Regulation of Gambling Sector: Discussion

I thank the Chairman. I am very happy to have the opportunity this morning to inform the joint committee of the Government’s efforts and intentions on regulation and control of the gambling sector. I apologise for having to leave, but I would be quite happy to come back at any time to engage with the committee and to hear its views on this very important issue.

Gambling activity is of considerable economic importance in Ireland. In 2017, the returns from the 1% betting duty and sales of national lottery ticket sales alone suggest an industry with a turnover in the order of €6 billion annually, and it might be even more than that. There are no figures published for revenue from online gaming, gaming in arcades and private members’ clubs, bingo, or the thousands of local community lotteries and raffles in the State. It would not be unreasonable to estimate the turnover of the Irish gambling market annually as being between €6 billion and €8 billion. As members of the committee will be aware, the Government's efforts to bring about reform were signalled by the publication in 2013 of the general scheme of the Gambling Control Bill. That scheme was examined by the justice committee at the time, but unfortunately did not progress. Since assuming responsibility for this area in 2016, I was determined to review the provisions of the 2013 general scheme to take account of the complex and ever-evolving nature of the gambling environment, both domestic and international. Increasingly, gambling is an activity that is moving to an online environment, and traditional gaming arcades and other places are diminishing in importance. As the gambling industry changes, so must the State’s licensing and regulatory approach. The development of modern, fit-for-purpose legislation is necessary and is a priority for the Government. A modern regulatory approach will enhance consumer protection in all forms of gambling, increase the protection of vulnerable persons and potentially increase Exchequer revenue from the gambling industry. Incremental change is not a viable approach to this reform. Effective reform will require fundamental and significant change. This will take some time to develop and it is essential that significant resources are committed to support the reform.

The Inter-Departmental Working Group on the Future Licensing and Regulation of Gambling was established in January 2018 to review the provisions of the general scheme of the Gambling Control Bill 2013, and to determine if they remained fit for purpose in the light of the significant developments in both the domestic and international gambling industries in the intervening period. The Government approved the working group’s report and published it on 20 March. I hope that members of the committee have had a chance to examine it since, as there is a lot in it, and it is quite detailed. Critically, the report recommended that all future responsibility for licensing and regulation of all forms of gambling be vested in a proposed new gambling regulatory authority. The working group also proposed the following measures - the rationalisation of the lengthy list of licensing categories for gambling activities recommended in the 2013 scheme, given the increasing move to online gambling; that significant background checking be required in determining applications for gambling licences; that all gambling licences should have appropriate terms and conditions attached to protect consumers and vulnerable persons, and for assisting in combatting fraud and money laundering; a range of possible options on the future approach to regulating advertising, sponsorship and promotion of gambling products, taking into account impacts for related sectors; and an improvement of the current minimal protection for consumers of gambling products to ensure fairness for all parties involved. An alternative disputes resolution, ADR, mechanism should be developed to settle disputes.

The working group was conscious of the issue of problem gambling in Irish society, which can involve severely negative impacts for the person involved as well as his or her family. It considered that the approach taken in the 2013 general scheme towards the protection of vulnerable persons remained broadly valid. This included establishment of a social fund, funded by levies on licensed gambling operators, to assist with research and information campaigns and to support dedicated gambling addiction treatment by those professional and expert organisations involved in this field. Since I assumed special responsibility in this area, my guiding principle has been that we must license and regulate the many legitimate gambling pursuits in which many citizens choose to participate in a modern, transparent and proportionate manner. In doing so, we must ensure the best possible enforcement of the law and compliance with licensing conditions, increase revenue to the Exchequer, improve services to the consumer, and support the optimal protection for persons who may be vulnerable to addiction.

The main element of the Government decision on reform of 20 March 2019 was approving the establishment of a new gambling regulatory authority as an independent statutory body. The Government is clearly of the view, and I hope it is one that can be shared by the committee, that without the establishment of a new gambling regulatory authority, modern effective licensing and regulation cannot be achieved. Independent regulation would mirror the situation in most EU member states. Our current legislation does not provide for a coherent licensing and regulatory approach to gambling activities. Responsibility for licensing is shared among a number of Departments and agencies. This fragmentation does not facilitate a consistent and effective approach to ensuring consumer protection and the protection of vulnerable persons, including underage persons. Committee members will appreciate that effective modern licensing and regulation will require significant additional resources, primarily for the operation of the new regulatory authority. The working group agreed, however, that any new regulatory authority should, to a large degree, be ultimately self-financing, with income from licence fees, fines imposed on operators, and other duties. The group also examined the issue of advertising, sponsorship and promotion of gambling products, and looked at a range of possible options on the future approach to these activities. These matters have attracted much public interest and comment. Suggestions of potential restrictions in this regard must be carefully considered, targeted and be effective. Sectors of Irish sporting activity depend heavily on gambling advertising and sponsorship and would risk being very negatively impacted by restrictions.

The committee wished to be informed as to the Gaming and Lotteries (Amendment) Bill 2019.

I am pleased to report that yesterday evening in the Seanad we launched the Second Stage debate on this Bill, which amends the Gaming and Lotteries Act 1956. Second Stage was completed in the Seanad yesterday evening. That Bill contains the existing provisions governing the permit and licence approach to gaming and lottery activity. The Bill provides for the modernisation of the Gaming and Lotteries Act 1956 by bringing clarity to the permit and licensing approach to small-scale local gaming and lottery activity, updating certain stake and prize limits and standardising the minimum age for engaging in gambling at 18, along with other provisions. The Bill further provides for an amendment to the Totalisator Act 1929 to introduce a minimum age of 18 years for betting with the Tote.

I must emphasise that this Bill is very much an interim reform measure pending the development of comprehensive reform of the licensing and regulation of all gambling activities. The amendments to the 1956 Act will help the promoters of local gaming and lottery activity, primarily sporting clubs and community organisations, by bringing greater coherence and clarity to the application process for permits and licences.

I thank the Minister of State for coming in and updating us. I know he is genuine in his attention to the regulation of gambling. As previous Chair of this committee he provided some oversight of the past Bill. I am somewhat disappointed that three years into his tenure in the Department of Justice and Equality we have had no action, no legislation and no progress. Around Christmas I was surprised when the Minister of State announced his intention to establish a regulatory authority not this year but some time next year. Unfortunately this Dáil will fail gambling addicts when it comes to regulation because we will not succeed in advancing legislation that was first published in 2013.

While I recognise that technology has advanced to some extent, I note that people had apps on their phones and technology was a serious matter in 2013. It is not as though there was a new invention in the past five years. There should have been progress on that. Waiting six years before deciding to establish a regulatory authority is not good enough and it has failed the people who are really vulnerable in this space. We must put that on the record.

As a party, we sought to reintroduce the general scheme that had previously been published in order to facilitate and help the Department of Justice and Equality to progress this issue. We have had more reviews and reports, but the metric now is delivery. While I acknowledge the Minister of State's intentions, his Department has not been active enough in this legislative space. He is the responsible and accountable one in that respect.

What engagement has the Minister of State had with the Department of Health on addressing gambling addiction? What funding does the Government provide for people with gambling addiction?

The Deputy is right in that the issue of problem gambling and gambling addiction is primarily a health issue. Even in jurisdictions with very strong regulation there is still problem gambling and addiction. Establishing a regulator will help and will bring as much fairness as possible to the industry and activities involved. If someone has a gambling addiction it is primarily a health matter and that person needs treatment. I have met people who have had gambling addiction issues and have had treatment. As with any addiction they can sometimes relapse. The issue of addiction is primarily a health matter. As part of the authority we propose to establish a social fund to help fund that. However, these matters are primarily for my colleague, the Minister of State and the Department of Health, Deputy Catherine Byrne. I am working on the issue of regulation.

I know, but-----

We have two studies in hand. One study, which has been published, looked at the prevalence of gambling in the whole island of Ireland in 2014 and 2015. Another study looking at 2018 and 2019 is ongoing. Our Department is part-funding that as well. That is the engagement. I have to be careful. The issue of addiction is a matter for the Department of Health, not for me.

With respect-----

We can do our best to make it fair. We can look at things like glamorising, advertising etc. However if someone has a health issue it is a matter for the Department of Health.

That is like the Minister for Justice telling us that he has no responsibility for the healthcare of prisoners in the prison system. That is just a nonsense argument. The Minister of State is operating within a Government system where there should be co-operation around all the issues. He is responsible for the regulation and licensing of gambling. While we have had no legislative activity in this space, I have raised the issue with the Department of Health and the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne. There has been absolutely zero progress in policy or funding to help people with gambling addiction. It is not good enough to silo the Department of Justice and Equality away from any responsibility there. The lack of regulation and the lack of a social fund is one of the reasons we do not have funding for addiction. There should be impetus coming from the Minister of State to ensure that Deputy Byrne takes this seriously and funds addiction services. At the moment there is a two-tier approach, as with a lot of other things in healthcare. If someone has money he or she can access private addiction services, but someone who needs State support is left vulnerable. He or she has no ability to get treatment and the gambling companies target people. While the legislation is delayed, there is no excuse for the lack of Government funding for people suffering from problem gambling and addiction. It is not good enough for Departments to operate in different silos. Members of the Government have collective responsibility.

I want to ask about the open and illegal gaming going on within Dublin city and other places. Is the Minister of State concerned that Part III of the Gaming and Lotteries Act 1956 is being blatantly flouted? In this city and elsewhere there are open illegal operations to which our own statutory authorities turn a blind eye. Does the Minister of State have any thoughts on that?

Obviously anything illegal is a cause of concern. At the risk of being criticised again by Deputy Chambers, I would like to point out that the Department of Justice and Equality is not responsible for the licensing and regulation of gambling. A lot of people do not appreciate this. The revised legislation will deal with issues of self-exclusion. It is not our area of responsibility, and-----

As the Minister of State, is Deputy Stanton aware of the blatant breaches of the law within our city? I refer to unlicensed gaming machines where Part III of the 1956 Act has not been commenced. That is an issue for Revenue, our courts system and An Garda Síochána. What is being done at Government level to make sure that our statutory authorities uphold the law? The Department of Justice and Equality does have responsibility there, because there are lines of communication with each of those statutory bodies.

Legally we do not have responsibility for that. That is a fact. I have checked.

Is the Minster of State concerned that there are blatant breaches of the law around gaming operations?

Again, I cannot comment on an allegation like that. I just cannot do that.

I think this is-----

I am sorry. I remind Deputy Chambers of the appeal I made at the start. We only have the Minitser of State until 9.45 a.m. Some four other colleagues wish to ask questions. I do not want to interrupt Deputy Chambers' line of questioning, I am only reminding him.

I will yield to my colleagues because they might have similar questions. I get a sense that Ministers comment on lots of things. There has been a lot of investigative journalism identifying blatantly illegal operations within our city and other places, which has significant implications for Revenue and for the State. Licences issued by the District Court are breached and a blind eye is turned.

The Revenue Commissioners have recently engaged in some token sampling, but the fact that the Minister of State is unwilling to comment demonstrates a worrying shadow cast by this powerful industry. Ministers frequently comment on many issues. It is a bit like saying that the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, does not have responsibility for the FAI because it is a charity. However, he was happy to comment yesterday when that matter was in the public spotlight. The issue of illegal gaming operations involves blatant breaches of the law, but the Minister of State is refusing to comment, which shows the very worrying shadow cast by a powerful industry that wants to stay out of the spotlight and does not want to be regulated. It is unfortunate that the committee only has 45 minutes in which to discuss this matter.

In fairness to Deputy Chambers, he has led on this issue. It is regrettable that the Minister of State will only be before the committee for a short time to deal with this. Having heard the comments of Deputy Chambers, I am even more worried about this issue than I was before the meeting because the Minister of State seems to be hiding behind interdepartmental responsibilities and is failing to address what everybody knows is a fact about blatant illegality in this area. Our concern arises from the fact that the Minster of State has been floating the general scheme of a Bill since 2013. The working group was set up and has reported, but we now have this sort of technical Bill that has, in some ways, wasted the time of its drafters and the Department, while the type of gambling control Bill that is required is nowhere to be seen. I ask the Minister of State to provide a bit more information on that. Is that because of lobbying and push-back from the industry? What is causing the delay? The answers given so far by the Minister of State did not really address those issues.

The industry lobbying that has come to my attention has been to seek a regulator. Nobody has told me - or, as far as I know, the Department - that they do not want a regulator. There is an acceptance that we need a regulator and I am very anxious to have one. However, that is proving far more difficult and technical than I envisaged. I would love to have a regulator in place tomorrow. The report of the interdepartmental working group illustrates the complexity of the issue. We have spent the past year working very hard to analyse every aspect of the matter. I am sure members have read the report, which is very detailed and complex. I am willing to return to appear before the committee to discuss this matter at any time. Before Deputy Clare Daly came into the room, I apologised for the fact that I can only attend for 45 minutes this morning.

I am interested in the constructive views of the committee and any help it can provide us in bringing this work forward. We are where we are. I accept the criticism that the process has taken a long time. I wish it had not taken so long. It took a year for the report to be put together. It involved a significant amount of work and much interaction and research. The Gaming and Lotteries (Amendment) Bill is not just a technical Bill. It does far more than may initially appear to be the case. It will help in many ways to regulate some of the current practices. On lobbying, personally speaking, we have not come under any pressure. The people want this and I want it as well.

We must move on. The time restrictions apply to the Minister of State as they do to members.

The Bill is more an attempt to be seen to be doing something than to grapple with the bigger issue. The briefing notes provided by the Minister of State pitch it as a minor and technical issue, but he stated that it is far more than that. There is a contradiction between the written supporting material and the comments of the Minister of State.

The private members' clubs have stated that the Bill is an effort to shut them down. Is that the intention of the Minister of State? I do not have skin in this game. Is that the intention of the Minister of State or is it an unanticipated side effect of the Bill? The clubs state that under the Bill they will be obliged to get a gaming permit, the conditions of which are so stringent that the clubs will be put out of operation. They argue that it will drive people who currently go to private members' clubs underground. Although online betting is licensed, online gaming is not. According to the clubs, online gaming is far more dangerous than such gaming in clubs, where restrictions may be put in place. Is it the intention of the Minister of State to shut down such clubs?

No. We are updating the 1956 Act. The Bill brings clarity to the area of local lotteries such as those in which many sporting clubs and community organisations partake. In 1956, there was much emphasis on circuses, carnivals and so on, but the position in that regard has totally changed. The Bill focuses more on what is happening now. It also updates legislation in respect of stakes and prizes, a measure which was sought.

I ask the Minister of State to deal with the specific point made by those organisations, namely that they will be shut down under section 4(6), which states: "A gaming permit shall not be issued to a person—(a) for 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". Obviously, all of the games that operate in these clubs fall into that category. As that is a feature of the games, effectively, the legislation will shut down the clubs while allowing free rein online with far fewer checks. I ask the Minister of State to address that section.

The Bill passed Second Stage in the Seanad last night. The section referred to by the Deputy is not changing the law as that provision is also contained in the 1956 Act. In any event, the private members' clubs are not licensed under the 1956 Act. I hope that there will be an opportunity shortly after Easter to bring the legislation before the committee for these issues to be further teased out. The Bill is currently before the Seanad and I do not wish to pre-empt the debate there.

Perhaps we should have allowed Deputy Chambers to keep talking and asking questions because he knows more about the issue than the do the rest of us. Fair play to him for the work he has done on the issue. In reply to Deputy Chambers, the Minister of State stated that he is not legally responsible for the flagrant ignoring of the law by gaming operations in places such as Westmoreland Street and O'Connell Street. I do not understand that. These places have completely ignored the fact that these practices are illegal under the 1956 Act. The Garda has turned a blind eye to them for years. It was my understanding that the Garda falls under the remit of the Minister of State. I understand that the Revenue Commissioners do not, but they are probably doing more about the issue than is the Garda, which seems to have turned a blind eye to it.

The Licenced Gaming Association of Ireland, which represents licensed operators, including those in Courtown in my area, estimate the loss to the Exchequer of tens of millions of euro per year. Why does that not register with the Minister of State? In February of last year, I asked the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, about the enforcement role of the Garda in regard to unlicensed gaming activities and the availability of gaming machines in locations in which gaming is prohibited. He told me that he would request a report on the matter from Garda authorities. That report was not produced. I asked him twice more about it. In January of this year, in response to my final parliamentary question on the matter, the Minister completely ignored the fact that a report on the role of the Garda in this matter had been promised. I presume we will never see that report. It is mad that the Minister for Justice would need to ask the Garda for a report on its enforcement role when that role and the powers of the Garda are fairly obvious under the 1956 Act. Why has the Garda ignored or not carried out its enforcement role in terms of seizing gaming machines which are prohibited under Part III of the 1956 Act? How can the Minister of State be sure that the Garda will enforce the provisions of the Gaming and Lotteries (Amendment) Bill?

I thank the Deputy for his questions. I cannot comment on whether a particular practice is illegal. For me to do so would potentially prejudice events that may take place afterwards, as we have seen in the past. I cannot state that a certain practice is illegal. I am not a judge and, with respect, neither is any of the committee members.

Neither the Minister nor I directs the Garda what to do. It is under the direction of the Commissioner. The Garda makes-----

The Commissioner is directed by the Minister and the Minister of State.

No, it does not work like that. Politicians cannot tell the Garda what to do. I am sure the Deputy understands this. We cannot direct the Garda to do "X", "Y" or "Z". The Commissioner makes those decisions. It is the same with the Revenue Commissioners. They are independent, as they should be. If I came in here and told the Deputy that I directed the Garda Commissioner to do "X", "Y" or "Z", I am sure the Deputy would be the first man jumping off the fence and saying that I cannot do that and that the Garda should be independent. I am sure the Deputy's comments this morning are being noted. This is why this hearing is useful.

Is the Minister of State telling me that An Garda Síochána is independent of politics in Ireland because I do not believe that?

No. The Deputy can believe whatever he wishes and I am sure he does. What I can say that is-----

Does the Minister of State want me to go through the evidence of it?

-----I cannot, do not and will not instruct the Garda to take any particular action in any particular area. It is independent.

As it should be.

I know Deputy Daly raised the next issue. Can the Minister of State address the fact that these private members clubs will literally be run out of business between this amendment and an eventual proper Bill? Is that not a concern? I think more than 2,000 people work in these places. What will happen to them?

In any event, I understand that private members clubs are not licensed under the 1956 Act. The provision to which the Deputy is referring is already in the 1956 Act. On the one hand, the Deputy is saying that the law should not be enforced and on the other, he is saying it should.

I am all for enforcing the law but I have a problem with the manner in which the Minister of State is going about this. First of all, as Deputy Chambers noted, the Gambling Control Bill should have introduced long before now. If it had been, we probably would not have this problem. However, because the Government has been lax in its approach to this area, somebody will lose out. Is that not a fact?

The Gaming and Lotteries (Amendment) Bill was in the Seanad last evening. The Gambling Control Bill will provide for licensed casinos. Private members clubs will be able to apply for casino licences under that. We have a Bill before the Seanad at the moment. Again, I do not want to pre-empt any debate that might occur there. It will come in here later on. No change will occur in the current situation until that Bill is passed and enacted. I will welcome Deputies' views and amendments when it comes here. It is in the mix. We have published it. It passed Second Stage in the Seanad last evening.

Will the Government actively promote the Bill brought forward by Deputies Chambers and O'Callaghan?

We have our own proposals based on the report to Government that was approved last March to set up a totally independent statutory authority with a lot more power and responsibility than that contained in the 2013 proposal, which we also debated here when I was Chairman of this committee. Since then, we have looked at it again. As I said at the beginning, we looked at what has happened in almost all other EU countries. They have an independent statutory authority with the teeth, power and resources to really get to grips with this. We are of the view that an office in the Department of Justice and Equality would not do the business. This is why we have changed it completely, which is why it has taken this long to get to where we are. The report has been published and the next thing is to bring forward heads of Bill, which we will send to this committee for members' comments. As I said earlier, I am very anxious to move on this as quickly as I can. I am frustrated that it has taken this long.

Am I wrong in thinking that if speed was a priority, we would have progressed the Bill from Deputies Chambers and O'Callaghan long before now?

The debate in the Dáil on the Bill brought forward by Fianna Fáil was useful and I welcomed it. We did not oppose it because, strictly speaking, it does talk about setting up an office to regulate this. We have gone way beyond that in providing for a regulatory authority, which is a totally different kettle of fish. I do regret that it has taken this length of time. I would have liked this to have been done far more quickly but it does take time. It is frustrating but that is where we are.

I need to accommodate other colleagues.

This is my last point. In February, I asked a parliamentary question about the amount of funding allocated to gambling addiction services in each of the years from 2015 to 2018. Strangely, I was told by the HSE that apportionment of funding dedicated solely to gambling addiction services cannot be extracted from overall funding, which I do not really understand. Has the Department ever sought this information from the Department of Health or the HSE? Surely knowing the amount we spend on gambling addiction services would be useful and inform the Department's policy?

We did take part in and funded the prevalence study. Another one is ongoing and we hope to be in a position to produce it at the end of this year. As I said earlier, the situation with regard to addiction and that side is a health matter and the remit of the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne. We work closely together on these issues but that is her remit and I do not want to interfere with her role.

Would the Minister of State disagree with my comment that the lack of joined-up thinking in this place beggars belief and that it costs the State a lot of money?

I did say at the beginning of my remarks that the regulation of this area is very fragmented and that is why a regulatory authority will bring regulation together under one body. Again, I must stress that even countries with strong regulators still have problem gambling and addiction. That is a health matter and the expertise resides there. We can work to make it fairer for people who get involved in gambling activity but if it is a health matter, it is the remit of the Department of Health and the HSE.

I will be as quick as I can. I echo the frustrations expressed by other members. There has been a lack of action. From what the Minister of State says, there is a consensus regarding the need for regulation yet we are in the same space we were several years ago regarding the lack of a regulator. This is a significant issue that affects a significant amount of people. I know about the lack of data, which has been touched upon, but according to the Institute of Public Health in Ireland, 1% of the population, or 40,000 people, is affected by problem gambling.

I will group my questions together. Is the Minister of State determined to ensure that fixed odds betting terminals do not make an impact in this jurisdiction, do not develop any roots and are not tolerated? What is the Minister of State's attitude to the separation of gambling and alcohol to ensure that as far as possible, the two things are regulated separately and do not take place on the same premises? Reference has been made to the strength of the gambling lobby. Many of the big gambling firms would make much play of their efforts to tackle gambling. I would have my doubts. One comes across examples, particularly in the case of online gambling, of the ability of some of the big firms to ban somebody for four or five profitable bets. These firms can spot a pattern in terms of a profitable gambler for want of a better word yet they seem to have great difficulty in identifying somebody who has a clear problem and is a problem gambler. These firms have an awful lot of information to hand. Are they using it to the best of their ability to identify people who are gambling too much and have developed problem gambling habits? I think they could do a great deal more. I will leave it at that. I might have more questions for later speakers. It is unfortunate. I know the Minister of State and the committee are restricted in terms of time but I would have preferred a more substantial debate. Hopefully, we will have more opportunities in future.

As I said at the beginning, I would be quite happy to come back at any stage for a more substantial debate on this issue. Any constructive comments or suggestions are most welcome when it comes to this very complicated area. The Deputy spoke about banning profitable betting and information. It is envisaged that in respect of banning profitable gambling, the revised Bill will include conditions on licences and consumer protection to take that into account.

The Deputy pointed out the industry has an awful lot of information and data and he is right. This is developing by the day and getting more and more complicated. The separation of gambling and alcohol will certainly be considered in the revised Gambling Control Bill. It will be included. Fixed odds betting terminals will not be allowed. The stated Government position is that we do not want them.

I know this is an issue to which the Minister of State is personally committed but I cannot accept, and I do not think anyone else on the committee can accept, that it is a priority for the Government. The Minister of State said it is a priority for the Government but clearly it is not. We know what priorities for the Government look like and how they operate. The Government decided the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill of the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, was a priority and three years later it is still meandering its way through the Oireachtas eating up a large amount of resources. The reason no substantive legislation has been introduced is that it is not a priority for the Government. We regulate many types of behaviour in society and it is astonishing that, to date, we have not regulated gambling, which has such a negative impact on people's lives.

We all agree there needs to be a regulatory authority but when will the heads of the Bill be published? When will it be introduced in the Oireachtas? What type of regulatory authority is the Minister of State looking at? Will it be something like the Legal Services Regulatory Authority? Unfortunately, with gambling we need a body, a group of people or an entity, working on this every day of the week, rather than circumstances in which the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, sometimes looks at the issue, the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, sometimes looks at it and the committee sometimes looks at it. We need a regulatory authority working on this matter every day of the week coming up with its own rules that would be made statutory instruments. This is not happening.

The question on what form the authority will take is an extremely good one. We have commissioned research to inform us on the best way of structuring an authority and what type of governance it should have. Should it have a board, a commission or a chief executive format and what various sections should it have internally? We should have the information from the research by the summer. As the Deputy said, we want an authority that will be fully active, fully engaged and independent of the Government and Minister of the day so that any perception of pressure or lobbying will not arise.

The next task we have is to publish the heads of the Bill. We will be building on the 2013 Bill, the Fianna Fáil Bill and, crucially, the interdepartmental working group on the licensing and regulation of gambling that we introduced last March. It took a great deal of work, time and effort to put it together. I hope we will have this legislation. The Taoiseach has indicated the whole process will take 18 months to complete.

From when the report was published in March. That is what he said. It is a priority for the Government. I have been pushing it as hard as I can to get it over the line. We are looking at best examples in other member states and beyond with regard to the structure of the authority and how best to put it together. We have looked at the UK, Malta, France, New Zealand and other countries.

I am conscious of time and some of the issues I wanted to raise have already been raised. It is appropriate to commend Deputy Jack Chambers on the work he has done in this area. I am probably the only person here who was a member of the previous Oireachtas justice committee. At that stage, the then Chairman, the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, did a body of work in this area. I know of his personal commitment. Sometimes when dealing with the Government there are pressing priorities. The Minister of State has been shouting extremely hard.

The Gaming and Lotteries (Amendment) Bill passed Second Stage in the Seanad last night and will move on to Committee Stage pretty quickly. This is an avenue we can use to deal with some of the concerns. I would welcome the Minister of State's return to the committee when we could discuss further his views on a gambling regulatory authority. I would prefer this to be done right over 18 months, using best international examples to merge what works well in other countries into one authority that can be among the best in the world. Gambling is an addiction and is becoming an even bigger problem. It is very difficult to regulate given that much of it is now online.

The Senator did not ask a question requiring a response from the Minister of State. As the time has now concluded, I thank members for their co-operation in restricting their contributions. There is no question that we need to address this more substantively. It is unfortunate we did not have the opportunity to do so this morning. I would like to add one thing in response to an earlier point. The Minister of State said that constructive comments would be welcome and all would be noted. I emphasise that all of the contributions we have had this morning were constructive.

The criticisms that have been levelled are intended to be constructive and they have to be viewed and accepted in that mode. There is a real problem. The legislation before us is viewed by many as barely a stopgap. We need substantive legislation. This would be reflective of the views of the members and, we hope, also of the Minister of State. I thank the Minister of State and his colleagues for their attendance. We will suspend to allow Dr. Fulton to take her seat.

Sitting suspended at 9.46 a.m. and resumed at 9.48 a.m.

We will now continue our discussion on the regulation and control of the gambling sector. I welcome Dr. Crystal Fulton, associate professor at the school of information and communication studies at University College Dublin. I will shortly invite her to make her opening statement but first I must draw her attention as a witness to the situation regarding privilege. The same did not apply to the Minister of State because he is a Member. It applies to non-Members presenting before the committee. Witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of the evidence they are to give to the committee. However, if they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and continue to do so, they are entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person or persons or an entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.

All that said, I invite Dr. Fulton to make her opening statement.

Dr. Crystal Fulton

I have been asked to speak today about our research on the social impact of gambling. The issue of potential harm through gambling is a topic of international concern. Harmful gambling may have wide-ranging social impacts with the risk of negative effects not only for the persons who gamble but also for their family, friends and communities. A gambling problem can have extreme and negative consequences for the gambler and for that person's social connections. Harmful gambling often has a significant financial impact on individuals and their families.

This may lead to shame and stigma which may contribute to social isolation. Understanding gambling behaviour and the social outcomes of this activity may contribute to the development of social policies in the area of gambling and addiction, with particular attention to policies which protect those vulnerable to the negative effects of gambling. In turn, the development of appropriate policies may help minimise the array of social, health and economic costs associated with a gambling problem. Participants in this study spoke of financial devastation, as well as social isolation. Both problem gamblers and their families also reported feelings of shame, stigma and social isolation resulting from a gambling problem.

The purpose of our research was to examine the social impact of gambling in Ireland and to understand the issues from the perspective of those affected. In 2015, with funding from the Irish Research Council and support from the Department of Social Protection, we completed the first national study on the impact in which we spoke to the major stakeholders, including addiction service providers, recovering gamblers, the families and friends of gamblers and the gambling industry. In December 2016, with funding from the Minister for Justice and Equality, we updated our literature review and invited stakeholders to comment on developing legislative issues around gambling in Ireland.

Addiction service providers were located throughout Ireland and included any counselling service that worked with gamblers or their social connections who had experienced harm. Recovering gamblers and their social connections came from diverse backgrounds. They were located across Ireland. They were from different age groups and came from various socio-economic backgrounds. Recovering gamblers had also suffered addiction to different forms of gambling, for example, one or more of casino games, fixed odds betting terminals, lottery tickets and scratch cards, betting on horses or dogs, etc. Some had pursued land-based games while others had followed online gambling.

Importantly, the first-hand accounts of individuals affected by gambling offer critical information about the social impact of harmful gambling. For those affected by gambling, this research provided an opportunity for those often unheard, vulnerable groups to have a voice, creating an important foundation of public experience to inform policy development. Our research explored perceptions of gambling in Ireland, the problems associated with problem gambling and opportunities for treatment and prevention. Owing to the stigma around problem gambling, it is often very difficult for gamblers and their social connections to discuss gambling issues openly. Stigma increases the hidden nature of a gambling problem and complicates recovery. This research made it possible for those affected by a gambling problem to take a step past this stigma to discuss the impact of gambling on them.

The research has led to multiple findings. However, participants agreed on three major social measures. They identified open discussion and educational initiatives, approaches at national level to facilitate those affected by gambling and legislative measures as key requirements for addressing the risk for harmful gambling in Ireland. Today, we would like to highlight some of these needs identified by participants. The first is their desire for open discussion and education. Participants expressed a need for open discussion about gambling and the risk it can pose to individuals and their families. Today's public forum helps to support that open conversation. Participants also spoke of a need for education. Some proposed education along the lines of life skills in the curriculum from primary education through to university level education. While participants connected advertising with triggers for gambling, some suggested using advertising for positive impact to warn the public about the potential for harmful gambling. For instance, they suggested that advertising could be used successfully to help educate people and create awareness, similar to recent campaigns to increase public awareness and understanding of social issues such as mental health.

With respect to participants' views on approaches to harmful gambling, participants in our study have identified the need for multiple supports to treat and prevent problem gambling. There is an urgent need bring together people and information to create a unified, transparent approach to facilitate those affected by problem gambling. A national strategy that encompasses government and charitable and volunteer bodies is needed to address causes and outcomes of problem gambling in Ireland.

The framework for the general scheme of the gambling control Bill 2013, intended to update legislation in Ireland, provided for the establishment of a social fund, paid for by licence holders in the gambling industry, for the purposes of promoting responsible gambling and assisting those affected by gambling. Under the draft framework, the Office for Gambling Control Ireland, in consultation with an advisory committee on responsible gambling, consisting of "a nominee of the Minister for Social Protection, the voluntary/community sector, a representative from the HSE [Health Services Executive] and two representatives from licence holders", would recommend distribution of the social fund for purposes such as education. This is in keeping with practice in the UK where the Gambling Commission requires gambling companies with UK customers to contribute money to fund research and services around problem gambling. Our research outcomes included a recommendation that the social fund included in the general scheme of the Bill should provide significantly for public education about gambling and should do so neutrally without the influence of gambling operators.

Participants also noted the existence of services in the form of counselling and treatment centres to assist gamblers in recovery. However, study participants noted a lack of services to help family and friends affected by a loved one's addiction. They called for action around harmful gambling to become a social priority and for the development of additional and expanded services to help those affected.

With respect to specific legislative needs, first, participants in our research identified the passage and, importantly, the implementation of new and updated legislation around gambling as essential Government tasks to protect the public. Second, our interviewees suggested a variety of measures they wanted the Government to include around regulation. In particular, they wanted regulatory measures to provide a framework around gambling to protect those vulnerable to gambling addiction. Some of the specific measures frequently noted involved regulation in respect of advertising; increased taxation and licensing for gambling operators; maximum spends; measures to avoid underage gambling; numbers of particular gambling establishments; online gambling; opening hours for gambling premises; removal of fixed odds betting terminals; and standards around the gambling industry's obligation to alert the public to the risks of gambling.

Of particular concern to participants was the risk of gambling to young people. Underage gambling was a common theme among recovering gamblers in our research. They frequently spoke of the early age at which they first saw gambling. The legal age to gamble in Ireland is 18. However, our participants reported collecting gambling winnings for relatives while they were underage and sometimes under the age of ten years. They also reported an initial exposure to gambling as seeing adults gambling, both adult relatives and adults related to friends. From there, participants reported their initial gambling experiences as often occurring while young and often underage. As their gambling continued, a number of recovering gamblers in our study reported that they progressed from land-based gambling opportunities to forms of digitised gambling, including digital gambling machines and online gambling.

This brings me to the relationship between technology and gambling. Participants in our research, including gamblers, family members and addiction counsellors, identified technologies that enabled digitised access to gambling as potential factors in harmful gambling. They referred to gambling via the Internet, computers, mobile phones, slot machines, casino games and machines, virtual races on screens at betting shops, television, social media and tablet computer applications or apps. They described smart mobile devices such as iPhones as particularly convenient because these devices enabled gambling anywhere and at any time. In particular, technology now enables hidden gambling on phones, online, etc. Our work has revealed the digital space, which is continuously changing, is a critical point to address regarding gambling, particularly with regard to young people. Young people are often considered more digitally literate and routine users of technologies and this familiarity with technology may make them more vulnerable to online gambling, especially if they play social casino games in which micro-transactions are completed to unlock additional play features.

Our second report found technology continues to feature in gambling, with online gambling and social media popular means of doing this. The mobile phone is shown in research to be a particular access point for gambling, just as participants in our study spoke of the attraction of mobile phones in gambling.

The technological area of gambling is constantly changing. Recovering gamblers in our study spoke of technology as accelerating and deepening the effects of gambling because the technology enabled secret gambling. Our review found that responsible gambling measures can include self-exclusion and set limits on their gambling. However, research and our gambling participants have identified issues around self-exclusion measures, for example, the complexity of self-exclusion agreements; the inability of exclusion agreements to exclude from multiple venues simultaneously; gamblers' using multiple accounts; the shame felt when inquiring about self-exclusion; an unwillingness or inability to admit the existence of a gambling problem; and a lack of awareness about self-exclusion programmes.

In addition, our research revealed that social media are common forums for gaming opportunities.

Since social media have developed rapidly and continuously, gambling operators can make sophisticated use of these technologies to interact with current and potential customers in new and evolving ways. Significantly, there is a blurring of lines between online gambling and social media games that simulate gambling. Importantly, social media may expose children to advertising and promotions on these platforms. While a range of age verification processes have been employed in various jurisdictions, there are technical and legal difficulties with online age verification, which have led some to argue that parental responsibility and user education are critical.

Since our work in 2016, additional technologies have arisen. Examples are loot boxes or loot crates. They comprise a gaming feature in which the player can purchase random content through video games. New technologies pose a new challenge for regulatory bodies, not only in Ireland but also the EU as a whole.

The gambling landscape offers significant challenges for legislators, but they are challenges that participants in our research viewed as important to address. Participants described harmful gambling as having a profound, life-changing impact on them, whether gamblers or their families and friends. Significantly, they believed the Government could, and should, act to protect them and those at future risk of a gambling problem.

I thank Dr. Fulton very much. I appreciate the preparation and work she put into her opening address this morning. It will be very helpful.

I thank Dr. Fulton for her work in this area. Some of the reports she has produced are very informative. They are research led, which gives us the impetus to try to drive change in this area.

Dr. Fulton mentioned her concerns about the underage element. She said children as young as ten are collecting winnings and are heavily exposed to gambling. How can this be rectified through the updating of the law? I refer to some of the social casino games that might not have a financial element but potentially trigger an addiction because of the potential winnings. They can have an effect into adulthood. How can this be addressed? What has been done elsewhere?

Dr. Crystal Fulton

A lot has been done in different jurisdictions. Young people are very technologically savvy. Access to technology makes it difficult to check children's ages online. There is the issue of the games children play online. There is a whole body of research on how young people interact with games online. It is a very complex area and it is a challenge for legislation. It obviously needs to be addressed.

On legislation, does Dr. Fulton agree the Minister should have to delay for six years because of the technological changes that have occurred? In her view, could legislation have been developed and enacted sooner?

Dr. Crystal Fulton

I cannot really speak for the Minister.

Does she agree with him?

Dr. Crystal Fulton

In my perfect world, legislation would happen today. I appreciate, however, that it can take longer to make certain changes. We have the research. It would be great if the recommendations, as gathered from participants' experiences and respecting the time they have given to help us with this, could be implemented so we can reduce the number of people that suffer from gambling.

In one piece of research, Dr. Fulton mentioned the need for a national gambling strategy in the context of healthcare. What is her view on the current healthcare provision for gambling addicts?

Dr. Crystal Fulton

When we spoke to gamblers about the social connections, they reported finding it quite complex to get help. Insurance, for example, might cover them only for alcohol addiction so they might have to present as having an alcohol addiction as opposed to a gambling addiction. This is going on in the background.

With regard to funding, participants wanted to see more services. They asked specifically that services be put in place everywhere in the country. One of the points that emerged was the business of family and friends feeling excluded. Participants wanted more services to help family and friends because they are deeply affected by their loved ones' gambling. There are very few services in the country that administer to people whose families have been affected. For families, there is the RISE Foundation but it is located in Dublin. Not everybody can come to Dublin. It does not matter whether one is really well off or not when suffering from a gambling problem. It is a level playing field at the end because no one has any money. Without money, how does one come to Dublin for treatment? Participants wanted services to be spread to all the regions in the country. They want more of them. They wanted specific services to help families and anyone affected by their gambling.

On the issue of social media, the blurring of the lines and the targeting of children and young adults by the industry to try to ensure a future population of gamblers — this is obviously its intention — do we need to address the problem through the companies themselves or through overall legislation?

Dr. Crystal Fulton

It is difficult to answer that question. Young people, and all of us, are attracted to social media. There is a blurred division between games and the area that leads into gambling and grooming for gambling. It is difficult, and I appreciate that. It has to be addressed in some way. With any luck, it should be possible to address everything that happens around online gambling.

Does Dr. Fulton believe some online games are designed to blur the line to lead on to gambling?

Dr. Crystal Fulton

Some online games are designed to bring the user into the game because obviously the industry wants the user to play the game. It is just that some games also attract young people into an area where a small win might later lead them to wanting monetary wins. A game might not immediately offer money but it might lead to that.

Is there any industry crossover that Dr. Fulton is aware of?

Dr. Crystal Fulton

I am not really sure. I could not say specifically.

I thank Dr. Fulton for her contribution. I have just one point. I am told there are about 45,000 people suffering from gambling addiction in Ireland. Ireland ranks third in terms of gambling losses per capita, after Australia and Singapore. Significantly, Ireland is first in terms of losses per capita from online gambling. This legislation will probably expose customers to an additional risk associated with playing online. While online betting is licensed, online betting and online gambling are still unregulated. The lack of regulation in Ireland means there is absolutely no obligation to offer self-exclusion or time-out facilities, or a facility for new customers to set maximum spending limits when opening an online account. Does much more need to be built into legislation to address the problems we are facing?

Dr. Crystal Fulton

Gambling needs to be addressed, period. Whether people are gambling in a land-based venue or online, it all needs to be addressed.

I thank Dr. Fulton very much for attending. The difficulty we have is that she has given us very good research to add to the debate on why we need legislation. However, the person whom we could question about the legislation did not have enough time with us. Dr. Fulton is in an unfair set of circumstances in which we are just asking her to confirm the evidence she has given us. The person with whom we need to tease out the issue in order to implement some of the recommendations is not here to answer our questions. If we do not have many questions, it is just that Dr. Fulton has given us many of the answers. She will have heard the Minister of State earlier. To me, he hid a little behind, or used the excuse of, interdepartmental responsibility for this issue and the crossover between health and justice.

The figures from the Institute of Public Health demonstrate the significant health and social cost of gambling which far exceeds any income generated, aside from the human cost. In that context, what immediate steps must be taken? We heard a little about the delay in the legislation but improving, say, addiction services does not require legislation. What priority steps could be taken now that do not require legislation? Developing more points on the idea of a dedicated gambling addiction treatment service would be one option but what are Dr. Fulton's thoughts on advertising? Should there be a significant, high-profile, Government-led campaign on advertising? Has much study been done on the impact that might have?

The lines have blurred. People traditionally thought of gambling as a fella going to the pub on a Sunday while waiting for the wife to make the dinner and popping into the bookies. Now it seems as if everybody gambles and it is done through mobile phones and online. Should the Government be advertising the impacts? Is there evidence available, or are there other steps the Government could take in the meantime if the legislation is so complex? That is not to say I buy the argument of legislation being complex.

Dr. Crystal Fulton

We specifically asked participants what they thought the Government should be responsible for, what it should do, what were the legislative needs and how they would like policies developed. Many of my comments reflect those answers. In addition, one of the major recommendations of the report was that there should be a unified plan and national strategy to deal with problem gambling and the harm that it causes not only to individuals but the much wider impact it has on families and communities. We recommended that. It would mean that Departments work together to facilitate addressing this problem.

Advertising is a much debated topic internationally because it provides a major means of promoting gambling opportunities and it was identified across our participant groups as a problem. They referred to the negative effects of multiple forms of gambling advertising. For someone in recovery from gambling addiction - and such a person might always be in recovery - he or she may be unable to extract gambling from the process of watching sports on television because he or she always associated them with each other. The ads on television and pop-up ads online were noted as things that made gamblers think about gambling, acted as triggers, hindered recovery and were problematic. Advertising could pop up online even when the recovering gambler was not looking at gambling sites so that needs to be considered.

Advertising of gambling on TV and in newspapers, especially where free bets are advertised, was considered problematic. Seeing the racing page in the newspaper or advertising on TV could trigger gambling behaviour for our participants. They had strong views on advertising in our study. They were very worried about young adults and people. They deemed gambling advertisements as potentially harmful to gamblers as well as recovering gamblers. The people who have the addiction and are trying to recover and others are at risk. Our participants were worried about both of those groups.

It is clear that advertising is used as the key hook to get people in and exposed. It is an addiction. It is put out there as a harmless bit of fun but once people are in that trap it is hard for them to get out. What would be the impact of a Government-led public health campaign? On the one hand, there could be the restriction of advertisements and, on the other, a public health campaign. Has analysis been conducted of the impact that might have? Has such a Government-led initiative been undertaken in other jurisdictions similar to the anti-smoking campaigns or whatever? Have there been studies on the impact of the combination of a curtailment of advertising the product with a public health campaign?

Dr. Crystal Fulton

I cannot speak directly to gambling but I was going to use the example of other areas such as tobacco in which different campaigns have been used. As I said in my original comments, our participants proposed using advertising to promote a positive message, to help people and perhaps prevent them from getting into trouble in the first place.

I know Dr. Fulton's focus is on the health aspects. What about the Government's efforts to control the gambling issue and proposals in that area? Many large companies operate their servers offshore and thereby make it more complicated for the Government to control. Other countries operate IP blocking for unlicensed online operators and taking such an approach here would mean that companies would have to get an Irish licence to be used by Irish customers. In that sense, the customer could be protected by whatever regulatory regime is contained in the Gambling Control Bill when we get it. Has Dr. Fulton any thoughts on that? It might be outside her remit and, if it is, I am sorry, but has she done any detailed research as to how a regulation could be implemented to tackle online operators?

Dr. Crystal Fulton

We did not explore that, as it was beyond our remit. I appreciate the point and think it is accurate.

Deputy O'Callaghan is next and will be followed by Deputies O'Reilly and Ó Laoghaire.

I thank Dr. Fulton for coming in. Unfortunately, I have not had an opportunity to read her research, although I have read the paper she has presented. How many recovering gambling addicts, or their families, did she have the opportunity to interview?

Dr. Crystal Fulton

As part of our research design, we started working with addiction service providers. We spoke to people in ten different organisations and then conducted a snowball sample. We put out a call for people who wanted to talk to us about gambling. They could have come to us if they wanted to just talk about gambling. Every gambler who came to us was at a different stage of recovery. It was a matched pair design so they needed to nominate a family member to participate. It is such an isolating activity that our volunteers do not always have such a person, because that family might be gone, so they could bring a friend. We interviewed both so, in the end, we had 22 recovering gamblers matched with 22 people who interviewed alongside them as family and friends.

Dr. Crystal Fulton


Were they from throughout the country-----

Dr. Crystal Fulton


I noticed in the paper Dr. Fulton presented that she stated these volunteers came from various socioeconomic backgrounds. I was surprised at that because I would have thought that gambling addiction would affect more people from poorer backgrounds.

Dr. Crystal Fulton

This is an interesting point. People were not necessarily disadvantaged, apart from the gambling harm they had suffered. They came from middle-class families and worked in professional jobs. They were not all from underprivileged families at all.

Is it correct that all of the people who were interviewed had made the decision to seek support or counselling services?

Dr. Crystal Fulton

Yes, either initiated by the gambler or their family. Gambling is so secretive that it can take a long time for a problem to surface and there is usually a crisis. For example, a mortgage bill that has not been paid for several months is intercepted or a bailiff comes to the door wanting the keys to the house, the car, or whatever. There is some sort of financial and emotional crisis point. Spouses of recovering gamblers in our study talked about thinking that they had a marital problem because they did not realise what their partner was doing. Their partner was leading a double life. A gambling problem comes to light in different ways and over time.

From Dr. Fulton's assessment of recovering addicts she interviewed, is the biggest motivating factor in their gambling a desire to get money to get out of a hole?

Dr. Crystal Fulton

When I spoke to addiction counsellors, I asked them about addiction, what it looked like and what happens. They spoke of it being a mental health issue where there is an emotional change that one is looking for. One is looking for that kind of good feeling hit by gambling. It is not even necessarily the loss at the end of it; it is the anticipation leading up to that moment when one finds the outcome. We sometimes assume we understand gambling harm, but we do not always.

Dr. Fulton does not think it is just the pursuit of money. It is a hit from being involved in gambling.

Dr. Crystal Fulton

No. It is more complicated than that. In the end, they might be chasing losses. They are chasing the losses because they do not want to tell anybody that they lost that money. Gamblers will always talk about the wins they had. They do not want to share that other unseemly part. The chasing losses comes when they keep losing money and they keep trying to get it back and then ends up being a vicious cycle.

I refer to the 22 gamblers and their families that Dr. Fulton interviewed. Did they all come to a shuddering halt when some significant financial event occurred whereby they could not go any further?

Dr. Crystal Fulton

There was discovery involved - a family member discovered that their child had been gambling or often a wife discovering a husband's gambling. There were not as many women in my study. It is difficult for women to come forward. In Ireland, it is difficult to say that one is female and one has a gambling problem. Three of the recovering gamblers were women, also of different age groups and different socioeconomic backgrounds.

They come from different backgrounds and genders. There would always be this point, regardless of who it was, that this gambling was discovered. This puts a significant strain on their relationship with their partner, their family or whoever. For children, they might witness their parents fighting a lot. We had examples of children, by which I mean adult children, telling us that their memory is of their parents fighting about money. Then there were the spouses who, as I said, thought they had marital difficulties, and really what was going on is the husband or partner would start an argument so that he could go away and be left alone in isolation to gamble. It is a lot more complex than we realise.

What was the most common form of gambling that those Dr. Fulton interviewed were involved in? Was it horses, online poker or what?

Dr. Crystal Fulton

They were involved in everything. Of the 22, some came to me and said the horses were definitely it. For some people, it was the lottery. For others, it was casinos. I had a couple for whom it was fixed odds betting terminals. It just varied. There is a range. It is more that a particular form of gambling speaks to a certain person as opposed to laying them all out and everybody will try one. It is not like that. It is just that for some reason that particular gambling said something to the person that he or she wanted to keep doing it.

How large were the debts that they got themselves into at the end of the road?

Dr. Crystal Fulton

I am not really sure. I could not really say, "Here is the depth of the debt?" It does not matter if it is a certain number. It is the number for that person. It is what that person financially can afford or not afford to lose. That can be just as devastating for that person.

Finally, I suppose the reason we are here is to think about regulation. I presume Dr. Fulton believes regulation is essential to deal with the problem that those she interviewed faced.

Dr. Crystal Fulton

Yes. The participants in this study stated that legislation had to be sorted. They do not just want it organised and printed up and it said, "There, we have legislation." They want it implemented.

What specifically do they want? Presumably, they recognise there is a personal responsibility and no matter what the Oireachtas does, we will never ban gambling completely. What type of statutory measures do they want in place that they believe would be of benefit to their addiction?

Dr. Crystal Fulton

I listed a number in my comments today. Those are comments that came up a lot. Those are some of the main issues that arose.

Sometimes they were not sure exactly how legislation could fix it but they knew they wanted it to fix it. I refer to regulation of all of these matters.

They want to make sure that others are safe. They are concerned. It did not matter whether people were involved in land-based gambling - some people did land-based gambling only - or whether they were online gamblers, they where all worried about young people's exposure to gambling and young people starting gambling, potentially underage.

I thank Dr. Fulton.

I call Deputy Louise O'Reilly. I welcome the Deputy to the Joint Committee.

I thank the Chair and thank Dr. Fulton.

I have not had an opportunity to read all of the survey but I have engaged with this issue previously. I am interested in hearing Dr. Fulton's views, specifically, on the language that we use. From what I have researched and what I have come across, we are being told that we should be talking about problem gambling, not necessarily gambling addiction. If it is interfering with one's capacity to be able to put food on the table, the threshold for addiction might be quite high but problem gambling is what we need to tackle. It is not only a full-blown addiction. I am just wondering, as I have read conflicting views on this. I try to use the term "problem gambling" rather than "addiction" because it says more about what is going on and what the impact is.

Dr. Crystal Fulton

The terminology is tricky. When I spoke to addiction counsellors, they spoke of addiction and of problem gambling. A term that is coming more into the arena now is "harmful gambling." Any gambling that causes harm is a problem.

We need to be careful of the language we use. If one confines it to addiction, one sets the bar quite high and one will miss many people.

The results of the drug prevalence survey from 2014-15 was published recently. It conflicts with results from the North. For example, in Dundalk, the rate of problem gambling is 0.8% but 15 miles up the road, in Newry, it is 2.3%. It is ludicrous to suggest that there is such a considerable difference between those towns separated by a couple of miles. The Government has underestimated its figures substantially. Gambling is something that does not happen necessarily out in the open, particularly online. Why is there such a disparity between those figures?

Dr. Crystal Fulton

I cannot speak to those figures. I did not conduct the study. The Deputy needs to speak to those who gathered that data. That would probably be the most helpful.

We have done. It does not make any sense to suggest, for people who live so close together, that it would be a problem across the Border and not a problem on this side of Border.

Dr. Fulton spoke of the need to prevent targeting, particularly of young people. That is something that we must incorporate into this legislation to try to make it robust. It will not be possible to capture every scenario. I do not know if she is aware of the fast food outlet rolling out a Monopoly-style competition at present. One has to be over 16 to collect the prize but one does not have to be over 16 to play. I have seen the advertisements on the television. It is an attractive form of gambling, particularly for young people. There is a risk and reward element because not every scratch gets one a prize. There is an age restriction, in that this company has to apply to the District Court for a lottery licence, but it is virtually unenforceable. In terms of framing the legislation, can measures be put in place to prevent children being targeted specifically and is there an example of international best practice that we could look to?

Dr. Crystal Fulton

It is difficult for me to comment on that part of the legislation in the sense that legislators will have to decide what will be included however, as I said in my talk, there are blurred lines with regard to young people and these games which makes it very difficult to draw one line down the middle. It will be difficult, but we have to make the attempt.

In terms of what is done internationally, the playing field changes every day. Researchers are looking in depth at the issue of advertising, at games, and at the whole culture of gaming and its psychological impact. There is a lot more involved than just saying "Yes" or "No" to a game. Psychology is involved and the matter must be looked at from the perspective of health. What is possible technologically must also be considered. It is quite a complex avenue.

In terms of international best practice, is there anywhere we could start? Is there anywhere outside of this wee island to which we could look because it has made a good start or has got some of this right? The technology is evolving, quite possibly more quickly than the legislation will be able to keep up with. One often hears that from people. People say we will never be able to regulate this area and almost suggest that we should not try. In respect of this issue, and young people affected by it in particular, we have to try to introduce the highest form of regulation we can. Is there some point from which we could start?

Dr. Crystal Fulton

I agree that it is important to try. It is not appropriate to shelve the issue. Research around advertising is being done in places such as Australia. A lot of work is being done in different areas. The first step towards addressing the issue of advertising is bringing all of this work together.

I thank Dr. Fulton for her presentation. This is an area which is getting an increasing amount of focus and which has a substantial impact on many people's lives. It is a difficult addiction to tackle. It is invidious and very often hidden from view, even hidden from loved ones, until, as Dr. Fulton has identified, one reaches a crisis point - the involvement of a bailiff, an unpaid bill or so on. The advent of the huge range of opportunities to gamble online has made it much easier to become addicted.

I have a few specific questions, which are similar to the questions I asked the Minister. Does Dr. Fulton have a view on the separation of gambling and alcohol? I am instinctively inclined to believe the two should be kept separate and that they should be separately licensed and regulated. Obviously the presence of one makes the other potentially more dangerous or harmful. On the other hand, there are those who would argue that there is no harm in one having a drink during a game of cards in a private members' club. My instinctive view is more towards the former but I am curious as to whether Dr. Fulton has a view on the matter.

Dr. Crystal Fulton

The participants in our research did not necessarily have a problem only with gambling. Some participants also had problems with alcohol or drugs. There is a kind of co-addiction. It was often the case that people talked about having a problem with one thing or another, going for treatment for that issue, and then discovering that they also had a gambling issue which did not come out until they were in therapy and trying to get well. It is hard to separate in that sense, but I appreciate the Deputy's comments about the differences between the two. If somebody is having a problem with alcohol or drugs there is an immediate physical response which can be identified. One can see that somebody is in some way intoxicated. When gambling one is not putting a substance into one's body to change one's mood; one is using gambling to do that. The outcome is different. Any of us sitting here could be gambling right now and the others would not necessarily know. If one of us was drinking to excess or taking drugs, the rest of us would potentially know. There would be observable physical signs. That is a big difference.

In addition, as I mentioned, when a person seeks help it is not always flagged as a person seeking help for gambling. We were asked earlier how we determine how many people are asking for help. It is quite difficult to count because some people may be presenting for alcohol problems so that their insurance company will cover the treatment when really they have a gambling issue. This is again quite a complex space. There are a whole lot of things going on. I see the Deputy's point about dividing them, but I can see how there is overlap.

My question was not so much about comparing the two forms of addiction, which have commonalities and differences, but about whether licensed premises should be prohibited from allowing opportunities to gamble or whether gambling premises should be prohibited from serving alcohol. That is more the question I was asking. It is about the legislators' response.

Dr. Crystal Fulton

The legislators will have to decide. I did not ask people whether they wanted that. I could not comment on what they said about it because they did not say anything.

Okay. Age verification is a very tricky area. It is desirable but difficult to implement in practice. It is vitally important. Does Dr. Fulton have a view on the existing policies of the big online bookmakers? Does she have a view as to how age verification might be best achieved or as to how the process can be improved?

Dr. Crystal Fulton

There are different ways to go about it. I do not consider myself an expert on how it should be put together. It is another complex area. It involves looking at the technology but also at how to get around it. People in my study commented that it is not difficult to get around certain things that are in place. It is a space to watch. I know that it is possible to circumvent some systems.

I have two more questions. The first is on a related area. It is about restricting access, particularly online. I touched on this in my previous contribution. There are policies but they can be weak. There are ways around them. Should there be a uniform sort of exclusion that carries right across several companies? I am not sure how that would be managed technologically. If people have been identified as having difficult patterns, should there be a way in which they could either exclude themselves or be excluded from the various companies right across the board? Can that be explored? What is Dr. Fulton's view based on her experience of the major bookmakers?

I have doubts as to whether these companies are using all of the information available to them. One can contrast how bookmakers deal with people who lose vast sums online or in person and how they deal with people who have placed four or five bets, made a small sum of money, made some profit, and beat the odds, many examples of which can be found online. I do not mean to cast any of these people as folk heroes or as virtuous, but there is a contrast between the lengths to which some bookmakers will go to ensure their profits are preserved and to reduce the ability of people to make money and the lack of restriction on people who lose vast sums of money and display very problematic patterns and behaviours. Does Dr. Fulton believe that the gambling companies are using all of the information at their disposal to ensure that people do not develop problematic behaviours?

Dr. Crystal Fulton

I could not speak to that. I do not know exactly what information is at the disposal of the companies and I am not able to comment on what they are using. I will say that participants talked about self-exclusion and the problems with it. A person might self-exclude from one company and then place a sneaky bet somewhere else.

I may be excluded with one company but not with another. There was this kind of blanket exclusion. It becomes a tricky space as to how one achieves this across venues for an individual who has a very serious problem, the handling of which needs in-depth exploration.

This question concerns the prevalence of gambling advertising in sport, an issue that is very visible in Britain in particular with the soccer premiership and even in the lower tiers of the sport. Is that an area that Dr. Fulton believes needs legislative restriction? I welcome that the GAA has voluntarily introduced a ban on gambling companies sponsoring teams. Does she believe that there is a need for restrictions on gambling firms for that kind of advertisement of sport teams?

Dr. Crystal Fulton

Again, this is a complex area and it is important that there are people from grassroots positions taking measures and stands on this as well as legislation. Advertising is something that needs to protect the vulnerable and children especially. There is a lot that legislation can do to protect children in the same way that children will be protected in other venues. It is possible to do this.

Is there a noticeable increase in adolescents reporting problem gambling and, if so, what kind of changes may be needed?

Dr. Crystal Fulton

I have not heard specifically of more children from any given source. I had some younger people across age groups among my participants, 18 years of age or older. They could speak of their gambling before they were 18 years of age. They were at a very tender age, from 18 to 21, and in recovery. They would say that there needs to be more regulation around what the Deputy is talking about. The problem with gambling is that it does not always work the way we think it will. It can take a long time to develop a problem. Online gambling can accelerate that development because it draws a person in more quickly, and one can play immediately and for a lot longer. There is no closing of the doors and being told to go home. The process of addiction can vary.

I thank Professor Fulton. I do not believe there are any further points or contributions to be made. On behalf of the committee I want to thank the professor especially for her engagement here with members and for her submission which will be fully taken into account in our deliberations on this matter. This is obviously an issue that is not concluding here today by any means and we may meet up again on this issue in the future.

We shall give Dr. Fulton time to withdraw from the meeting and will then go into private session to address the committee's normal weekly housekeeping business.

The joint committee went into private session at 10.45 a.m. and adjourned at 11.30 a.m. until 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 8 May 2019.