Can We Expect an Irish Gambling Commission to Be Formed Soon?

Gambling has always been considered a British pastime, but in recent years it’s become increasingly more of a problem – particularly with the ease and accessibility of online gaming. Gambling in the UK was largely unregulated until 2007 when the UK Gambling Commission was formed, and even then the rules were very lax with most of the focus being on ensuring companies were handling money correctly. However, as of 2019, the UK Gambling Commission has started to tighten the rules in response to increasing levels of gambling addiction. A ban on using credit cards and bookmakers being required to complete affordability checks are just a few of the measures that the UK Government are putting in place to combat this rapidly developing issue. But what about Ireland? The lockdowns and closures of land-based locations have seen a migration of traffic to the online world, with customers enticed by exclusive offers at top casino sites as traffic has boomed.

Gambling Laws in Ireland

Despite sharing a border with part of the UK no such laws seem to have permeated the Republic of Ireland, even though these laws make total sense. The UK was incredibly slow to tackle problem gambling, but Ireland is so much further behind. 

In the UK, roughly 1% of the population is problem gamblers -this figure is the same in Ireland. Globally, Ireland ranks 14th for average highest losses due to gambling. The Irish are also the 4th-biggest gamblers in the European Union, according to industry figures, and yet Ireland has no Gambling Commission.

In 2020 the Irish Government finally paid attention to the growing issue of problem gambling, passing amendments to its Gaming and Lotteries act 2019 as an interim measure. The amendments put into law conditions required for lottery promoters and bookmakers to operate. Operators can apply for an on-premises gaming permit where the maximum stake is €10 and a player will be unable to win more than €3000 per game. Applications can be made to the District Court for licenses to hold lotteries with prizes of up to €30,000 per week, but 25% of the proceeds must be given to charity. A license is also required for gaming machines, and the stake has been updated to a maximum of €5 with a maximum win of €500. The Revenue will now be responsible for creating and maintaining a register of gaming licenses.

In addition to the increase in regulations and cap on prizes, penalties for not following these laws have been increased. A summary conviction will lead to a €5000 fine either instead of or alongside a 6-month prison sentence. Conviction on indictment will result in a fine of up to €50,000, also instead of or alongside jail time – two years in this case.

This updated legislation is just a precursor to an overhaul of gambling regulations in the Republic of Ireland. The Irish Department of Justice has announced that they’re drafting a new Gambling Bill to “comprehensively reform the regulation of gambling activities and to provide for an independent Gambling Regulator”. 

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What Does This Mean For Irish Gambling in the Future?

So does this mean that Ireland is likely to see its own gambling commission any time soon? It seems fairly likely, and it may arrive sooner than you think. The Department for Justice has committed to establishing an independent gambling regulator focused on public safety and wellbeing in their Statement of Strategy (2021-2023), so it sounds as if an Irish Gambling Commission may be just around the corner. While there isn’t much detail at the moment it’s entirely possible that the Commission will have similar powers to its UK predecessor, with the ability to conduct yearly reviews and implement change.

This update to regulations cannot come soon enough for some. Last month President Michael D Higgins described sports advertising as a “scourge”, saying Ireland’s media is saturated with sports gambling content and that serious questions need to be asked. Higgins spoke about the damage that is being done to so many families and welcomed debate on Irish gambling laws.

Without question, gambling in Ireland is going to see a reform over the next few years – although it remains to be seen how drastic these new regulations will be. With so much conversation around the saturation of gambling advertisements in international media, even in places like the UK where direct advertising is banned, this is probably going to be one of the first areas to be targeted. The Irish government has already followed in the footsteps of the UK with its limit on stakes and prizes, so it’s not unlikely that they’ll do the same when it comes to banning credit cards.

From the comments made by the Irish Department for Justice, it’s fairly safe to say that an Irish Gambling Commission isn’t too far over the horizon and many of the rules are likely to echo what has already been seen just over the border in the UK. Whatever happens, it’s clear that gambling laws in Ireland will need to get stricter sooner rather than later to protect the increasing number of problem gamblers.

The Future of Gambling in General

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It is worth noting that despite Ireland debating the pros and cons of a Gambling Commission there has recently been a big shift to online gambling. This means that no matter what type of gambling commission is started they’ll definitely have to take into account that lots of betting is likely to be done on websites that are based outside of Ireland.

This isn’t a problem and is certainly something any Gambling Commission that already exists will be taking into account, however, if a website is based outside of the gambling commission country then getting them to abide by the same rules can be tough. There is no denying that online services and e-commerce are consistently on the increase and as such, that is something that all industries are going to have to start taking into consideration.

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