Gaming and Lotteries (Amendment) Bill 2019: Second Stage

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

I am very pleased to have this opportunity to move Second Stage of the Gaming and Lotteries (Amendment) Bill 2019. The Bill seeks to address certain deficiencies with regard to the conduct of gaming and lottery activities regulated under the Gaming and Lotteries Act 1956. Deputies will agree that the provisions of that Act are, for the most part, outdated and require modernisation.

The Bill proposes a number of interim reform measures for the licensing and regulation of gaming and lottery activities covered by the 1956 Act, pending the development of comprehensive reform through a revised gambling control Bill. The discussions on the Bill in the Seanad were most informative and a small number of Government amendments to the published Bill, primarily of a technical or textual nature were agreed. I look forward to a constructive discussion on the Bill's proposals with Deputies during its passage through this House.

It would be useful to mention some of the issues that were discussed in the Seanad. The issue of the activities of so-called private members' clubs arose. Such clubs are not licensed in accordance with the 1956 Act or under any other legislative provision. Thus, the provisions of this Bill do not concern them and there is no intention in the current Bill to impact on their current operation. However, private members' clubs are subject to taxation and anti-money laundering compliance regimes. I should also mention that there are no proposals in the Bill to provide for the licensing of casinos. That must await the planned comprehensive reform. The prohibition on any kind of gaming in which by reason of the nature of the game, the chances of all the players, including the banker, are not equal, is maintained in new section 9A. This effectively prevents casino operation.

There was also extensive discussion in the Seanad on the issue of prohibiting licensed online remote bookmakers and licensed bookmakers' shops providing betting opportunities on the outcome of the national lottery draws. As I pointed out in the Seanad, I have no function in respect of the national lottery. That is a matter for the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform under the National Lottery Act 2013. I opposed proposals to introduce such a prohibition. My approach to this matter must be guided by the relevant Minister. The latter recently reiterated his position of opposing any prohibition on licensed betting operators providing this betting option. There was no evidence advanced in the Seanad that betting on lottery numbers is undermining good causes funding currently or that it threatens the long-term profitability of the national lottery operator, now a private company.

I have no proposals to repeal sections 12 and 13 of the 1956 Act, to end the requirement for a local authority resolution allowing gaming, by way of gaming machines, in a local authority area, as was suggested during the debate in the Seanad. Such resolution is required for an application to the District Court for a gaming certificate and then to the Revenue Commissioners for a licence. Some matters in this regard are, I understand, still before the courts and therefore, we must be careful of commenting. However, for the avoidance of any doubt, I should emphasise that the Minister for Justice and Equality has no role in the licensing of gaming machines. Neither does this Bill provide for a licensing pathway for online gaming, including the playing of gaming machines online. In regard to gaming machines, Deputies will note the recommendations contained in the interdepartmental report of the working group on the future licensing and regulation of gambling, approved by Government on 20 March last, which would transfer future responsibility for licensing of all forms of gambling, land based and online, to a new gambling regulatory authority. At that time, the involvement of the local authorities and other bodies currently concerned would cease. Work on comprehensive legislative and regulatory reform that will include the establishment of the new regulatory authority, has commenced in my Department. However, it will take some time to bring my proposals to fruition, and I do not expect that a revised general scheme of a gambling control Bill may be presented for Government approval until 2020 at the earliest. The scheme will be based on the report of the interdepartmental working group which reviewed the 2013 general scheme of the gambling control Bill and developments since.

To return to the Bill before the House, the amendments to the Gaming and Lotteries Act 1956 provide for a significant modernisation of the provisions of that Act. They provide greater clarity and certainty for all promoters and participants involved, primarily in local fundraising efforts and seek to ensure the best conduct in the promotion of gaming and lottery activities. We all know from our involvement in our local sporting clubs and community organisations how important they are to our local communities. I am sure Deputies will appreciate the need to ensure that worthwhile and necessary fundraising activity through gaming and lottery activity is supported, while also ensuring that the permit and licensing process is as clear as possible for the promoters.

The primary features of this Bill to amend the 1956 Act will be as follows. The Bill will modernise the permit and licensing regime for local gaming and lottery activities and standardise the age limit for participating in all activities under the Gaming and Lotteries Act 1956 and for betting with the tote at 18 years of age. These limits are currently applied to betting activities and the national lottery. It will assist in combatting potential fraudulent behaviour and it will provide an improved application process, setting out more clearly the conditions required for promoters of gaming, and lottery activity, whether to a Garda superintendent for a permit or to the Revenue Commissioners or the District Court for a licence. The Bill will increase, for the first time since 1956, the now archaic stakes and prize limits for licensed gaming activities and machines. For the first time, the Bill will set out a clear distribution matrix for how the proceeds are allocated to prizes, beneficiaries and promoter expenses for those lotteries held under licence. It will also modernise the offences provisions of the 1956 Act and require An Garda Síochána, the Revenue Commissioners and the clerk of the District Court to maintain a register of all permits or licences issued under the Act.

The main provisions of the Bill include the following sections. Section 2 includes a number of amended or additional definitions of the principal Act to ensure greater clarity and to reflect the modernisation of that Act. Section 3 replaces section 4 of the Gaming and Lotteries Act 1956 and requires that a valid permit or licence is required to promote gaming and provides that it is an offence to do so without a permit or licence. Section 4 inserts a new section 9A into the 1956 Act. This section sets out the application process for a permit for gaming to be issued by a Garda superintendent for charitable or philanthropic purposes or for private benefit, with a maximum stake of €10 and a maximum prize limit per game of €3,000. The section further sets out the various conditions that will apply to gaming promoted under a permit issued in accordance with the Act. No person under 18 years may take part. The section continues the provision that no permit for gaming on licensed premises will be issued for that gaming to be carried on by means of gaming machines.

Section 5 substitutes a new section 14 for that section of the 1956 Act. The amendment concerns essentially the updating of maximum allowable stake and prize amounts. These are increased from 3 cent and 50 cent to €10 and €750, respectively. There is a new regulation making power for the Minister for Justice and Equality to amend stake and prize amounts. The section also makes it an offence to accept a stake from a person under the age of 18 years. Section 6 amends section 15 of the 1956 Act in a number of respects, including that the District Court may attach to its certificate conditions limiting the hours during which gaming may be carried on, restricting the kinds of gaming, and the extent to which particular kinds of gaming may be carried on.

Section 7 inserts a new section 19A into the 1956 Act requiring the Revenue Commissioners to establish and maintain a register of gaming licences accessible online. Section 8 substitutes a new section 26 for that section contained in the 1956 Act. In accordance with the new section, it will be an offence to promote any form of lottery activity without a licence or permit having been issued in accordance with the Act. Section 9 inserts a new section 26A into the 1956 Act. This section is based on the provision in Part B of the approved general scheme of the Gambling Control Bill 2013 for de minimis lotteries promoted for the benefit of a charitable or philanthropic purpose and not for the promoter’s benefit. Such a lottery would not require a permit or licence, the prize would be limited to €1,000 and no more than 1,500 tickets at a maximum price of €5 could be sold. This would be useful for those wishing to conduct a raffle on the night of local events.

Section 10 inserts a new section 27A into the 1956 Act based on the provision of the general scheme of the Gambling Control Bill 2013, which allows for the use of sales and marketing promotions, which may involve a lottery element. Such activities will not be subject to a permit or licence, provided there is no cost of purchase and a total prize value of €2,500 is permitted. Section 11 inserts a new section 27B into the 1956 Act and details the process involved in an application to a Garda superintendent for a lottery permit. The section maintains the current weekly prize fund amounts of €5,000 for lotteries held under a Garda permit.

Section 12 substitutes section 28 of the 1956 Act with a new section that sets out the application process for a lottery licensed by the District Court. The section maintains the current maximum prize amount of €30,000. The section, however, makes provision for a prize fund limit of €360,000, where a once-off annual lottery is promoted under a District Court licence. This provision is advanced from the 2013 general scheme of the Gambling Control Bill 2013.

Section 13 amends section 30 of the 1956 Act by relocating the penalty provisions contained therein to an amended section 44, as inserted by section 18 of this Bill. Section 14 substitutes section 33 of the 1956 Act with a new section concerning information to be contained on lottery tickets. Section 15 amends section 37 of the 1956 Act. The current seizure provision in that section relating to unlawful gaming instruments, as defined in the Act, is now extended to gaming machines. Section 16 amends section 41 of the 1956 Act, by relocating the penalty provisions contained therein to an amended section 44.

Section 17 amends section 42 of the 1956 Act by extending its provisions to include gaming machines in addition to gaming instruments. Section 18 substitutes section 44 of the 1956 Act with a new offences section. Penalties for all offences, existing or new, under the 1956 Act, as amended, are located in one section. The possible sanctions that might be imposed on conviction are updated. Corporate bodies are also subject to the consolidated penalty provisions under section 44.

Section 19 of the Bill, as published, was amended in the Seanad to introduce greater certainty into the process for the revocation or suspension of a gaming licence or permit or a lottery licence or permit. Where the holder of a licence or permit is convicted of an offence under the Act, a superintendent of An Garda Síochána may apply to the District Court for an order that the licence or permit be revoked or suspended. The clerk of the District Court will be required to notify the Revenue Commissioners of any order made under the section and its terms. Section 20 amends section 47 of the 1956 Act by providing that the current forfeiture provision for gaming instruments is extended to provide also for forfeiture of gaming machines.

Section 21 amends section 48 of the 1956 Act by extending the provision for the courts to order destruction of documents relating to a lottery to provide also for destruction of documents relating to a gaming activity. Section 22 amends section 50 of the 1956 Act and provides for the regulation making power with regard to the keeping of accounts and other records of permits for gaming and lotteries issued by the Garda to now be vested in the Minister for Justice and Equality, rather than the Garda Commissioner, who would be consulted on the matter.

Section 23 inserts a new section 50A into the 1956 Act. A regulation making power for the Minister for Justice and Equality was inserted into section 28A of the 1956 Act through section 51 of the National Lottery Act 2013. As the repeal of section 28A is now proposed, this regulation making power is restated in this section. Section 24 details the sections of the 1956 Act to be repealed by the Bill. The section also contains a transitional provision dealing with lottery permits in force at the time of the proposed repeal of section 27 of the 1956 Act. Section 25 amends the Totalisator Act 1929 by inserting a new section 4A into that Act, which introduces for the first time, an age limit for betting on the tote of 18 years. The penalties in subsection (2) mirror those contained in the Betting Act 1931 for engaging in betting transactions with persons under the age of 18 years.

Section 26 is a new section inserted in the Seanad. It sets out a series of amendments to section 6 of the Betting Act 1931 relating to the power of the Minister for Justice and Equality to revoke or refuse certificates of personal fitness required when seeking licensing as a bookmaker. Deputies will note that the Bill’s Long Title has been consequentially amended to take account of this new section. Section 27 provides for the Short Title, collective citation and commencement of the Act.

In summary, the amendments I have proposed in this Bill comprise an interim reform measure. While it is limited, it will have the effect of modernising and clarifying the provisions of what is, as matters stand, greatly outdated legislation. I expect Deputies to raise issues relating to harmful gambling in their contributions. The primary approach to treatment of persons with a gambling problem or addiction must be from the health perspective. I reiterated this point during our debate in the other House. However, I accept that we must and we will, through the planned comprehensive reform, find ways to better address the complex matters involved. We should be careful to avoid raising undue expectations that the proposed regulatory authority can fix all gambling problems. Measures that may be taken by the authority can help to educate and alleviate concerns about problem gambling. Unfortunately, there is no remedy available that can ensure total success concerning this particular addiction. It is an addiction and it is a health issue. In any event, this is not a matter that can be addressed in this limited Bill at this time.

I look forward to the debate on my current proposals and I hope, with the co-operation of all sides, that we can facilitate the swift passage of this Bill. I commend the Bill to the House.

Debate adjourned.