to be said about the funds coming from the national lottery because it is a lottery for the people of Ireland.
As has been pointed out, in this Bill, Senator Ward and colleagues have taken up the fight to say that private operators should not benefit from a fund that is there to support good causes. As a retailer, Senator Carrigy spoke very well. From a personal point of view, the present I usually get my dad is a lotto ticket so all I can say is that it is something to which a lot of people look forward. It brings a bit of joy into someone's life. I know it sounds crazy but in the past year and a half, he nearly jumped out of his seat when he won €20 on one of the tickets. I know it must be balanced but with the national lottery, there are limits. It is not available after 10 p.m. and I believe only €90 can be spent per day on the national lottery. It brings a bit of enjoyment - like the Galway Races - and it is for good causes. The measures in this Bill have been implemented in many other European states and we have perhaps lagged behind. Hopefully, we can rectify that now.
I support the Bill. The project that has been mentioned most in this debate is Lough Ree Lanesborough Angling Hub. I invite the Minister of State to visit it some time. I am a huge promoter and supporter of it and was involved in it from day one. Senators Dolan and Carrigy would be well aware of it as well.
There is no question that the national lottery is a very good system. I acknowledge that it is a form of gambling. We cannot stop a person buying 20 lotto tickets in the shop and I see it happening at times and the same people doing it. In general, the fact that so much of the money goes back into really good causes and rural Ireland must be acknowledged. I was asked to answer a few questions over a period of time in a number of surveys regarding the national lottery. One thinks one knows everything about it but one does not. That is a story for another day.
I will support the Bill. I could be wrong but I am not so sure there is a massive issue regarding people going into bookies and spending a lot of money on the national lottery, where they can only win limited money. I acknowledge it exists but I wonder whether it is as widespread as we think. Where I do agree with Senator Ward is the fact that when one does support the national lottery, quite a percentage of that money goes back into the system for the good causes all over the country for which we all lobby and which we are all very proud to see the money coming to. That is very important. To be honest, the Irish people have a good respect for the national lottery. I have never had anybody lobbying me and giving out about the national lottery or the fact that it involves a bit of gambling. Yes, as with other Members, people contact me constantly about online gambling, which is the biggest problem with which we must deal. It is good to see some of the people in the bookmaking business getting very concerned about that and acknowledging that there is a big problem. I will support the Bill. It is a very good discussion to have. I reiterate that I do not think it is a massive problem but I acknowledge that it is there. We must always look at the good done by the national lottery and support it.
I begin by commending Senator Ward for his work on this Bill and for bringing it to the floor of the House. It is an important Bill. Not just now but on successive Stages, we should look at it in the context of what we are trying to achieve. There has been a great deal of movement by the Irish Bookmakers Association. Senator Carrigy referred to the national lottery and regulation.
It is important that our approach has consistency and honesty. All of us in this House must galvanise our work to put gambling harm minimisation and the protection of people at the heart of what we do. I say this because each of us knows the profound impact gambling has had and continues to have on many families in each of our constituencies and communities. I accept that there will be a lot of pressure and commentary from the Irish Bookmakers Association. As many of my colleagues have said, none of us want to see jobs lost because we understand fully that there have been profits and revenue. However, this new regulatory framework is the flagship of what we are doing as a Government. I use the word "consistency". Members from all political parties and none must be consistent in their approach. When I hear Members from Sinn Féin coming in here and criticising, I recall how the former Ministers for Justice - Alan Shatter, Frances Fitzgerald and Deputy Flanagan - and the former Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, brought forward changes and produced significant initiatives and efforts to amend our betting regime.
I will not go into the full thing since it began in 1845 or 1856 but I admire the former Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, and reflect on the gargantuan change we have made. When we go back to what Donal Creed did in establishing the national lottery in the 1980s, we can see that our world has changed completely. The most significant thing for me is that in respect of good causes, the national lottery generated €254 million last year and has generated over €6 billion since 1987. Many of us who play the national lottery do so in the knowledge that we are giving back as well. We speak about advertising today - I think it is the biggest national lottery prize ever - but €6 billion has been generated so 30 cent in every €1 goes back. I am involved in my local GAA club and my community and see the benefits of the national lottery through the sports capital programme. We forget one thing. The national lottery has a regulator. As Senator Carrigy rightly said, there are spot checks and walk-in inspections.
Player protection must be at the forefront of all we do. We have changed the watershed for the advertising of different products, such as alcohol, cigarettes and other things. We have made changes and I am sure we will take similar action in respect of the lottery. It is tightly controlled and independently regulated. We are an outlier in the European context in permitting bookmakers to accept bets on draws operated by the national lottery.
It is important that we are having this debate. I am conscious of the fact that we changed the organisation responsible for running the national lottery, but that is a different debate. The debate we are having today is positive in nature. In fairness to Senator Ward, the Bill is one that we should support. It is also one that the entire Government supports. It is significant that the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Michael McGrath, has also remarked on lottery betting in the context of avoiding the main national lottery draw being undermined.
We need regulation, a gambling commission and a gambling authority. We are moving in that direction. The Minister of State, Deputy Browne, has continued with the reform work. However, today's debate is important. I conclude by commending Senator Ward on his work. I look forward to Committee Stage, when we can tease the issues out further and place gambling harm minimisation at the core of what we do.
I welcome the Minister of State. I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak on this Private Members' Bill. Like other Members, I wish to compliment my colleague, Senator Ward, on bringing forward the Bill for consideration. I should say at the outset that I have no vested interest in this discussion. I am not anti-gambling. I play the lotto. I also place the odd bet on football or horse racing at the bookmakers. Some of what I say in the next few minutes may be perceived as being supportive of the national lottery and some of it, not so much.
There is no doubt that it is an amazing coincidence that we are debating this Private Members' Bill on an evening when there is a record jackpot of €19 million on offer from the national lottery. I am sure it is a pure coincidence. As others have said, one third of the cost of every ticket sold for tonight's draw, and every draw throughout the year, goes the good causes fund. Last year, it generated €254 million, and, as Senator Buttimer stated, since 1987 it has contributed more than €6 billion to help communities and sporting and voluntary organisations in every town, village and city throughout the country. It is also true that, as mentioned by previous speakers, the lotto supports many thousands of jobs in newsagents. It is regulated and controlled, with tickets only being sold during certain hours of the day.
I am acutely aware of the challenges that are faced by individuals and families that are affected by gambling. While some people that can place the odd bet here and there and some people play the lotto when the jackpot is large, there are many people that are not able to do that and just place the odd bet. They struggle and run up debts. All of the consequences that follow are very well documented. I believe that we do need to address the wider issue of gambling addiction within this country. Senator Ward is attempting to address one element of that with his Bill. I look forward to many other elements being teased out as the Bill moves to Committee Stage. There are valuable and valid arguments on all sides. We need to be mindful of jobs and displacement, but we also need to be very mindful of those who are challenged with gambling addiction.
There is one issue that I would like to highlight. If it is not to be included in this Bill, perhaps it can be addressed through regulation. I have been contacted by a number of constituents who believe that the sale of scratch cards should be regulated in the same way as the sale of cigarettes in newsagents or retail stores. They believe that scratch cards should be kept in an unbranded cabinet and not displayed in full view of the customer. I tend to agree with them. There is no doubt that it promotes last-minute purchases and entices customers, often the most vulnerable in society, to purchase scratch cards. I have heard advocates in the past cite examples of people who go into multiple newsagents and spend all of their money on stratch cards. I am not saying that putting the cards in an unbranded cabinet will stop that behaviour tomorrow morning. However, if it reduces the number of people who become addicted to that element of the national lottery, I believe that it would be a good day's work. It may not be for this Bill, but it is one of many other issues that need to be addressed in the wider debate on gambling addiction. I commend my colleague, Senator Ward, on his work and thank the Minister of State for coming to the House.
I thank the Minister of State for being here. I also wish to thank my colleagues, Senators Ward, Carrigy and Currie, for bringing forward this Private Members' Bill. From the outset, I wish to state that I was an agent of the national lottery in the past and also a member of the Retail Grocery Dairy & Allied Trades Association, RGDATA, which is very firmly behind this Bill. While I am no longer involved in the industry, I am speaking as a Senator and on behalf of people who have contacted me in respect of concerns around gambling.
Many colleagues have commented on the contribution of the national lottery to good causes and the many community groups and sporting organisations that are dependent on funding from the lottery. While I do not believe in any way that any of us want to close down bookmakers, as has been suggested by some, the difference is that the lottery is regulated. When people buy their lottery ticket, it is in a regulated environment. When I was in business, I was subject to the spot checks, so I can confirm that it is closely regulated. The mystery shopper comes into the shop and you get a letter afterwards telling you that you complied or whatever. It should also be borne in mind that only those aged over 18 can purchase a lottery ticket. The sale of lottery tickets is regulated and contributes to good causes. Therefore, this is an opportune time for this Bill to be brought forward.
I am aware that other states and countries have banned the sale of lottery tickets through bookmakers. Therefore, we will not be the only country to take such an action if this Bill progresses. I am here to support the Bill. It is the right thing to do. Otherwise, many organisations will lose out on funding down the road. The Bill is about supporting retailers, the national lottery and the community and sporting organisations that are so dependent on the funding.
I wish to thank all the contributors to the debate, particularly those who are sponsoring the Bill, namely, Senators Carrigy, Ward and Currie.
I wish to note a few points that were made. Senator Ward made the central point that there is a social dividend that is being diverted away from good causes towards the private income of bookmakers. He also made the point that there is a loss of footfall in local shops, which is a genuine concern at this time.
Senator Carrigy pointed out that he is a national lottery agent himself.
As such, he knows the detail of the compliance, such as mystery shoppers going into shops to check that all the rules are being complied with. Those rules simply do not apply to bookmakers, which are governed by a different set of rules. We lose that oversight. The Senator pointed out that the sports capital programme is funded by the national lottery and that people around the country enjoy the use of facilities funded as a result of the national lottery. It is not an abstract thing or just money going into a pot.
I refer to the comments of Senators Boyhan and Maria Byrne. I am delighted to see Senator Byrne again and offer her congratulations on her return to the Seanad. The points made were that bookmakers' shops are not a controlled environment in the way that the national lottery is and are not subject to the same time rules or the rules in respect of the volume of tickets sold to people, which may tie into the issue of problem gambling. Bookmakers could choose to introduce equivalent safeguards, such as curfews, spending limits and abolishing promotional teasers. Perhaps it is time for bookmakers to reflect on what they could do in that regard rather than just doing what they are able to do within the law.
I note that the Bill proposes to amend section 46 of the National Lottery Act 2013 so as to prohibit unauthorised persons from offering bets that make use of the national lottery or its name. The principal target of the legislation appears to be gambling service providers who offer bets on the outcome of national lottery draws or, in other words, lottery betting. The National Lottery Act provides for the operation and regulation of the national lottery. I understand the national lottery regulator has a significant oversight role that seeks to ensure the national lottery is run with due propriety, the interests of participants in the games are protected, the long-term sustainability of the national lottery is safeguarded and revenues generated for good causes are maximised.
Bookmakers can employ promotional strategies such as discounting, loyalty schemes and offering free bets. These are sales and marketing strategies that the national lottery regulatory model prohibits and, as such, it is not a level playing field. The national lottery games are subject to curfews and spending limits that, as I stated, do not apply to lottery betting at a bookmaker's. It seems counter-intuitive that an individual can place a bet on the outcome of a national lottery draw at a time and in an amount that would not be permitted if the person wished to play the national lottery itself. It seems even more illogical that individuals are offered incentives or teasers to place such bets which the national lottery is strictly prohibited from offering. That is the current situation.
I understand there is concern regarding the potential for consumers to be misled by products that are offered by bookmakers under names that are similar to or the same as the national lottery and Euromillions draws. Again, bookmakers have the power to stop marketing their products in that way and perhaps it is time they do so.
Senator Boylan raised concerns regarding the regulation of gambling. Work is under way in the Department of Justice to introduce a significant suite of reforms of the models for licensing and regulating gambling. It is important to ensure the regulatory model that has been established for the national lottery is not undermined by lottery betting. The future gambling regulator may wish to consider these issues. The regulation of gambling is primarily a matter for the Department of Justice.
As regards funding, 65% of gross gaming revenues or, in effect, almost 30 cents out of every euro spent on lottery games, is returned to the Exchequer for use by good cause projects each year. This helps to fund a diverse range of important projects in areas such as youth organisations, Irish language support schemes, housing grants, sports and recreational facilities and the arts. It is feared that the type of betting addressed by the Bill may be diverting funding of between €40 million and €60 million a year from good causes. Although I note that approximately €97 million was raised by betting duty last year, it is set at 2% of turnover for bookmakers and 25% of commissions for remote betting intermediaries. However, the return for good causes is far higher, at approximately 30 cent of every euro spent, and raised a total of €254 million last year. Senators can see the difference between the 2% betting levy for bookmakers and what is, effectively, nearly a 30% rate for the national lottery.
In addition to the importance of the annual good causes funding, thousands of jobs in retailers that earn commissions for selling tickets and organisations that receive grant funding are directly supported by the national lottery. That said, I know that representatives of the bookmaking industry will provide a counter-argument regarding the benefits of consumer choice and the number of jobs that may be lost if lottery betting is outlawed. These are views that must be heard and respected. The representatives have probably taken the opportunity to contact Senators to make their views known. It is clear this is a multifaceted issue that will require careful consideration. There may be several ways to address it to the mutual satisfaction of the relevant stakeholders. Perhaps this debate can help to draw out further approaches and perspectives that could be considered.
There are concerns regarding the compatibility of the Bill with EU law. The prohibition contemplated in the Bill may restrict the freedom to provide certain gambling services pursuant to Articles 49 and 56 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. Such restrictions may be incompatible with EU law unless there are overriding reasons that justify them as a non-discriminatory and proportionate means of achieving legitimate objectives in the public interest. I look forward to hearing views on that issue.
The Bill is well drafted, but there is a concern in respect of the drafting of the proposed amendment to section 46(1) of the 2013 Act, which currently prohibits lottery providers from passing off their lottery as being affiliated with the national lottery. In its current form, section 46(1) provides:
A person, other than the Minister, the Regulator, the operator or a licensee or a person authorised to do so by any of them, shall not, for the purposes of a lottery game other than the National Lottery, make use of the names “Irish National Lottery” or “National Lottery” or of their equivalents in the Irish language or of any name so closely resembling either of those names or either of their equivalents in the Irish language as to be reasonably capable of leading to the belief that either of those names or either of those equivalents is being referred to.
The Bill proposes to substitute that section with the following:
A person, other than the Minister, the Regulator, the operator or a licensee, or a person authorised to do so by any of them, shall not, for the purposes of a betting offer—
(a) make use of the National Lottery, or
(b) make use of—
(i) the name ‘Irish National Lottery’, its equivalent in the Irish language, or any equivalent thereof,
(ii) the name ‘National Lottery’, ‘An Crannchur Náisiúnta’, or any equivalent thereof, or
(iii) any name so closely resembling either of those names in subparagraphs (i) or (ii) as to be reasonably capable of leading to the belief that any of those names or equivalents is being referred to.
By replacing the words "lottery game" with "betting offer", the Bill appears to remove the existing prohibition on lottery providers making use of the national lottery. "Lottery game" is defined in section 2 of the 2013 Act as "any game, competition or other procedure ... in which or whereby prizes ... are distributed by lot or chance among persons participating". The definition of "betting offer" in the Bill is "a bet offered by a bookmaker". The proposed version of section 46(1) applies to betting offers rather than lottery games, leaving lottery providers apparently free to make use of the national lottery and its name. It is not clear if the Bill is intended to have this effect.
To summarise, this is a complex issue. I welcome the debate. I take the points regarding problem gambling and the possibility that graphic and enticing advertising appears to be very attractive to children. That is an issue of concern. Like every Member of this House, I am aware that problem gambling devastates lives and can lead to destruction beyond that caused by alcohol and drug addiction. I thank the proposers of the Bill for bringing it forward and I am glad to say that the Government will allow it to proceed.
I thank the Minister of State for his time and his comprehensive response on the various issues that were raised. I am very grateful to Members who took the time to read, consider and speak on the Bill. I am in no way an apologist for the national lottery and I have no skin in the game. I am not anti-gambling; I have been known to buy a lotto ticket and to go to Leopardstown and place a bet on a horse. I am not here on behalf of the national lottery or anything like that.
It is important to state that comments such as those from Senator Davitt that more people are addicted to the lotto than to gambling at bookies are unfounded. Equally, the suggestion by Senator Blaney that minors routinely play the lotto when they are not allowed is also unfounded. We heard from Senators Carrigy and Maria Byrne about the checks and restrictions in place in the various lotto games. It is very important to acknowledge they are there. Senator Boylan indicated she felt the Bill does not address problem gambling and she is absolutely right about that. She is quite correct in saying there is a major problem with problem gambling. As the Minister of State said, it can result in the devastation of families. Everybody in the House acknowledges this. We have had debates on it and we look forward to the gambling regulatory Bill that is coming. We will all welcome it.
Everybody would like to see greater restriction on the way in person and online gambling operate in our society. However, this is not what the Bill is trying to do. The Bill has a different purpose. I acknowledge the issues raised, by Senator Davitt for example, in respect of advertising and the point Senator Boylan made about the interruption of the Saturday evening film by the lotto. They are legitimate points. They are absolutely things that should be and can be addressed.
In the context of regulation, it is important to remember that, as the Minister of State said, bookies are not the subject of a proper regulatory regime at present but the national lottery is. The type of regulation we see with the national lottery has changed the field over recent years. For example, people cannot spend more than €90 per day on national lottery products. They cannot bet on the national lottery after 10 p.m. in person or online. People cannot even check their tickets after 10 p.m. There is no engagement with national lottery services after 10 p.m. People cannot buy more than ten scratch cards. Restrictions have been put in place as part of the regulation of the national lottery.
As I said at the very outset of the debate, there can be no doubt the national lottery occupies an incredibly privileged position by virtue of the fact it has a de facto monopoly. This is not denied. Part of what I have called the social dividend and payback that comes from this is that money comes back to citizens of the country through the good causes fund. It is tremendously important to recognise this. It is the basis on which we bring forward the Bill to deal with the fact that moneys diverted into gambling and bookies take away from the good causes fund.
Senator Murphy suggested that this is not as big an issue as we think it is. In fact, depending on who we talk to, gambling on the national lottery outside the national lottery is worth between €20 million and €400 million a year. This varies between what the national lottery or various bookie organisations would say. The Minister of State has cited figures to suggest that between €40 million and €60 million is being diverted away from the national lottery and away from the good causes fund. When consider this, I think about various organisations in my area that have profited or benefited from the good causes fund. With regard to the sports capital grants alone there is Avoca Hockey Club, Monkstown Hockey Club, Dublin Bay Sailing Club, Sailing in Dublin, the Irish National Sailing and Powerboat School, Crosscare, Dalkey rowing club, St. Michael's Rowing Club in Dún Laoghaire, Dalkey Devils Volleyball Club, Trojan Swim Club and 12th Port Sandycove Canoeing Club. I will not list them all because the Minister of State, who comes from the same area, knows how many local organisations benefit from the fund. The Bill is about safeguarding this funding for our communities and local organisations and the bodies that survive on the basis of this funding.
I thank all Members who spoke on the Bill. In his closing remarks, the Minister of State spoke about problems with the drafting. This is Second Stage of a long journey for the Bill. I look forward to working with the Minister of State's officials in dealing with the issues. The Minister of State specifically addressed the issue of my proposed section 46(1) replacement and he has identified a legitimate issue. I look forward to amendments being tabled on Committee Stage to address gaps I may have left in the drafting of the Bill. There is work to be done. We can make progress. We can safeguard those moneys. We can protect the social dividend that comes from the national lottery. We can make sure we take a step in this direction by passing the Bill. In this regard I am grateful to the Minister of State, Members and the Cathaoirleach for the time.
When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?
Dé Máirt seo chugainn.
Is that agreed? Agreed.
When is it proposed to sit again?
Tomorrow at 10.30 a.m.