knowledge | 21 October 2021 |

Publication of the General Scheme of the Gambling Regulation Bill

Minister James Browne has today published the General Scheme of the Gambling Regulation Bill (the “2021 Bill”) (available here).  The Bill consists of 142 Heads and takes into consideration a number of expert reports including the Interdepartmental Working Group On Future of Licensing and Regulation of Gambling 2019 (available here). 

Minister Browne stated that, “The publication of the General Scheme is an important milestone towards the effective regulation of gambling in Ireland under the new, independent statutory body – the Gambling Regulatory Authority of Ireland. The Scheme sets out the framework and legislative basis for how we will do this”. 

We have set out below some comments on key features of the 2021 Bill. 

1. Creation of Independent Regulatory Body 

Part 2 of the 2021 Bill creates a new independent Gambling Regulatory Authority of Ireland (the “Gambling Authority”) that will be solely responsible for regulating the provision of gambling services and activities in the State.  This is contrary to the General Scheme of the Gambling Control Bill 2013 (the “2013 Bill”) initially proposed the establishment of an Office for Gambling Control Unit under the Department of Justice and Equality. 

The Gambling Authority will consist of up to seven members appointed by the Minister of Justice and will include CEO and Chairperson.  In particular the Gambling Authority will be responsible for: 

  • the proper and effective licensing and regulation of gambling activities in the State;
  • requiring safeguards to address problem gambling, including in relation to the advertising of gambling and sponsorship by gambling providers; and
  • preventing gambling from being a source or support to crime. 

Minister Browne noted that the Gambling Authority, “will have the necessary enforcement powers for licensing and to enable it to take appropriate and focused action where providers are failing to comply with the provisions of this legislation”. 

2. Licences and Licensing Regime 

Part 3 of the 2021 Bill deals with Licences and the Licensing Regime. 

The proposed licence structure provides for three broad categories of licences (for both in person and remote/online services) and includes: 

  1. Business to Consumer Category;
  2. Business to Business Category; and 
  3. specific category of licence to regulate gambling activities for charitable and philanthropic purposes.  

The proposed three categories of licences is a welcome departure from the initial 2013 Bill which included a total of 43 separate licences which operators could potentially require.  The licence structure proposed by the 2021 Bill should assist streamline the licensing process for both land and remote/online operators.  

3. Compliance and Enforcement 

Part 4 of the 2021 Bill provides the Gambling Authority with statutory powers to enforce the proposed licensing regime.  Many of the proposed powers mirror those included in the 2013 Bill. 

Some of the proposed powers of the Gambling Authority under the 2021 Bill include the power to:

  • impose appropriate penalties for non-compliance;
  • import administrative financial sanctions
  • shut down a provider’s operations;
  • stop payments to a provider;
  • revoke or suspend licences;
  • inspect and request information; and 
  • conduct investigations. 

The 2021 Bill provides that both the licence holder and the responsible officers of that provider may be legally liable in circumstances where a relevant offence has been committed.  

4. Safeguards, Advertising, Sponsorship and Social Impact Fund

Part 5 of the 2021 Bill contains certain restrictions relating to advertising gambling services.  

The Gambling Authority will have the power to create a code which may impose restrictions or prohibitions regarding: 

  • The times each day when gambling advertisements can be broadcast; 
  • The volume and frequency of gambling advertisements that can be broadcast during sporting events; and 
  • The use of images of children, animated characters or animas in gambling advertisements. 

The introduction of a code is a welcome departure from the 2013 Bill which sought to include advertising restrictions in primary legislation which may have been practically inflexible where amendments were necessary.  

The Gambling Authority will also have the power to seek an Order of the Court to block advertising by or on behalf of a provider.

Part 5 of the 2021 Bill also contains consumer protection measures which will include: 

  • prohibitions on the offer of inducements such as free bets, VIP or preferential treatment etc.;
  • prohibitions on the offer of credit or credit facilities to players;
  • spending limits (where practicable); and 
  • restricting certain payment methods (such as credit cards). 

The 2021 Bill will also establish a Social Impact Fund which will be used for the purposes of financing research and information, education and awareness raising measures, and appropriately supporting problem gambling treatment activities by relevant health professionals. These enhanced player protection measures were also a feature of the 2013 Bill. Certain licence holders may be required by the Gambling Authority to contribute to the Social Impact Fund which will be separate to fees paid to obtain a licence.  The contributions required to be made will be calculated by the Gambling Authority taking into consideration: (i) the size of the licence holders’ operations; (ii) the gambling services and activities offered by the licence holder; and (iii) the licence holders’ turnover. 

5. Appeals

Part 6 of the 2021 Bill provides for an independent appeals system and process available for licence holders, licence applications and consumers.  

6. Conclusion

While the Bill is just the heads of scheme, there is now a clear pathway for legislative reform with the Bill being submitted for drafting to the Office of Parliamentary Counsel and an aim for the new legislation to be in force in 2023. 

We will continue to provide further updates as the 2021 Bill progresses through the next stages. 

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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