Ireland gambling bill could ban all forms of promos

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The legislation will create a regulated online gambling market in Ireland. The sector will be subject both to taxes and to a new statutory authority which will act as the sector’s regulator, the Gambling Regulatory Authority.

While currently online gambling is not locally regulated, many Irish citizens regularly place bets due the popularity of offshore unregulated offerings. Under Irish law, there is as of yet no unified governance structure for the regulation of gambling.

The administration of the sector is the responsibility of a patchwork of ad-hoc agencies and authorities; including the district courts, Irish Tax Authority revenue commissioners and the department of justice and equality.  

In September, minister of state for law reform James Browne, who is leading on the bill, appointed Anne Marie Caulfield to be the chief executive officer designate of the new regulator.

The new rules in Ireland

Under article 148 of the bill, operators will be banned from using free bets as an inducement to gamble. The text of the law uses broad language that could potentially apply to any type of promotional activities.

“A licensee to whom this chapter applies shall not offer an inducement to a person to participate, or continue to participate, in a relevant gambling activity,” reads the law. How the language will be interpreted in practice will be a matter for the Authority and the courts.

“This approval by cabinet is significant and the publication of the bill is unquestionably a major milestone. It is an important and necessary piece of legislation, designed to meet the challenges of gambling responsibly in 21st century Ireland,” taoiseach Micheál Martin said following the cabinet’s approval of the legislation in mid-November.

“This long-awaited and much-needed bill takes a responsible approach to balancing the freedom to gamble with the safeguards to protect people from falling prey to addiction. This bill provides a clearer framework for operators and for consumers.”

Another major provision of the bill concerns the establishment of a “social impact fund” which will be funded through a mandatory levy.

This will finance an array of projects to ensure safe and responsible gambling. These could include research, public education, the provision of services. The exact size of the levy is to be wholly at the discretion of the Authority, and so is an unknown variable.

One novel provision of the bill is that the regulator will have the power to prevent the access of gambling at certain times or days.

“A licensee of a remote gambling licence shall not provide a relevant gambling activity by remote means during such days, or outside such hours, or both, as may be prescribed by regulations made by the Authority,” the law says.

This is a feature rarely implemented by other regimes abroad. Whether it will be put into effect is a decision vested in the regulator, with the bill merely granting it the powers to do so.

Missing from the bill, though, was a rule that would prohibit operators from limiting player stakes. This had been proposed in earlier versions of the bill.

Industry reaction

Industry has reacted positively to the publication of the bill, which is only the latest step of multi-year long process.

“Today is a significant milestone, and we congratulate Minister Browne and his team for bringing forward the bill,” said EGBA secretary general Maarten Haijer. “EGBA fully supports the Irish government’s ongoing efforts to establish modern regulations that fit the digital age and bring the country’s regulatory framework into line with EU member states.

“We look forward to the finalisation of the bill and engaging constructively with Irish policymakers to ensure the outcome is a well-functioning system of regulation that protects the interests of the many Irish citizens who gamble safely and recreationally, sets a high level of protection for consumers and those experiencing gambling-related harm, and provides clarity and long-term predictability for the gambling sector.”

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