Gambling Bill has ‘no integrity’ as it fails to deal with ‘National Lottery and EuroMillions’, Seanad hears

FF Senator warns of ‘unintended consequences’ for broadcasters in light of ‘gambling advertising watershed’ between 5.30pm and 9pm

Photograph: Alan Betson, Irish Times Staff Photographer.
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Houses of the Oireachtas Commission suppliment
The Seanad Chamber looking towards the chair of the Cathairleach at Leinster House ( senate ) 
taken on 26/3/07

Controversial legislation that aims to regulate the gambling industry has “no integrity” as it fails to deal with the National Lottery, the EuroMillions draw or scratch cards, the Seanad has been told.

Independent Senator Rónán Mullen said the national lottery and associated games and gambling are to be regulated by the Department of Public Expenditure and he suggested “the main problem bullet is being dodged inappropriately”.

Mr Mullen said there is “saturation advertising of the national lottery and it has to be addressed. It is no argument to say it is making money for the State. This approach has no integrity”.

The Galway-based Senator was speaking during a Seanad debate on the Gambling Regulation Bill which aims to create a new regulator, reform licensing, boost consumer rights and require the betting industry to contribute to a fund to aid problem gamblers.

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The legislation has been passed by the Dáil but Minister of State James Browne said he would introduce amendments in the Seanad to address the potential impact on charities and sports clubs advertising fundraisers, and the Bill is expected to return to lower House for final consideration.

Mr Browne said the Bill “balances the freedom to gamble while ensuring the protection of children and prevention of harm to those vulnerable to problem gambling”.

He said it aims to “ensure that gambling is conducted in a fair and open way so that licensees may operate with certainty; address problem gambling to protect children and regulate gambling advertising; and prevent gambling from being a source of support to crime”. The Minister told Senators that the legislation “must balance all interests”.

In 2017, the gambling sector was worth an estimated €6 billion annually. “There is little doubt but that this figure has increased exponentially in the seven years since.”

Fianna Fáil Senator Timmy Dooley warned of “unintended consequences” and highlighted the serious worry of the TV channels Racing TV and Sky Sports about their ability to continue broadcasting Irish race meetings to an Irish audience because of the “gambling advertising watershed” which bans advertising between 5.30pm and 9pm. He said that if racing was to disappear from Irish television screens it “would represent a terrible blow to their livelihoods and local economies”.

But his party colleague Shane Cassells said advertising was nothing to do with horse racing but “with online casinos and creating addicts to these new products that have been created by some of the finest minds to impact on susceptible minds”. He said it was “legal virtual cocaine”.

Labour Senator Mark Wall, a long-time campaigner on problem gambling, called for a 24-7 ban on gambling advertising as applies in countries like Belgium and the Netherlands. He said 9pm is a “prime time for many of those with an addiction” and he could not understand “why we can’t look at a 24-hour ban”.

Fine Gael Senator Barry Ward said it appeared that “bingo would be substantially affected by this legislation and I do not believe that is the intention of the Bill because bingo is quite apart from many of the kind of gambling games or activities that are described in the Bill. It is actually a pro-social activity”.

Independent Senator Lynn Ruane said it was two years since pre-legislative scrutiny was completed on the Bill but she said that “while I appreciate the sense of urgency that exists with regard to enactment of this legislation, I hope we can take some time to tease out any apparent issues or weaknesses in the Bill here in the Seanad over the coming weeks”.

Sinn Féin Senator Fintan Warfield Fintan Warfield said research produced by H2 Gambling Capital has continually recorded Ireland as having among the highest gambling losses not only in the EU but in the entire world. “It is estimated that Irish gamblers lose €1.36 billion – approximately €300 per adult in Ireland in 2020 – and when we consider that many people do not participate in gambling the average figure per gambler is likely much higher.”

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