The recently published Gaming Regulation Bill in Ireland has wide language that could outlaw all types of gambling promotion.
Ireland will have a regulated internet gaming sector as a result of the legislation. The gambling industry will be taxed as well as regulated by a new statutory authority, the Gambling Regulatory Authority.
While online gambling is not officially regulated in Ireland, due to the popularity of offshore unregulated offers, many Irish residents place bets on a regular basis. There is currently no uniform governance structure for gaming regulation under Irish law.
The sector is administered by a patchwork of ad hoc bodies and authorities, including the district courts, the Irish Tax Authority revenue commissioners, and the Department of Justice and Equality.
In September, James Browne, the minister of state for law reform who is spearheading the bill, named Anne Marie Caulfield as the new regulator's chief executive officer designate.
Ireland's new regulations
Article 148 of the law prohibits operators from using free bets as a gambling enticement. The law's text employs broad language that might theoretically apply to any form of promotional activity.
“A licensee to whom this chapter applies shall not offer an inducement to a person to participate, or continue to participate, in a relevant gambling activity,” reads the law. How the language will be interpreted in practice will be a matter for the Authority and the courts.
“This approval by cabinet is significant and the publication of the bill is unquestionably a major milestone. It is an important and necessary piece of legislation, designed to meet the challenges of gambling responsibly in 21st-century Ireland,” taoiseach Micheál Martin said following the cabinet’s approval of the legislation in mid-November.
“This long-awaited and much-needed bill takes a responsible approach to balancing the freedom to gamble with the safeguards to protect people from falling prey to addiction. This bill provides a clearer framework for operators and for consumers.”
Another significant feature of the bill is the creation of a "social impact fund," which will be funded by an obligatory fee.
This will fund a variety of projects aimed at ensuring safe and responsible gambling. These could involve research, public education, and service delivery. The actual size of the charge is entirely at the Authority's discretion, and thus is an unknown variable.
One innovative aspect of the measure is that the regulator will have the authority to prohibit gambling access at specific times or days.
“A licensee of a remote gambling licence shall not provide a relevant gambling activity by remote means during such days, or outside such hours, or both, as may be prescribed by regulations made by the Authority,” the law says.
This is a feature that is rarely used by other governments around the world. The regulator will decide whether or not to implement it, and the measure only gives it the authority to do so.
The law, however, omitted a provision that would bar operators from capping player stakes. This was proposed in previous draughts of the law.
Industry has reacted warmly to the bill's publishing, which is simply the latest step in a multi-year process.
“Today is a significant milestone, and we congratulate minister Browne and his team for bringing forward the bill,” said EGBA secretary-general Maarten Haijer. “EGBA fully supports the Irish government’s ongoing efforts to establish modern regulations that fit the digital age and bring the country’s regulatory framework into line with EU member states.
“We look forward to the finalisation of the bill and engaging constructively with Irish policymakers to ensure the outcome is a well-functioning system of regulation that protects the interests of the many Irish citizens who gamble safely and recreationally, sets a high level of protection for consumers and those experiencing gambling-related harm, and provides clarity and long-term predictability for the gambling sector.”
By fLEXI tEAM