Wednesday, 8 May 2019

Questions (479)

Jim O'Callaghan

Question:

479. Deputy Jim O'Callaghan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his plans to put forward legislation to address gambling addiction; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18911/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Justice)

The Deputy will appreciate that the Government's approach is to bring about comprehensive reform of the licensing and regulation of gambling activities in Ireland. If we can achieve this objective, we will then be in a better position to address issues relating to problem gambling.

How best to address the issue of problem gambling has been one of the main concerns in the discussion about the future licensing and regulation of gambling. However, gambling addiction, as with other addictions, is primarily a health matter. Any potential approaches to tackling this issue must be considered in that context. We should be careful about giving rise to excessive hopes that the proposed regulatory authority in itself, perhaps through restrictive measures, will eliminate problem gambling in its entirety, because it will not do so.

The Deputy should note that even where there is robust and long-standing regulation and dedicated regulatory authorities for gambling are in existence, such as in the UK, Malta and New Zealand, these States still experience problem gambling. Expectations that the planned reform of our gambling laws will lead to a major reduction in problem gambling behaviour should be balanced by the experience in such jurisdictions.

The Inter-Departmental Working Group on the Future Licensing and Regulation of Gambling was conscious of the issue of problem gambling in Irish society, which can involve severely negative impacts for the person as well as his or her family. It was considered by the Working Group that the approach taken in the 2013 General Scheme of the Gambling Control Bill towards the protection of vulnerable persons remained broadly valid.

The Report of the Working Group, published by Government on 20 March, 2019, contains a number of recommendations in respect of vulnerable persons. These recommendations, if implemented in full, offer the best vehicle for addressing some aspects of problem gambling and addiction from the perspective of licensing and regulation.

The recommendations include age restrictions (over 18s only), staff training, potential self-exclusion measures and certain controls on advertising, promotions and sponsorship. A critical recommendation is the establishment and operation of a Social Fund, to fund treatment programmes by relevant professional experts and to help fund research and information campaigns.