Gambling Regulation Bill 2022: Investigation and enforcement
The Gambling Regulation Bill 2022 published on 2 December 2022, is set to bring in extensive regulation of gambling activities in Ireland. This will include a variety of measures around investigation of possible contraventions and enforcement against offenders.
In this briefing, which is part of a series of briefings on the new legislation, we will look at some of the provisions dealing with investigations and enforcement under the Gambling Regulation Bill 2022 (“Bill”). The Bill sets out various criminal offences. It also implements a complaints mechanism whereby a complaint can be lodged with the Gambling Regulatory Authority of Ireland (“GRAI”) in relation to an alleged contravention by a licensee of a relevant obligation. The Bill further proposes that the GRAI will have a significant investigatory power, including the ability to carry out “Dawn raid” type procedures. It will also be able to compel compliance, issue non-compliance notices, suspend or revoke licences and to seek High Court orders.
Although various offences appear throughout the Bill, Part 4 gathers together a number of specific prohibitions and offences. For example, a person who provides a betting activity, game or lottery without a licence will be guilty of an offence. The maximum penalty on conviction on indictment will be an unlimited fine[HA1] or a term of imprisonment of up to 8 years, or both. The legislation also sets out the offence of cheating at gambling or a gambling activity, again with significant penalties where there is a conviction on indictment.
Where the Authority has reasonable grounds to believe that a person is providing a prohibited gambling activity, it will also be able to apply to court for an order directing the cessation of that activity. A variety of other supporting orders will also be potentially available, including blocking orders against internet service providers and orders against banks prevent the processing of payments. Asset freezing orders will also be an option. Refunds may be ordered and gambling products may have to be surrendered. The court may also order disclosure in support of these remedies.
A gambling licence may be suspended or revoked following a conviction under the Act. In addition, where a person is convicted of an offence, the court will order them to pay the Authority’s costs of the investigation and prosecution of the offence unless there are special and substantial reasons for not doing so.
In certain circumstances, “relevant officers” and “beneficial owners” may face liability for corporate wrongdoing. The offence provisions also have some extra-territorial effect.
Breach of a “relevant obligation”
In addition to the above, the Authority may also investigate a breach of a “relevant obligation”. This means the breach of a condition attaching to a gambling licence or of an obligation imposed on a licensee under the Act or related secondary legislation.
The Authority has a suite of investigative powers to draw on under the Act and there are also obligations on licensees to cooperate with the Authority and its officers, for example by furnishing compliance reports as well as information and documentation.
Where non-compliance is identified here, the Authority can take varying courses of action. This will depend on a range of factors, including the nature and gravity of the breach.
One option is for the Authority to enter an agreement with a licensee that certain steps be taken to bring it back into compliance with the Act. Alternatively, following correspondence with the licensee, it may decide to serve a notice of non-compliance setting out an advice, caution, warning or reprimand. Conditions may be attached to a licence. The Authority also has the option to apply to court to suspend or revoke a licence.
It is also open to the Authority to refer a matter to independent adjudication, which may result in the imposition of an “administrative sanction” on a civil “balance of probabilities” test. This sanction may be a fine or it may involve attaching conditions to a licence or suspending or revoking that licence. Sanctions are subject to confirmation by the court.
The sanctions here can be considerable with the maximum fine set at €20,000,000, or if greater, 10 per cent of the turnover of the licensee in the financial year preceding the date of the decision on the contravention, or in any year in which the conduct giving rise to the sanction occurred. There are a variety of factors listed in the Act, which can be taken into account in setting the level of a fine, such as the nature, gravity and duration of the contravention. The proportionality of the sanction will also be a factor. An appeal is available to the court but its scope is limited.
The Bill also permits the Authority to apply to court for an emergency order in respect of a licensee where there is an urgent need to protect the public from an ongoing contravention of a relevant obligation or to safeguard consumer funds held by a licensee.
The stated primary objective of the Bill is to present the framework for a robust regulatory and licensing regime for the gambling sector in Ireland. The extensive enforcement provisions will support this objective. However, saying that, the Bill also seeks to encourage compliance in the first instance rather than enforce sanctions for non-compliance, though these remain in the background to drawn upon when needed.
Also contributed to by Niall Manning
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.