Representing private members clubs in the country, the Gaming & Leisure Association of Ireland (GLAI) has been calling for an overhaul of regulation since 2006. Twelve years on, as Gambling Control Bills from both sides of the political aisle race to the Daíl floor, David Hickson, director of the GLAI, believes 2020 could be the year legislation is passed – but in what form is still far from clear.
The Gaming & Leisure Association of Ireland has estimated that the “most likely timeline for legislation” in the country culminates in 2020,as pressure mounts on the government to push through its long-proposed Gambling Control Bill.
Since 2006, the private members club trade body has been pushing for updates to the current regulations set out in the 1956 Gaming and Lotteries Act, however it was not until 2013 that the political tide turned and the country’s politicians began to acknowledge the need for updated regulations.
As it stands, there are now two Gambling Control Bills racing to the Daíl Floor; the government’s, and the opposition party’s.
“Traditionally there was a general malaise on that part of politicians towards regulation,” explained David Hickson, director of the GLAI and operator of Fitzwilliam Card Club, one of the largest gaming private member clubs in Ireland.
“However more recently, since 2013, a general consensus has gained traction among politicians from all political backgrounds that regulation of gambling is long overdue. The ongoing delays by the government party has prompted opposition parties to put forward their own Gambling Control Bill 2017.
“This in turn prompted the government party to perform another review of the general scheme for their own Gambling Control Bill 2013. It will now be a race to see which party gets their Bill to the floor of the House (Daíl) first and secures the support necessary to get legislation enacted.
“We estimate, that based on information available at the time of writing, the most likely timeline for legislation is 2020. However in the meantime a general election, or two, could upset this timeline.”
In July last year, it appeared as if the government was delaying a comprehensive overhaul of regulation, choosing instead to make small amendments to existing legislation via the Miscellaneous Provisions Bill. Hickson believes this may have been an attempt by ministers to say; “there you go, job done”, when in fact it would not address the primary argument in favour of new legislation; consumer protections for the Irish public.
While pressure from the industry and some prominent public figures has garnered the attention of politicians, Hickson identified “the sudden appearance of a Gambling Control Bill by the main opposition political party” as the driving force behind the government’s decision to return their attention to the 2013 bill.
Looking forward, he acknowledged “it is hard to predict what the regulatory future” of gambling would look like in Ireland, but while FOBTs are very unlikely to appear, Hickson warned of an inherent political bias towards the betting sector.
“We would suggest that there will be similarities to the UK regulatory model,however, by coming late to the party,Ireland is in pole position to draw upon the learning and skill of many other regulated jurisdictions,” he concluded.
“There certainly is no appetite to recreate a situation which allows FOBTs in high street retail units. However, there is a fundamental bias in favour of betting, possibly on the basis that it is regarded as a more benign form of gambling, therefore the gaming sectors will have to make more of an effort if they want to be placed on an equal footing in political circles.
“This bias is so embedded in Irish culture that casinos and gaming arcades still have an incredibly long journey before they will be considered acceptable enough to be regarded as a mainstream form of gambling entertainment. While the future may provide some opportunities they will be relatively modest by international standards.”