That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to amend, in the interest of the common good, the Betting Act 1931 so as to prevent the placing of bets or otherwise dealing in bets that involve the use of a credit card, and for that purpose to prohibit the acceptance of such bets or dealing in such bets by providing that no licence shall be issued by the Revenue Commissioners under that Act unless the applicant for the licence has given them an undertaking not to accept bets or otherwise deal in bets that involve the use either directly or indirectly of a credit card, to amend sections 5C and 16 of that Act and to provide for related matters.
I extend my sincere thanks to the Office of Parliamentary Legal Advisers, the Bills Office and my team, all of whom put in a huge effort in working with me to bring forward this vital legislation.
Approximately 55,000 people in this State are engaged in serious problem gambling. Many more people are at risk and need protection. The aim behind the Bill is to provide just one of the protections required for these people. It would completely ban the use of credit cards for gambling online and in betting shops. Failure to do so would result in the companies concerned losing their licences. This Bill would not affect those gambling for fun or gambling safely, but it will provide some protection for those at risk.
I am disappointed that I need to stand here today to introduce this legislation. The only reason that this Bill is needed is that once again Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have broken their promises to introduce a gambling control Bill. In the eight years since the general scheme of the gambling control Bill was first published. In the interim, numerous deadlines have been missed. The last of those was only six days ago, at the end of quarter 3. Once again we had been promised that the Bill would be published, but that did not happen. A strong independent gambling regulator would introduce this much needed protection for vulnerable people. Such a regulator could introduce numerous regulations, such as those to which I referred and others, and each of those elements would come together like a jigsaw to provide real protection for those at risk of or currently engaged in problem gambling.
In August, I published a comprehensive gambling strategy for the Twenty-six Counties. Today’s legislation is the first step in making that policy a reality. While Fine Gael has had legislation gathering dust since 2013, Sinn Féin is taking positive steps forward to finally regulate gambling and to protect those at risk of or who are in gambling addiction. A ban on the use of credit cards is a no-brainer. It has been recognised by the gambling industry itself that this must happen. The national lottery has taken steps to introduce such a ban and some bookmakers are bringing forward optional bans in limited situations. The problem with optional bans is that they can be withdrawn as easily as they can be introduced. If bookmakers are losing money or customers due to these bans, then where does that leave vulnerable people?
We need a blanket ban to ensure that those with problem gambling behaviour or those in the throes of addiction are not gambling away money that they do not have and they cannot afford. For far too long, the attitude of various Governments to gambling regulation has been represented by a shrug of the shoulders. As we heard discussed in recent days and also regularly in the media, the spiral of gambling addiction can be well hidden until the consequences are so severe that a person’s life has been changed catastrophically. I have helped people who have lost their marriages, their homes, their jobs and their relationships with family and friends. I am not pretending that this legislation will prevent all that happening, but it will be a start and it will help to reduce some of the harm being caused. I call on Members from all parties and none to support this legislation to ensure that we see true protections for some of the most vulnerable people in our society.