knowledge | 16 December 2019 |

Don’t Mess With the Bingo Brigade – The Gaming and Lotteries (Amendment) Bill 2019

The Gaming and Lotteries (Amendment) Bill 2019 (the “2019 Bill”) was passed by Dáil Éireann on 4 December 2019 and by Seanad Éireann on 11 December 2019 and seeks to address certain deficiencies with regard to the conduct of gaming and lottery activities regulated under the Gaming and Lotteries Act 1956 (the “1956 Act”).  An outline of some of the changes proposed by the 2019 Bill is set out below.

Bingo – allocation to prizes and charitable purposes

The most high-profile change that the 2019 Bill proposes to introduce is in respect of bingo and, more specifically, the maximum amount of money bingo operators can pay out in prize money.  The 2019 Bill proposes that no more than 75% of the total taking from a bingo hall may be allocated to prizes and at least 25% should be allocated to charitable or philanthropic purposes. 

The original version of the 2019 Bill stated that at least 25% of takings must go to charitable causes, but capped the amount allocated to prizes at just 50%.  However, this drew significant backlash from bingo operators and the Bingo Players’ Association, who launched a high-profile (and ultimately successful) campaign to amend the 2019 Bill, resulting in protests outside Dáil Éireann and significant media attention.

Increased cap on maximum stakes

The 1956 Act currently states that the maximum stake on gaming machines is sixpence, while the top payout is set at 10 shillings. The 2019 Bill proposes to cap the maximum stake on gaming machines at €5, while the top prize will be set at €500.

This move to set new limits on gaming machines comes after the UK government this year also changed its regulation, drastically cutting the amount players can spent on fixed odds betting terminals.  The new laws that came into effect in April state that players in the UK can now only wager a maximum of £2 per spin on FOBTs, down from the previous maximum bet of £100.

Standardised age limits

The 2019 Bill proposes to standardise the legal age for all gambling activities at 18 years.  Under the current regime, there is no standard legal age for gambling and a number of different pieces of legislation and gambling activities have different age limits (and, in certain instances, no age limits).

Changes to permits and licensing approach

The 2019 Bill also proposes an improved permit and licensing application process, setting out more clearly the conditions required for promoters of gaming, and lottery activity, whether to a Garda superintendent for a permit or to the Revenue Commissioners or the District Court for a licence.  These changes include the following:

  • a valid permit or licence will be required to promote gaming and it will be an offence to do so without a permit or licence.
  • there is a new application process for a permit for gaming to be issued by a Garda superintendent for charitable or philanthropic purposes or for private benefit, with a maximum stake of €10 and a maximum prize limit per game of €3,000.
  • the District Court will be able to attach to its certificate conditions limiting the hours during which gaming may be carried on, restricting the kinds of gaming, and the extent to which particular kinds of gaming may be carried on.
  • the Revenue Commissioners will be required to establish and maintain a register of gaming licences accessible online.
  • certain lotteries promoted for the benefit of a charitable or philanthropic purpose and not for the promoter’s benefit will not require a permit or licence. In such circumstances, the prize will be limited to €1,000 and no more than 1,500 tickets at a maximum price of €5 can be sold.
  • the current maximum prize amount of €30,000 remains in place for a lottery licensed by the District Court. However, provision is made for a prize fund limit of €360,000, where a once-off annual lottery is promoted under a District Court licence.

What next?

According to Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality, David Stanton T.D., the amendments proposed in the 2019 Bill comprise an “interim reform measure” which will have the effect of “modernising and clarifying the provisions of what is, as matters stand, greatly outdated legislation”. A more comprehensive overhaul of Ireland’s gambling laws is expected in 2020.

This document has been prepared by McCann FitzGerald LLP for general guidance only and should not be regarded as a substitute for professional advice. Such advice should always be taken before acting on any of the matters discussed.

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