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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 23 Mar 2022

Vol. 283 No. 11

Gambling (Prohibition of Advertising) Bill 2021: Second Stage

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I am hoping to share time with my colleague, Senator Sherlock.

I thank my Labour Party colleagues for agreeing to this Private Members' business. I also thank the Leader for facilitating this debate, given the changes over the past two weeks. It is very much appreciated. I also welcome the Minister of State, Deputy James Browne, to the House. I put on record once again my thanks to him for his leadership and commitment on this public health issue in bringing forward long overdue legislation in this area, which we look forward to debating in the coming weeks. However, tonight I have tabled our Bill, the Gambling (Prohibition of Advertising) Bill 2021. I sincerely hope that the Minister of State can support it and its quickest possible passage through the Houses of the Oireachtas.

The Labour Party Bill is attempting to break the continuing attempts of gambling companies to normalise sport and gambling. These companies have quite successfully associated the need to gamble, not just in mainstream sports, but in practically every sporting event that takes place. However, this is not just confined to sporting events, as we all know. We would like to see people being able to go back to enjoying sport without having a tsunami of gambling advertisements coming at them through visual and print media before, during and after these events.

Gambling companies portray gambling as a great social outlet that people are simply missing out on if they are not having a bet on the sporting occasion that they are watching. You are not being part of the gang if you are not having a bet. The reality, of course, as many who have developed an addiction will say, is betting on their phone alone, without the knowledge of their loved ones or those friends the gambling companies portray in their advertisements. At the moment, there is no watershed on gambling advertising in Ireland. During the pandemic, we have heard so many stories of parents having to explain to children as young as six and seven, who they were homeschooling at the time, what gambling was all about. No child as young as this should be exposed to such advertising. It is simply not good enough.

One of the most frightening findings of a recent Health Research Board, HRB, report, was that 20% of young men aged 15 to 24 who have gambled in the past year are either problem gamblers or are at risk of developing an addiction. The report’s authors state that they may have underestimated this group. The same report identified 12,000 people in the country with a severe addiction and more than 130,000 who are at some of risk of developing a problem. Other reports suggest that 40,000 people in this country have an addiction. That, of course, is one of the problems, as I am sure the Minister of State is aware. The lack of comprehensive reporting on this problem is an issue that needs to be addressed. We have for too long relied on comparing research and reports from the UK and from the rest of the world in trying to estimate the problem here and where we might offer our supports.

Whatever the true figure, this is a growing problem and I think we can all agree on that. It is wrong to not have restrictions on when gambling advertisements can take place, as well as the number of them. We hope that that can be addressed through this legislation.

One of these reports from 2019 noted that Irish people could be spending as much as €9.8 billion per year, marking us out as the seventh biggest spenders on gambling per capita, with almost €380 for every man, woman and child in this country. We in the Labour Party carried out our own survey on gambling in which 80% of respondents reported seeing an increase in the number of gambling advertisements they saw. More worrying was the almost 65% who said they were more inclined to gamble after seeing these advertisements. This is a figure that will please the gambling companies but that will set off serious alarm bells here and for our health system.

From the College of Psychiatrists of Ireland to gambling addiction support advocates such as Oisín McConville, Niall McNamee and Davy Glennon, to gambling addiction supporting organisations, such as Extern Problem Gambling and, Cuan Mhuire, among many other fine support groups, there has been one consistent recent message: we must get rid of the number of gambling advertisements in this country, which is without a doubt adding to this public health problem.

Indeed, our own President Michael D. Higgins hit out recently at what he described as "'dangerous'" gambling advertisements, which he said were causing "so much damage to families and ... individuals". The President went on to say that his "heart had been 'broken' regularly during the pandemic as he saw advertisement after advertisement for gambling apps during sports programmes accompanied by ... [what he described as] 'totally minimal, tokenistic invitations to be responsible.'" He was quoted as saying it was "not good enough." That is the problem - minimal and tokenistic invitations to be responsible. This was our President getting it right once again.

Some of the gambling companies have come together to set up their own code of practice. I, for one, welcome any attempt to address this problem. Despite these efforts, some of the bigger gambling companies have not signed up to their own self-regulated code of practice. Indeed, it led to some of the gambling companies at the recent Joint Committee on Justice pre-legislative scrutiny meeting calling for and supporting a gambling regulator, which I hope the Minister of State's legislation will provide for in the next year.

Our legislation can bring forward regulation and put in place a summer of sport and enjoyment rather than a summer of misery for a growing number of our population. Over the past two years since we started to look at this possible legislation, I have been contacted by many people. They wanted to share their heartbreaking stories of losing family homes, relationships and families. Many described how they had lost their jobs, and, most unfortunately, there were stories of lives ending because of an addiction that people could simply no longer live with. It is also important to relay the real-life experience of living with gambling addiction and how it affects the person, their families and communities. I know many in this House will have experienced such stories in their clinics and when meeting their constituents. I would like to outline two such cases.

The first is a young man who came to me recently for help with housing. He had recently split from his partner and was now living apart from her and his three children. It was only after a number of meetings that this man felt secure enough to tell me his full story. He was working to gamble and using every opportunity to use the gambling app on his phone without the knowledge of his partner. It was only when the bills mounted up that she became aware of the problem. He has now handed over control of his bank account to a family member. He is so insecure in his inability to stop his habit, he has begun to see an addiction counsellor. He wants to build his life again.

The second example is an update on a young lady I spoke about in the House last year. This young lady started gambling following a visit to her local pub. She described wanting to join in the fun and she placed her first bet. She described how when her next pay day arrived, she thought the smart choice would be to take out her wages and double them so that she could pay back the money she owed. This did not happen, however. The following years of her life would become a vicious cycle of self-destructive behaviour that would eventually lead to hospitalisation. She stated that she felt like dying and wanted the doctors to tell her what terrible physical disease was causing these issues rather than truly admitting to herself that her suffering was a result of her addiction. This young woman became a mother of two young children and although she at times felt her children would be better off without her, she eventually made a decision to seek help. She continued to deal with the stigma and shame that our society puts on those suffering with gambling addiction, especially, as she said herself, the stigma of a woman and mother with this addiction. Thankfully, one year on, this young woman stated that she had a great year. She has set up her own business helping those with gambling addiction and will shortly take part in an international conference on gambling research. She has asked me to contribute the following to this debate, however, and I do so now on her behalf:

The responsible gambling measures poured out by the gambling industry are nothing more than a tick-box exercise. These ads fail to inform customers of the highly addictive nature of the products they sell. They place all the blame on the individual and there is no mention of that fact that those who suffer from gambling addiction are three times more likely to take their own lives than any other addiction. People are not being educated about the products being sold to them and lives are being lost while the gambling industry thrives. This is unacceptable and needs to change now.

The Labour Party is not against gambling. Many people in this country can control what they spend when they gamble. However, we feel the evidence is building that there are a number of citizens who cannot control their gambling addiction or are at risk of developing a further addiction. This is why we have put forward this Bill and join a growing conversation seeking help and legislation for many. Frankly, we can all accept that it has taken way too long to get to this stage. We now need to enact this Bill. We must stop the bombardment of gambling advertisements. As I said previously, it is way beyond time that we are all allowed to enjoy sport once again without this forced normalisation of sport and gambling.

We look forward to the legislation the Minister of State will bring forward. We thank him once again for his work and dedication on it. We will actively take part in its assessment and passage through the Oireachtas. We feel the Government must act now, however. This Bill gives Government the mechanism to give us all the opportunity to take a breath and give us all back the ability to once again enjoy that match, race or game without feeling the need to dip into our pockets for money that many simply do not have. The time for talking has long passed. I look forward to the Minister of State's reply and to assisting those who have reached out to me and other Labour Party colleagues. I am hopeful the legislation we have brought forward can help and change their lives.

I thank Senator Wall so much for his passion on the subject. I call Senator Sherlock.

I thank the Minister of State very much for coming into the Chamber. I echo the thanks my colleague, Senator Wall, has given in that the Government has allowed time for us to debate this Bill today. I grew up in a household where there was, if I may call it this, a healthy scepticism of the two main political parties at the time. While there would be a discussion about the issues of the day, there was certainly never any talk about specific legislation.

I grew up being very aware of one Act for which there was enormous respect in my house, however, which was the Family Home Protection Act 1976. It was introduced well before I was born to ensure the family home could not be sold or given away over the head on any one spouse in particular, which was usually the woman. I grew up hearing the story of a man, and this was before 1976, who was a problem gambler who went out one night, played a game of poker and lost the family home in that game. He had to go home to his wife that night and tell her he had lost the house. The following day, she took her own life.

Whether it is playing the lotto, placing an annual bet on the English or Irish grand national, entering the local GAA draw or going to the races, gambling in itself is not an egregious act. I grew up with all that. What is egregious, however, is that day in, day out in this country, gambling companies spend millions of euro trying to induce more and more people into gambling. I think of one advertisement in particular. What is most outrageous about it all is that there is a blatant attempt to communicate a message that everyone is doing it and this is a normal daily activity whether someone is en route to a wedding, out with friends or going about his or her work. The psychology behind these advertisements is that if you are not part of the club or not doing it, then, in some ways, you are not normal.

Ireland has a gambling problem. In 2019, we had the seventh highest gambling spend per capita in the world. The College of Psychiatrists of Ireland talks about the pervasiveness of gambling addiction and has labelled it a "hidden epidemic" in this country.

I am so proud of my colleague, Senator Wall, in all the work he has done in this area. I know the Government has highlighted its plans in this area and we will not be found wanting in supporting those. There is an urgency in bringing forward this legislation, however, and moving on with the gambling regulator. Our Bill to ban gambling advertising is only one small but hugely significant step in addressing this hidden epidemic in this country. The ban would strip commercial gambling of its glamour. It would take the constant reminder of gambling away from our screens and allow us to enjoy those matches or races without the constant interference flashing across our television screens. For the thousands of problem gamblers trying to deal with their addiction, it is one less image in their faces as they try to deal with their problem. As Senator Wall said, our Bill is not a ban on gambling itself but it does send a message that the manipulation of gambling through advertising must end. He referred to research that showed 63% of people were more likely to place a bet after seeing an advertisement.

That cycle needs to be broken and that is why it is vital ads are banned across all media platforms, in print and online. In needing to ban gambling advertising, we are recognising that Ireland has a major problem and many young people, particularly young men, have that problem. In 2019, the European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs showed that Irish 16-year-olds were 1.3 times more likely to bet on sports and animal betting and 1.8 times more likely to use slot machines than other young adults on average across Europe. That 61% of all 16-year-olds in this country are betting on sports and racing tells a story in itself.

We are all aware that it is not as simple as banning gambling ads. There is so much more that has to be done but we have to make a start. Too many lives are lost, too many livelihoods are forgone and too many families are crushed by this gambling problem. I hope the Minister of State will support this Bill and its speedy progress into law as soon as possible.

I thank the Senator for those details.

I welcome the Minister of State to the Chamber again. Fianna Fáil will not be opposing this Bill, the purpose of which is to ban the advertising of gambling, except where such advertising is in connection with the promotion of a gambling event for charitable status or purposes, subject to limited expectations. The Bill also specifically distinguishes between advertising on television and radio and all other forms of advertising.

Last October the Government approved the draft of the gambling regulation Bill and the publication of the corresponding general scheme. The scheme has been referred for pre-legislative scrutiny. The Government’s Bill is at an advanced stage of preparation with careful consideration of policy and drafting to avoid unintended consequences and legal uncertainty. The Private Members’ Bill, as currently drafted, could not be supported on Committee Stage. It is expected the Government’s gambling regulation Bill will be in a position to be published and progressed through the Oireachtas in 2022. Senator Wall and members of all parties and none would agree the legislative framework is fragmented and outdated, lacks a coherent licensing and regulatory approach and is in need of significant reform. The programme for Government gives a clear commitment to establish 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, which has been outlined by Members.

All Members of this House will recognise the significant work done by the Minister of State, Deputy Browne, since he took office. The issue needs to be addressed comprehensively and the gambling regulation Bill, which will introduce a gambling regulatory authority, will do this. The scheme takes into account the recommendations of an expert report, including the interdepartmental working group report published in March 2019, analysis of the regulatory approaches in other jurisdictions, and the nature of gambling in the State. It also recognises the ever-increasing impact of technology on gambling and addresses the proliferation of gambling-related advertising. The authority will have among its key objectives ensuring gambling is conducted in a fair and open way for companies to make decisions in certainty, requiring safeguards to address problem gambling, including on gambling advertising, and preventing gambling from being a source of or support to crime. We will be better served by acting on all of the challenges in this area as a whole, including advertising, rather than doing so on a stand-alone basis.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House and I know how committed he is to this topic. When he was a member of the Opposition he spoke on this a lot and I know he has put in a lot of work on it since becoming a Minister of State.

This is an important debate and any addiction is difficult and tough. Addictions often have far-reaching consequences for individuals and their families and friends. Families are often torn apart, trust is broken and finances are affected. Recovery is hard for any addict but regret is harder still. We must do what we can to ensure people do not go down this road. 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 and it is a silent addiction. It is a serious problem that can silently destroy lives. I mention Richie Power, the Kilkenny hurling wizard who had the game at his feet. Little did any spectator know the complete turmoil he was experiencing. He spoke about a gambling addiction being a bit like carbon monoxide poisoning in that one cannot see, smell or taste it but there it is, gnawing away in the background, leaving lives in ruins, with no way back in many cases. When we think about an addict who is losing money, sometimes loved ones do not know about the problem until the bank manager comes calling or a person loses his or her job, sees the mortgage has not been paid, sees the credit card is maxed out or sees that money is owed to moneylenders. In many cases people have been stealing from employees. It is said that one in five gambling addicts does so and then the Garda comes to the door.

Some of the statistics are stark and frightening. Ireland, as has been mentioned already, has the seventh biggest gambling spend in the world while 75% of Irish people know a person who they know to be a gambler. This took on a particular significance during Covid. At one point I checked the visits to a particular site and they had increased by 66%. When it comes to young boys and girls, 7.6% of teenage boys and 2.8% of teenage girls developed a gambling problem during Covid, which is shocking. We all know the stories about people waiting for that big win and trying to get something that would change their lives. As the Minister of State knows, Fianna Fáil has a long-standing commitment to implement regulations for socially responsible gambling, which is very important.

While I support the principle of this Bill and congratulate my Labour Party colleagues on bringing it forward, I look forward to when we have the Government’s gambling regulation Bill published and seeing its progress through the Oireachtas. None of us was born to be enslaved by drugs, alcohol or gambling, and as legislators we have a responsibility to ensure there is a commitment to socially responsible gambling.

I thank the Senator for those incredible statistics.

The Minister of State is welcome. I compliment him on the work he has done and I compliment the Labour Party and Senator Wall on bringing this forward. Senator Wall is extremely passionate about this issue and has been over the past 18 months that I have been a Member of this House. We are just after the Cheltenham Festival and we saw all the pictures in the newspaper and the great results for Irish trainers who won the Cheltenham Gold Cup etc. However, we have to think that some houses and families are probably not happy because significant amounts of money were lost and possibly property, as was mentioned by Senator Wall. We have to take that into consideration.

I have a newsagent and a post office at home, as Members know, and I recall that when it comes to the Cheltenham Festival, the Galway Races and maybe the Grand National in Aintree, the newspapers come in and are lined up, and they all detail the free bets inside on the front page headline. I liken that to what drug dealers do. They give a free sample of a drug to try to get people hooked on it so they will stick with it for life and the dealers will make money. I like an occasional flutter and I would be a frequent visitor to Galway and Punchestown, where I will be going as part of a Longford GAA race day. When I was doing research on the Bill, it brought me back to the first time I went to the Galway Races with my late father and my brother back around 1980. I still remember the name of the horse, Pampered, which rode in at 7/1 and my brother and I won £35 on it. We held on to that money for years to come without spending it. It was a good memory but the reality is that gambling causes problems in a significant number of houses.

Research was done by the HSE that was published last week and it contained some startling details.

Some 90,000 adults are low-risk gamblers, 35,000 adults are at moderate risk, and 12,000 adults are problem gamblers. Men are five times more likely than women to be at-risk or problem gamblers. It is more common in males aged 25 to 34. One in ten meet the criteria of at-risk or problem gambling. Problem gambling is associated with living in a deprived area and being unemployed. There is a marked correlation between problem gambling and substance abuse, whether it be drugs, alcohol or smoking. Some 13% of people with an alcohol use disorder are at-risk or problem gamblers compared with 2% of low-risk drinkers. They are quite startling figures.

Fine Gael will not oppose the Bill. In 2018, the Government set up an interdepartmental working group under Deputy David Stanton to look at regulating gambling. As part of our 2020 general election manifesto we said we would introduce an independent gambling regulator to ensure abuses are eradicated and public safety is protected. Along with our colleagues in the Green Party and Fianna Fáil, we in government have committed to establishing a gambling regulator focused on public safety and well-being, covering gambling online and in person, and with the powers to regulate gambling advertising, gambling websites and apps. That is very important in the current age in which we live. We have to look seriously at the situation where, through online gambling, a person could actually lose his or her house or entire savings just by using his or her phone. That is very important.

The Government has approved the gambling Bill for priority drafting and publication. The legislation will set out a framework and a legislative basis for the establishment of a new independent statutory body, the gambling regulatory authority of Ireland, to implement a robust regulatory and licensing regime for the gambling sector. Indeed, drafting on this Bill is under way. It will give the authority the necessary enforcement powers for licensing and enable it to take appropriate and focused action where providers fail to comply with provisions of this Bill and with the authority's licensing terms and conditions.

The key objectives of this authority are to ensure gambling is conducted in fair and open way for companies to make decisions in certainty; require safeguards to address problem gambling, including in relation to gambling advertising; and prevent gambling from being a source of or a support to crime. That is another very important point. I know from my home county that significant funds have been earned illegally by a certain number of criminal families from the sale of drugs etc, and they are using the gambling industry to launder this money. That is fact. That is happening in my own county town. I am delighted that addressing this forms part of the Bill.

Once again I compliment Senator Wall and the Labour Party on bringing forward this Bill. It is apt this is dealt with. The Minister of State has been proactive on this and I look forward to seeing legislation being implemented.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. I said here on a number of occasions that in good times and bad, even in a town which is struggling economically, you can always expect to see a thriving betting shop on the main street. I observed something late last year that caused me to modify that view. On a busy street in a provincial town that I sometimes pass through, I spotted that where there had been two betting shops which were once thriving for many years, they seemed to have closed at some point over the past 18 months. Apparently one of them, an independent betting shop, closed before Covid-19. The other, which was part of one of the smaller betting chains, closed last summer. The second shop was right next door to a very busy pub which even had a dedicated screen with odds and race times. There was clearly a large crossover trade and yet that betting shop had closed.

None of us would ever celebrate the closure of a business or the loss of jobs, but perhaps in this situation a part of you might be inclined to cheer quietly about the closing of a betting shop, at least until you thought about the fallout for ordinary people. It is not likely, however, that such closures are a result of a reduction in gambling. The footfall in these shops was simply reduced by the increase in online gambling driven by relentless and all-pervasive advertising. That gambling advertising hit stratospheric levels during the first lockdown two years ago and has grown steadily from there.

I had occasion to listen to the radio for an extended period of hours last week and noticed that every single ad break on Newstalk over that period included a Paddy Power ad for the Cheltenham Festival featuring the actor, Colm Meaney, who I am informed has never set foot on a racecourse. That is beside the point but that is the story. That type of situation brings saturation advertising to a whole new level. Indeed, I wonder if there is a law of diminishing returns for gambling companies out of this. Certainly, I noticed in one place where I was having lunch they had the racing on and the owner was hitting mute every time that particular ad came on the television. It seems that even racing fans were sick of hearing it.

This issue has long passed the point where the Oireachtas ought to intervene sternly. I support Senator Wall's Bill and commend him on bringing it forward. As I have said before, it is limited, perhaps even flawed in some respects, and it does not go nearly far enough in other respects. The Bill includes a carve-out protecting the sponsorship of sporting events and once-off charitable events by betting concerns. I find this difficult to agree with. Tobacco advertising is banned across the board as a result of developments at an EU level. If we were to turn back the clock, would we allow tobacco sponsorship of events or charitable events? I very much doubt it. The Bill proposes a blanket ban on all broadcast and non-broadcast advertising except for printed material distributed at a racecourse or a dog track. While I support this general aim, I think the approach is too blunt. For example, as it stands, the Bill appears to ban gambling advertising both inside and outside betting shops. As much as we dislike gambling, it is a lawful enterprise, so it does not make sense to impose that particular ban.

The Bill would also ban publications such as the Racing Post from carrying gambling ads. Again, I think that much is excessive. However, on the other side of the coin there are a range of practices the Bill does not address. For example, gambling advertising regularly offers inducements such as free bets, refunds, discounts and so on to attract and entrap new customers. These should be banned.

We also need to address the advertising of the national lottery. I have spoken about this before. It has become all-pervasive. Virtually every ad break on RTÉ now has an ad for the lotto. This needs to be regulated and restricted because the lotto is a form of gambling. Many addicts have spoken of their addiction to it.

I do not think I am the only person who has noticed a subtle change in tone in lotto advertising in recent years. Until recently, it used to be about winners buying themselves yachts, private jets, solid gold houses and the like, but in the past two years lotto advertisements have focused more on winners spending money on their neighbours and the wider community. We have all seen ad nauseam the ad featuring the guy who buys a water slide for his block of flats and the recent one about a woman who has installed hidden swimming pools and water slides in her rural village. They are amusing in their own way, but you would want to be living under a rock not to have seen them at least once a day for the past year or so.

The important thing here is the reason for this change of emphasis, which is that the lottery does its own market research and it has shown that ordinary Irish people do not like the idea of people winning huge amounts of money just for their own selfish selves, so to speak. As a result, there has been this subtle change of advertising strategy to suggest that playing the lotto is not actually a selfish enterprise. It is almost an altruistic thing, that if you win, think of all the happiness you could lavish or endow upon others. Somehow winning the lotto will allow you to benefit the community that you live in. Of course this is, in the vast majority of cases, just rubbish. What is seen here is a manipulation of people's good instincts but in the service of selling a product. No matter how much good the national lottery does and no matter what way you look at it, that is predatory advertising and should be dramatically curtailed to at least the watershed. The lotto is supposedly restricted to those over the age of 16, so why is advertising for it not confined to after the watershed, as things stand?

Those are just some thoughts. I want to acknowledge the value in what Senator Wall is doing and my comments are meant to be constructive. It is clearly difficult to get things to happen in this area. We have allowed too much time to elapse. The Government seems to speak out of both sides of its mouth on this issue.

I wish this legislation well. No doubt there will be another day for bringing forward the other measures.

I welcome the Minister of State. It is good to see him here again to discuss gambling. It shows the commitment that he has. I would also like to congratulate Senator Wall and the Labour Party. It has been a passion of the Senator's for a long time to end the scourge of gambling addiction, and this Bill goes some way towards doing that.

It is important to put on the record what the Minister of State has done as well. The Bill would actually enhance it and brings it to the fore, which is very important. I welcome the announcement a few weeks ago from the Minister of State that applications have opened for the role of chief executive of the new gambling regulatory authority. Advertising by both commercial and non-commercial entities will be within the remit of the chief executive and a team of up to 100 people. This would fulfil the programme for Government commitment that Senator Carrigy mentioned of the three parties in the Government to regulate this largely unregulated sector of society.

Globally, Ireland has one of the highest levels of online gambling per capita and one of the highest levels of gambling losses per capita as well. It is difficult enough to walk down a high street and avoid a gambling shop, as it were, but it is impossible to avoid it online. I note with some horror some of the celebrities who now seem to be throwing themselves into the middle of this, such as Peter Crouch and, more recently, Colm Meany. It sticks in one’s memory because these people are known. It makes gambling look very attractive and exciting. It is unfortunate that celebrities would choose to do that.

It also means that more regulation is required because obviously people are not stepping up to the mark and making these decisions for the best interest of young people, in particular, which is the area where we are seeing the increase. We saw through Covid that we had an increase in young boys, in particular, gambling online. It is one of the notable trends in gambling that we have these kinds of blurred lines between gambling and fun. There is an increase, which I have spoken about before, of the prevalence of loot boxes in video games. They have muddied the distinction because they are mystery boxes which can sometimes be purchased with real money and the value of their contents involves chance or luck, which is ultimately gambling. There was a report that showed that 40% of children open these loot boxes. That is 40% of people choosing to gamble in the middle of something that is a game and meant to be fun. They do not identify it with that, but it starts them on the path. That is very dangerous. Will the gambling regulator work with the online safety regulator? That is a key part of this issue.

I note that people have some concerns around sporting events, because there is a reliance by sporting organisations in many instances on gambling revenue. However, we have to get away from that. It is very unfortunate that there is a carve-out in this Bill for greyhound racing. I do not see why that is so. That is very questionable because things such as greyhound racing could not survive without the money that it gets from advertising. All of the money that goes into it is probably coming from some form of advertising. It would actually be a good by-product of a Bill like this if that is stopped because I do not think the industry would survive and is not the kind of industry that we as a Government and as a country should be supporting.

Like Senators Carrigy and Crowe, we will not be objecting to the Bill. As I said, we welcome it. However, I would add some of those caveats. I would agree very much with some of the comments by Senator Mullen around lotteries. I am reminded of the last time we had a Private Members' Bill on betting on lottery wins proposed by one of the Fine Gael Senators, namely, Senator Ward. We actually had people from the national lottery ringing us as Senators before that Bill came into the Chamber. Some of us were phoned several times by the national lottery. Again, who is paying for that? Who is paying for them to ring us and basically try to lobby us to support the national lottery? They were asking me if I was surprised at how much was going into local communities. I actually was surprised – I thought it was an awful lot more before they told me. It was a missed opportunity to try to lobby somebody. However, they would not have been successful in any case.

I look forward to hearing the Minister of State’s comments.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. Ar dtús báire, ba mhaith liom mo leithscéal a ghabháil leis agus lena chomhghleacaithe as a bheith mall. Bhí mé ag an gcomhchoiste Gaeilge roimhe seo. I apologise to the Minister of State and my colleagues, in particular to my Labour Party colleagues, as I was at committee and held up for the earlier part of this debate. I am looking forward to the rest of it and, indeed, seeing this legislation progress.

Many people enjoy gambling and they do so responsibly. However, for some people and their families, gambling can become a serious problem. Sinn Féin recognises the need for measures to be taken to help and protect those who are at risk. The gambling industry recognises this itself. It set up a gambling awareness trust which distributes funding to various treatments, services and research initiatives.

In 2019, Sinn Féin launched a comprehensive all-Ireland gambling policy. It was an overview policy document that explored the issue of problem gambling with respect to gambling in general, including online gambling, advertising, children and young people, casinos and fixed-odds betting terminals. In this State, almost two thirds of people take part in some form of gambling, which is a lot of people. Many who gamble do not become addicted. However, the Royal College of Physicians in Ireland has called for the Government to consider gambling a major public health concern. This comment is not surprising given the personal consequences problem gambling can create. These include financial difficulties, depression, anxiety, relationship breakdown, suicide, substance abuse, reputational damage, workplace issues and, in some instances, criminal activity. The gambling sector is badly in need of new effective and thorough regulation to protect the most vulnerable. New legislation is required which takes account of and accommodates a faster response to future technological advances to ensure coverage of gaming, gambling and betting, whether land-based or online.

The Bill before the Seanad now correctly identifies a source of pressure on those at-risk gamblers, and that is advertising – especially online advertising. Sinn Féin already supports a ban on broadcast advertising pre-watershed, that is, between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m. A similar bar should be extended across online platforms. No online advertising should target under-18s or families with children. I have no difficulty supporting this Bill to the next Stage so we can further explore the issues that arise from gambling for those adversely affected by it.

The Sinn Féin document I referenced also suggested a number of ideas to help minimise problem gambling, such as the setting up of an independent gambling regulator, the functions of which would include administering a problem gambling fund to be financed by a mandatory levy or licence fee on the industry. The regulator should introduce, oversee and enforce rules on advertising on the industry, including requirements around the nature, prominence and duration of warnings in all advertisements. The regulator should also explore the introduction of deposit limits and daily time limits for those at risk. The document also suggested a requirement for age verification before being permitted to gamble online. When signing up for an online account, a standard warning should also be required. In addition, credit card usage in all forms of online and land-based betting should be banned.

Today’s debate is focused on the negative implications of gambling, and that is understandable. However, we need to also recognise the contribution the industry makes in terms of the number of people employed in it and the financial benefits it brings to the economy. The changes that are needed, if implemented, will make a difference to those most at-risk gamblers, and can benefit the sector, if done correctly, responsibly and ethically.

I will conclude by commending my colleagues in the Labour Party on bringing this Private Members' Bill before us. As I said, while we have some differences or some divergence of opinion around various tactical matters in the Bill, we can all agree with the sentiment behind it. There is a real, live problem in our communities. I am sure we are all aware of people, especially during the lockdown period, who were at home and almost hyper-exposed to some of these advertisements and the targeted nature of them. I do not know if that was just because we were spending more time at home or if there was some kind of marketing or policy decision to lift the number of advertisers because people were confined to their homes and therefore able to take part in gambling online from home in particular. I supported this Bill on Second Stage. I hope it progresses well and that, collectively, across the House, we can work to ensure it is the best legislation it can be.

The Minister of State is welcome to the Chamber. I commend my Labour Party colleagues, Senators Wall, Sherlock, Hoey and Moynihan on this legislation, especially Senator Wall. It is great and a very timely initiative. Advertising is everywhere and it permeates almost all aspects of our culture. Sporting events are sponsored, the television coverage of those events is interspersed with advertisements and our commentary about the events is uploaded to social media, which is displayed alongside yet more advertising. We are spending increasing amounts of our time on digital platforms that are funded exclusively by advertising. Our attention is a valuable commodity and bookmakers with deep pockets are lining up to purchase it. The prevalence of gambling advertising in sport means that the people who love to participate in and watch sport are persistently programmed to associate the two activities.

In this environment, the Labour Party's Bill is a welcome development. While gambling might seem harmless to the average spectator who makes the occasional bet, for many it is a black hole of compulsion that destroys their finances, their relationships and their mental health. Gambling has the highest rate of suicide of all the addictions. The rise of online betting means that gambling is more accessible than ever before. One does not have to trek to the local bookies. Placing bets only takes a few taps on a smartphone now. This means that gambling advertising can have a more immediate and profound impact. When people gamble online their losses feel less tangible. It is easier to part with money when it does not come directly from your hand or wallet.

Studies have shown that problem online gamblers struggle to accurately account for just how much they have lost. The seamlessness of digital transactions works hand in hand with the distorted thinking of addiction to obscure the damage being done to problem gamblers. Recent figures show that Ireland ranks fourth among European countries on money spent on gambling per head. We know that while problem gamblers make up a small percentage of overall gamblers they contribute significantly to the industry's income; it is unknown just how much. Certain jurisdictions, such as the US state of Minnesota, have legislation mandating government agencies to produce data on this topic. Its approach could be worth replicating here. In 2020, a report from the House of Lords Select Committee on the Social and Economic Impact of the Gambling Industry found that 60% of the industry's profits came from problem or at-risk gamblers. It is an astounding figure. We know from a recent Health Research Board publication that problem gamblers are more likely to be young men, more likely to be from socially disadvantaged backgrounds and more likely to experience substance misuse and mental health issues.

Gambling can form part of a matrix of dependencies that trap people in desperate situations where they feel powerless to escape. A 2021 report from the Gambling Awareness Trust highlighted that Ireland is well behind the curve in terms of legislation regulating gambling and the advertising of gambling. This is concerning because gambling as a sector is constantly innovating. Data-driven design has been employed by online bookmakers who collect as much data as possible about their users and use this to make their products as addictive and, therefore, as lucrative as possible. Legislation needs to reflect that online gambling is a fundamentally more dangerous product than conventional gambling and requires more vigorous regulation that is informed by the experiences of recovered gambling addicts and the many clinicians and academics working in this area.

The data about the impact of the pandemic on gambling relayed in the Gambling Awareness Trust report is mixed. While lockdowns and other restrictions saw many betting shops closed for long periods, it did not impact on the revenue of the industry's big players. This is because the pandemic drove more gamblers online. Working from home, the limitations on people's social lives and inter-familial strains all contributed to some online gamblers spending more time and money on these platforms. What is most worrying is that young people are more likely to have increased their gambling during the pandemic, with 17.7% of 18- to 24-year-olds and 13% of 25- to 29-year-olds reporting having done so. We know that many young people's sense of risk is duller than that of adults, which makes them more likely to engage in risky behaviour and renders them particularly vulnerable to advertising for gambling.

While this may lie outside the parameters of the Bill being discussed, I will highlight an issue that is conspicuously absent from policy debates around gambling advertising and addiction. The rise of retail investing apps has given anyone with a smartphone and a bank account access to the stock market. There is much hype about the democratisation of finance but I worry that it is just the more acceptable face of online gambling. Anyone with a Revolut account can make incredibly risky investments in highly volatile speculative assets, such as cryptocurrencies. This new model of investing has been promoted through a barrage of slick advertising sometimes featuring A-list Hollywood stars. This advertising is inescapable online, especially for users in demographics targeted by these companies, such as young people and particularly young men. The moment-to-moment volatility of these investments and their constant accessibility recreates all the most habit-forming, destructive aspects of online gambling. However, the association these companies have with technological advancement and finance gives the practice a sense of prestige that is usually not afforded to conventional gambling. This can entice novice investors with limited financial literacy who do not fully understand the risks they are taking. The convergence of the spheres of online gambling and investment deserves closer scrutiny.

I again thank Senator Wall and all his Labour Party colleagues for bringing forward this very important legislation. I am delighted to hear that the Government is supporting it. I believe that action on this issue is long overdue. Technological development is proceeding at a rapid pace in this area and legislators and regulators must endeavour to keep up.

I thank Senator Wall. It is one of those occasions where nobody is at odds with each other in the Chamber. We are all speaking with a passion about this particular problem and have done so consistently over a long period. The speakers in this room have been consistent in that.

I will take the time to pay tribute to the Minister of State, Deputy James Browne. He is the first Minister or Minister of State who is prepared to take this on, grapple with it and not be afraid of those who would try to be a bully, such as big industry. He has the backbone. It is a minefield, but he has stepped on. It is problematic. I know that in the general scheme of Senator Wall's Bill he has looked at the issue of advertising and sponsorship and how to deal with it. We will be able to tease that out during the debate with the Minister of State as well.

When we look at the advertising surrounding the Cheltenham festival, we see that the companies concerned are some of the most creative. These guys are making billions when it comes to advertising. It is a little like Guinness when it used to sponsor the hurling championship. The advertisements are some of the most entertaining things. They are so good because they have got high-profile people, such as the one last week featuring Colm Meaney saying, "It's coming home, lads" and the Irish invasion of Cheltenham. It is a great ad, it is nuanced and it is like a call to a patriotic act of being Irish. What is it actually doing? It is asking people to wage their money with Paddy Power.

We then have the whole area of brand ambassadors. What in God's name is that? Very high-profile Irish sportspeople are prepared to lend their names to it. We do not need legislation to deal with that. We need to call out the people who are prepared, as high-profile Irish sportspeople, to put their names to these companies for moolah.

That does not need legislation. It needs them to be called out. I have done that across a number of sports, not only horse racing but GAA as well, because the reach of the companies has gone beyond. We talked about advertisements. Senator Carrigy rightly spoke of the coupons that used be on the front of the newspaper. My God, they have gone so far beyond that it is unreal.

I pay tribute to the leaders in Irish sport who are standing up, in particular in the FAI, and to the campaign led, first of all, by the chairman of Drogheda United, Mr. Conor Hoey. I refer to the Big Step campaign, which aims to rebuff and to ban sponsorship in the League of Ireland because that is what it takes. We can pass all the legislation we want. Leaders in society will always achieve more.

In 2020, people in Ireland lost €1.4 billion gambling and the losses were the fourth most in the EU.

It is the online sphere that we really need to look at in this debate. As I said, we have moved away from the newspapers. The drug lords would be jealous of the fact that this is an industry which can keep people hooked through algorithms. When you pick up your phone, your timeline becomes flooded with advertisements because they have created a case file on you. This issue was exposed by Paul Merson, the high-profile former Arsenal soccer player, in a documentary he made with the BBC last year. Mr. Merson, who lost every single penny he made from his football days, subjected his brain to neurological tests which showed that people who are addicts are susceptible to that targeted advertising. We see now that in sport, the boards placed behind players and managers after games carry the advertising logos of these companies. That torments people more, but we can take a stand. We always say that it is a wider European or global issue and that competitions transcend international boundaries, but we can take a stand. A prime example of that could be seen in France last week at the conclusion of the six nations rugby championship or, as it is officially called, the "Guinness Six Nations". The pinnacle of that championship, the big game, was France versus England in Paris. During the games that were played elsewhere earlier that day, "Guinness" was plastered across the pitch, on the ball and on the hoardings, but not in Paris because the French have a law banning this form of alcohol advertising. The word "Guinness" could not appear and it had to be replaced with the word "Greatness". "Guinness" appeared nowhere in Paris. This shows that it can be done.

I am not coming in here and being a hypocrite. I gambled every single day last week on Cheltenham and I am the worst punter in the world. The horses that I back are cursed. One of the horses I backed was winning coming up the straight, collapsed and had to be put down. My friend turned to me and said, "Cassells, you are responsible for that." However, I had put aside an amount of money to have the craic with my friends last week. I knew that when that money was gone, those were my losses allocated for the week. By the way, I won on not one race, but I had the fun with my friends in the pub and the craic and that was the fun I derived from that.

They must have known who it was.

I could park it there. When the Gold Cup and Cheltenham was over, I could park it. The Midlands Derby was the next day in Uttoxeter and I happened to see there was a horse running in it called Young Dev at 10/1. I was tempted. I can park it but there are people, part of whose brain is susceptible to that type of advertising, who cannot park it. Advertising, particularly online advertising, is the sphere we need to tackle.

I support Senator Wall for his passion in this area. I support the Minister of State, Deputy James Browne, for bringing forward a substantial piece of legislation. I look forward to working with the Minister of State to make sure we tackle this scourge and protect the people who cannot protect themselves. That is what we are about here. By the way, Young Dev finished second and I am glad I did not back it.

You could have gone each way.

At the outset, I congratulate the Labour Party, and specifically Senator Wall, on the proposed legislation. Senator Wall has a passion for this issue. He is sincere about it and has worked hard on it. He has done the House much service in doing that. Senator Wall has certainly done his party and the country some good in that respect. It is important and I say "well done" to him.

I salute genuinely the real commitment of the Minister of State, Deputy James Browne, on this matter. The Minister of State is consistently committed to and consistently courageous on it. When I meet the Minister of State on the corridor, I am impressed that he identifies me as one of the people who have consistently spoken on this issue over the past couple of years and - without asking - he briefs me on where the legislation is at and what is happening. I appreciate that. It is a sign of the Minister of State's genuine passion for the subject. We are fortunate in that regard.

I personally support the legislation wholeheartedly. In my opinion, we should be banning all such advertising. I would support Senator Wall's view on that.

I will make a few general points. We all know people in our communities with a gambling addiction problem. Everybody knows them and public representatives know more of them than most. There are common features across such cases, including family breakdown, financial ruin, depression, job loss, psychiatric illness, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, ADHD, bipolar, and often suicide or attempted suicide. This is a bleak picture but it is a real picture. We know these people in our communities. While these are stark examples, we know well that in every one of our communities there are a number of people who are less affected, but very seriously affected.

Obviously, there has been a big increase during Covid. Smartphones are a real issue now. That is why Senator Mullen mentioned bookie shops closing. They are closing because all of this activity has moved to the iPhones. We have highly addictive gambling products that are designed by mathematical geniuses to make them attractive and seductive. We have free bets, which should be eliminated too because they are wrong. They are there to entice people in. This is how young people develop their addiction. This has all obviously arisen during Covid.

It is interesting that Ireland has the third highest per capita spend on gambling in the world. That is a stark statistic. As I have said, the products are addictive. We need a limit on spending. That is what should be done in the future. It should not be possible to gamble on ordinary credit cards; it should be possible on debit cards only. The token bets should be done away with. I believe the Minister of State has the courage for it and has been doing it. We should go at it fully because we will become as unpopular for doing it half-right as for fully right. We might as well go at it right.

On these products, Professor Colin O’Gara, clinical professor of psychiatry at UCD, says that 5% of people are affected. Professor O'Gara says that up to 250,000 people suffer financial and relationship difficulties, etc., because of gambling. As I have said, the general statistic - one cited by Senator Wall - is that approximately 40,000 people in the country are in the problem gambling zone. That is a very serious situation.

It is important to state, as my colleague Senator Carrigy did earlier, that my party will be supporting the legislation. My party will not be standing against such objectively correct legislation.

I support the idea of a fund from the industry. The industry should subvent the treatment. This money should not be provided to the industry's own charity but to an objective source. It would go to the State to assist with the gambling addiction. The HSE now needs to recognise gambling addiction as a problem and deal with it as a specific illness or condition.

We must take on the advertising in a big way. I refer to pop-up advertisements, etc. The number of advertisements during the recent European Championship soccer games was beyond reason and they were constant last week, as all the Senators said, through Cheltenham. We need to deal with this.

This is a real problem. Obviously, there are so many facets. The advertising is a big one and has to be taken on, and that is the substance of this Bill. There is no escaping that reality. We will find State support. We are finding State support for everything these days. Let us find State support for the sports that will lose money over it. That is one facet of it.

The second thing that we should be fit to do is to deal with spending limits and with the type of credit cards being used, etc. Parallel with that would be the support fund from the industry. I believe the health system should specifically address the difficulties of people who engage in problem gambling. We also need to develop educational products around this. There has to be education about gambling in the schools and right through.

It is a very complex and broad question and none of us, certainly not the Minister of State or Senator Wall, are naive enough to think we would eliminate problem gambling through this Bill. However, it would save a lot of people, families and individuals and a lot of hardship and suffering could be avoided. We will not wipe out the problem. It would be naive to think that. We will not do that but we will alleviate pain, suffering and hardship, not only for the people with the gambling problems themselves but for the people with whom they come in contact, their families, communities and society. I will leave it at that. This is too important an issue to interrupt a proper response from the Minister of State.

I thank the Labour Party and, in particular, Senators Wall, Sherlock, Moynihan, Hoey, and former Senator, now Deputy, Bacik for bringing forward this Bill. The Government fully understands the concerns Members have about problem gambling and in particular the impact that gambling and its advertising may have on children. Senator Wall’s passion for this issue has been clear since his election to the Seanad and has been matched with reasoned proposals from the very beginning. This Bill is an important contribution and keeps that focus on the issue of problem gambling. We have not had full and substantive reform of our gambling legislation since the 1950s. That said, I acknowledge the very important work done by Deputy David Stanton, both in the legislation he brought forward himself and in the foundational work he did on the legislation I have brought forward.

The personal stories we have heard today from all Senators bring home the impact problem gambling has had on our society and the very real consequences and devastation to families. That includes financial devastation, devastation to people’s relationships and often very serious consequences for individuals who find themselves in difficult situations. Recently, there have been increasingly blurred lines with gambling advertising made to look like gaming and fun activities. That sense of allurement and pulling people in has been referred to several times.

With regard to the gaming industry, Senator Pauline O’Reilly referred to loot boxes and similar activities that condition young people towards gambling. We have to be aware that society is changing rapidly. We all remember the hullabaloo 12 years ago about a physical casino being set up in Tipperary and how that might impact and promote gambling. Now every 12-year-old is going around with a casino in their back pocket. That is the reality of it. There are issues around augmented reality, artificial intelligence, algorithms, the blurred lines to which I referred and the mass advertising that is happening. Senators Wall and Cassels also rightly pointed out the greater role of gambling meshing in with sport and how it is almost impossible to participate in and enjoy sport without gambling being front and centre.

A long time has passed since we had extensive gambling reform - way too long. The reform being brought forward now by the Government is critical and is very much informed by the work of Senator Wall. It will protect vulnerable people and set out the dangers and risks around gambling, which are becoming ever more pervasive. We also know of the good work that has been done by Senator Joe O’Reilly for a long time in keeping gambling on the agenda. He referred to the work done by Professor O’Gara on this matter.

I again thank the Labour Party and its Senators. The Government is fully supportive of the important public policy objectives motivating this Bill. For this reason, and as the Government is progressing its own comprehensive legislation on gambling regulation that will address many of these issues, It has decided not to oppose Second Stage of this Bill and will support it. As Members will be aware, the Government has committed in the programme for Government to comprehensively reforming the licensing and regulation of gambling activities. The debate on reforming gambling has been going on for a long time. It is time to bring that debate to a conclusion over the coming months and pass legislation that will address this core issue. As public representatives, we are all too aware of the great difficulties that many people, their families and communities have suffered as a result of gambling addiction and problem gambling in general. It is an issue that must be addressed for the well-being of our society and, with the support of the Oireachtas, the Government intends to put in place a comprehensive framework that will safeguard and address problem gambling, including advertising, at its core. I am very aware of the proliferation of gambling advertising and this Bill is widely welcomed.

Last October, the Government published the general scheme of the gambling regulation Bill. As I said then, the publication of the Bill marked an important milestone towards the effective regulation of gambling in Ireland under a new, independent statutory body, the gambling regulatory authority of Ireland. One of the key objectives of the authority will be to set safeguards to address problem gambling, including in respect of gambling advertising. In addition, the authority will provide a clear and comprehensive legislative framework which will make it easier to hold companies to account, as well as measures to prevent gambling being a source of support to crime. While I certainly appreciate the aims of this Private Member's Bill, it only address one important element of the many objectives addressed in the Government's Bill. Further consideration of unforeseen implications and consequence of today's Bill is required and I look forward ti further engagement with Senator Wall on that. That is the rationale for the Government's support of this Bill on Second Stage. The Government legislation is a comprehensive piece of reform to bring about gambling regulation and coherent licensing and will address gambling advertising, along with appropriate safeguards for customers. I again thank Senator Wall and acknowledge his positive contributions in that respect.

Senators will be aware of the complexity of the modern offerings of the gambling industry and the speed with which innovations are introduced. It is important that we take as comprehensive an approach as possible to this area and that we future-proof any measures so they are adaptable to changing circumstances. By providing a coherent licensing and regulation environment, including a powerful independent regulator, the Government legislation will allow for agile responses to any new issues of concern or new areas requiring regulation. The State needs a powerful and responsive authority that can keep pace with a fast-moving industry. In January, the Government approved the gambling regulation Bill for priority drafting and publication and the drafting of the Bill in the Office of the Attorney General, in co-operation with my Department's officials is progressing. Furthermore, the Joint Committee on Justice has commenced its pre-legislative scrutiny process on the Government's gambling regulation Bill. The committee has held two pre-legislative scrutiny sessions, which I followed with interest. Witnesses invited to address the committee included support groups working with those who have suffered from gambling addiction. Among a range of issues, they expressed their concerns around advertising, particularly advertising that may be seen by under 18s. I look forward to receiving the report of the committee, which will inform the further development of the Bill.

I have also listened with interest to the contributions made today and I, along with my officials, will consider them in the context of our ongoing work on the Bill. The Government's work has been informed by the report of the interdepartmental working group on the future of licensing and regulation of gambling, approved by the Government on 20 March 2019. The Bill has also drawn on analysis of the regulatory approaches in other jurisdictions and the nature of gambling within this State. Following extensive consideration and consultation, the Government has proposed the establishment of a gambling regulator focused on public safety and well-being. In its regulation of the industry, the new gambling regulatory authority will have a focus on the impacts of harmful and problem gambling. The Government's Bill will empower the independent gambling regulator to develop regulations, codes of conduct and codes of practice on various issues relating to gambling including advertising.

The impact of gambling advertising has been a key element of consideration in the development of the Bill. A key focus of the gambling regulatory authority will be appropriate standards for advertising and customer protection by gambling operators. The authority will examine advertising in the context of the full range of activities of the gambling operators and it will be essential for operators to comply if they are to maintain their licence. The authority will have the power to impose fines where codes of conducts and regulations are not being complied with, and to remove a licence or block the various sites if they are in breach of the regulations and guidelines. It is the Government's intention that the authority be empowered sufficiently to perform its role with efficiency and fairness, and that it will be sufficiently resourced to allow it to ground its decisions in a thorough understanding of the industry. We are all aware that the technology in the gambling sector is constantly developing. To effectively protect customers and communities, the authority must be able to respond with agility to any new developments.

A recruitment process for a CEO-designate of the gambling regulator is currently under way and there is a clear path towards the regulator being operational by 2023. I appreciate the opportunity today for further discussion today with Seanad Members on this important area. The Government's Bill will seek to address the widespread concern over the lack of robust regulation of gambling advertising and the negative consequences that this is having on our society. I agree with Senator Wall that this is not about ending gambling or about stopping people from having fun. It is about protecting vulnerable people in our society.

I thank the Minister of State. It is very good to hear about the gambling regulator and the social impact fund, which are great measures. I thank all Senators for sharing their experiences today and I particularly thank Senators Wall and Sherlock for bringing this Bill to the House. Gambling addiction is a terrible problem in Irish society and the strongest possible measures are needed to tackle it. It is important, in the context of families in financial distress, to mention the Money Advice and Budgeting Service, MABS.

I now invite Senator Wall to respond to the debate.

I thank the Acting Chairperson for her kind words and encouragement. As Senator Cassells said, a number of Senators have spoken passionately over the past two years about gambling. Indeed, I have joined Senators Cassells, Pauline O’Reilly and Mullen on a number of podcasts on this important topic. Concern about this issue is cross-party and that message is loud and clear here tonight. As has been said, we have been waiting since the 1950s for legislation like that which is being proposed by the Government and like the Bill before us tonight. It is good to hear united voices across the Chamber tonight, as has been the case for the past two years.

I thank my colleague, Senator Sherlock, who has been very supportive of this legislation since we first introduced it. As she said earlier, it was 1976 when important legislation in this area was introduced. She spoke about day-in, day-out gambling and that is what this Bill is all about. It is about those people who, unfortunately, cannot control their gambling addiction. That is why we are here tonight and that is why all Senators, as well as the Minister of State, have spoken in favour of bringing in new legislation. Senator Crowe is completely right that legislation governing this area is thoroughly outdated, having been introduced in the 1950s. The last commitment we got was in 2013. Any time one talks to those involved in helping those with gambling addiction, they refer to 2013. Now, in 2022, with the Minister of State's proposed legislation alongside this Bill, we are finally seeing a commitment from the Oireachtas to bring forward long-overdue legislation.

Senator O'Loughlin quoted Mr. Richie Power. I was not aware of his case until I read about it recently and I am sure that is the case for others in this House. Mr. Power is a decorated Kilkenny hurler and a person I have looked up to for so long. His message is very important. Those who are signing up to promote gambling companies should talk to the Richie Powers and the Oisín McConvilles of this world to find out what it is really like to have an addiction. I have spoken to them and they are so generous in giving their time to people who have a gambling addiction. They explain what it is like to go home with no money in one's pocket and to have to lie to one's loved ones about where the money has gone. Every one of those people who sign up, especially the sports stars, should talk to the Oisín McConvilles, the Richie Powers, and the Davy Glennons of this world, to whom I have spoken. I am sure the Minister of State has spoken to them too.

I agree with Senator Carrigy that we all gamble. I come from County Kildare, the home of Punchestown and have an interest in gambling. Hopefully I will see Senator Carrigy at the Longford day but both he and I can control our gambling. As others have said, we are in a position to control our gambling but tonight we are representing those 40,000 people who cannot control it. We are trying to introduce legislation to protect them and to ensure that their number does not grow to 50,000 or 60,000. The latest research suggests that up to 130,000 people could develop an addiction and that is something that nobody in this House or in our public health system wants to see.

Senator Mullen questioned some aspects of the legislation and I accept that it is not perfect. The Minister of State said the same and we accept that. However, what we are doing here is trying to address a problem that exists. Hopefully when we get this Bill to Committee Stage, Senator Mullen and others will be able to table amendments to it to improve it.

The national lottery is a problem in the context of advertising but there is a separate regulator for the lottery. That is something that needs to be looked at. Senator Pauline O'Reilly said that the lottery has been reaching out to Members and indeed, I got a phone call yesterday. Representatives of the national lottery want to talk to us again about what they are doing. I am happy to talk to them but when I do so, I will be representing those people who need help. It is very important that public representatives continue to talk to those people because it is important to hear their side of the story as well.

Senator Pauline O'Reilly spoke about gambling addiction and welcomed the fact that the role of chief executive of the new gambling regulatory authority was advertised recently. We all welcome that development and hope the authority will be up and running as soon as possible.

I also thank Senators Ó Donnghaile and Black for their contributions. Senator Black has always been very supportive of this legislation. She mentioned other issues that I am sure the Minister of State will tackle in his forthcoming legislation. I could not agree more with Senator Cassells, who displays such passion every time he speaks about this subject. We do need to call out those sports stars who are signing up for money. They need to sit down with the Oisín McConvilles of this world because they would think twice about doing it then. Senator Joe O'Reilly has always been very supportive on the subject of gambling addiction. One of the questions I get asked regularly in the context of this debate is what happens to the sports clubs when the money is taken away from them. Senator Joe O'Reilly mentioned State support and we need to look at that. As Senator Cassells said, we must also acknowledge what Drogheda United and other clubs in the League of Ireland have done in walking away from gambling sponsorship. They have shown great leadership and that must be acknowledged.

I acknowledge the work that the Minister of State has done in this area. We have spoken regularly about what we can do for those 40,000 people in Ireland with a gambling addiction. I look forward to continuing to work with him. I thank the Government for not opposing this legislation tonight. The Labour Party is not giving up today. We will continue to represent those people who come to our clinics and who contact us by email and through social media. I have been inundated with correspondence on this. I spoke about a lady earlier and how it was great to see that she has been able to turn her life around. We must also have a conversation about the fact that there is help out there for people. People should pick up the phone and seek help. There are some great organisations out there. Many could do with more funding but that is a conversation for another day. I thank everybody for their contributions to this debate.

I thank Senator Wall. It is important to end the debate with a message of hope and to remind people that there is a lot of help out there.

Question put and agreed to.

When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

Next Tuesday.

Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 29 March 2022.

When is it proposed to sit again?

Tomorrow at 10.30 a.m.

Cuireadh an Seanad ar athló ar 5.30 p.m. go dtí 10.30 a.m., Dé Déardaoin, an 24 Márta 2022.
The Seanad adjourned at 5.30 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 24 March 2022.