Will Ireland Ban Gambling Advertising?
February 24, 2021
Political and public pressure is mounting in Ireland to increase regulation of the gambling and gaming industry. There is no equivalent of the UK’s regulatory authority, the Gambling Commission and the Irish Labour Party is seeking to fill the vacuum by pushing hard for all advertising to be banned, with the exception of sponsorships. Senator Mark Wall and Aodhán Ó Ríordáin of the Irish Labour Party have proposed that new legislation be introduced and they have gone as far as drafting the Gambling (Prohibition of Advertising) Bill 2021 which they would like to push through the Dáil.
But their party is pretty small beer in the Dáil with only six seats and, as it doesn’t form part of the current ruling coalition, it is hard to see how the Bill will become law without the active support of the reigning coalition parties. Gambling falls under the remit of the Department of Justice and its current minister, Helen McEntee, has not yet made public her view about the Bill but her colleague Frankie Feighan, Minister for Public Health, has said he supports “the gist” of its contents. In addition to the political manoeuvring by the Irish Labour Party, there is strong support for a ban on gambling advertising from the influential sports authorities, the Gaelic Athletic Association and the Gaelic Players Association and the College of Psychiatrists of Ireland has endorsed the idea too, linking advertising to problem gambling.
Over the years various efforts have been made to establish new regulatory frameworks that reflect the changing environment in which gambling and gaming companies operate, and changing patterns of behaviour of gamblers but, for various reasons, proposals for far-reaching change have not made it to the statute book. Ireland lags behind other countries in this respect and is, for example, the only European country to have no digital policy governing its gambling laws.
The most recent legislation, the Interim Gaming and Lotteries Act, came into force last year but its objectives are pretty limited. Commenting on the new Act James Browne, minister with responsibility for gambling regulation at the Department of Justice and Equality (reporting to McEntee), says “This Act modernises the Gaming and Lotteries Act 1956 and will help the better promotion of local gaming and lottery activity. These activities, held primarily for charitable and philanthropic purposes, are the lifeblood of our sporting clubs and community organisations across the country”. Measures include standardising a minimum age of 18 for all gambling products including the Tote, improving the application process for gaming and lottery permits and licences to run small-scale local gaming and lottery activity and enhanced consumer protection rules”.
Browne acknowledges there is more to be done and says “my department is now engaged in the drafting of a general scheme of a new bill to provide for comprehensive reform”. This new bill may incorporate some of the proposals made by the Irish Labour Party regarding advertising, but it is likely to have a much broader impact on the gambling and gaming industry and consumers. It is pretty certain that a new independent regulator will form part of the new bill and, indeed, €200,000 has been allocated in the 2021 budget to start the process of setting up the regulatory framework.
Flutter Entertainment – the operating company of Paddy Power and Betfair Exchange and other brands has recently announced new measures to provide a safer gambling environment for its Irish customers, preempting the legislation that Browne plans. Flutter now bans credit card transactions in Ireland mirroring the ban introduced in the UK last year. Furthermore, the company will no longer advertise during sports programming. Flutter will also be donating 1% of its Net Gaming Revenue to support education and treatment of problem gambling, additional to donations already made to Ireland’s Gambling Awareness Trust. Conor Grant, CEO of Flutter, says “We welcome the Irish Government’s commitment to introducing gambling regulation during its lifetime but gambling operators must act responsibly without being required to do so.”
It is hoped that the Irish government will introduce its new bill later this year. Gambling and gaming operators, together with other interested parties, will be keen to provide input to the process to achieve a fair result for the industry and the consumer.