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Ireland – Experts discuss challenges facing Irish Gambling reform

By - 1 June 2023

The long-awaited Gambling Regulation Bill 2022 (the ‘Bill’) was published in December 2022. This highly anticipated legislation will, when enacted, establish a framework for a modern, robust regulatory and licensing regime for the gambling sector in Ireland. It will also create a new gambling regulator – the Gambling Regulatory Authority of Ireland – focused on public safety and well-being, and responsible for the licensing and regulation of all forms of gambling activity, both online and offline (with the exception of the Irish National Lottery). 

During the IAGA Summit session, What’ Happening in the Republic of Ireland, speakers Rob Corbet at Arthur Cox and Micaela Diver at A&L Goodbody, will consider the regulation of gambling in Ireland, including the proposed gambling legislative reforms in the Republic of Ireland. 

G3 took the opportunity to discuss the changes with both ahead of the summit. 

What is the driving change in legislation in the Republic of Ireland?

Micaela: The Bill has been described by Tánaiste Micheál Martin as “an important and necessary piece of legislation, designed to meet the challenges of gambling responsibly in 21st century Ireland.”

It is a well overdue reform measure, to modernise the regulation and licensing of gambling in Ireland which is still by reference to laws dating back to the 1930s and the 1950s. There is also a recognised need to introduce a dedicated gambling regulator – to be known as the ‘Gambling Regulatory Authority of Ireland’ (GRAI). 

The GRAI will be responsible for licensing and regulating all forms of gambling in Ireland, including betting, gaming, lotteries (with the exception of the National Lottery) and the sale or supply of products or services related to gambling. It will be equipped with comprehensive powers to regulate the gambling sector, and to meaningfully and swiftly respond to ongoing and future developments in the gambling sector.

Rob: While Ireland has introduced minor updates to the laws governing retail and online gaming, lotteries and betting in recent years, the Gambling Regulation Bill is the first comprehensive overhaul of the Irish gambling environment in modern times. For a long time now, there has been broad political consensus on the need for a more modern regulatory regime that incorporates player protection measures that protect those must vulnerable in society.

What are the potential challenges?

Rob: Overhauling the entirety of gambling regulation in Ireland will take time, so the legislation has been drafted to facilitate commencement of the Bill, section by section, if required. The Department of Justice has established a Programme Board to ensure legislation and operational preparations are progressed at the same time so that, once the Bill becomes law, the Gambling Regulatory Authority of Ireland (GRAI) can commence operations as soon as possible. The initial priority is to formally establish the GRAI, which will have a wide variety of functions, including:

  • Regulating the provision of gambling services and activities, both online and in person
  • Developing safeguards to protect consumers from problem gambling, including establishment of a National Gambling Exclusion Register and a Social Impact Fund to finance research, training, and education on gambling addiction
  • Licensing of gambling services and activities, including maintaining a register of all licensed operators and determining license fees
  • Ensuring compliance by gambling providers with restrictions imposed on advertising and sponsorship, including a statutory watershed prohibiting gambling advertising between the hours of 5.30am and 9.00pm on television, radio or on-demand audio-visual media
  • Receiving, investigating and addressing complaints about gambling providers
  • Ensuring compliance by gambling providers with the Criminal Justice (Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing) Act 2010, and addressing money laundering activities in the context of gambling services
  • Keeping the Minister of Justice informed of developments relating to the regulation and licensing of gambling services and making recommendations on policies
  • Promoting public awareness and disseminating information to the public about regulation and licensing of gambling activities

Micaela: There is broad political consensus that the introduction of a new licensing and regulatory regime for gambling in Ireland is urgently required. The challenge which Ireland faces, like other jurisdictions which have gone before it, is to strike an appropriate balance in safeguarding consumers whilst ensuring that regulation is fair and proportionate. 

While the Irish government has indicated its intention to get the legislation enacted into law later this year, there are potential risks to this timeline. We understand that work is underway behind the scenes in updating aspects of the Bill published last December, as well as engagement and consultation with various stakeholders. This was confirmed by the Junior Minister for Justice in April in response to a parliamentary question, in which he confirmed that a list of amendments to the Bill are currently being worked through by the Department of Justice with a view to these being put to Committee Stage for debate ‘in the coming months’.

In parallel with this drafting work to further develop the Bill, a ‘TRIS’ notification has been made to the EU Commission regarding the Bill under the Technical Standards Directive given the perceived potential for a number of its provisions to have an impact on the EU’s internal market. Depending on the response of the EU Commission, it is possible that further amendments to the Bill will be required, which could have an impact on overall timing. While the Bill in its entirely has been notified, the notification identifies in particular the certain provisions concerning advertising on ‘on-demand audio-visual media services’ (ODAVMS) and other electronic means of communication, and the conditions attached to the various types of licences introduced by the Bill. 

Will change happen – and why?

Micaela: While the reforms have been in the pipeline for several years, there is now significant momentum behind them.  Regulatory change now appears to be reasonably imminent, even if the timelines being targeted by government may get delayed.  

Perhaps the clearest indicator of this is the early appointment last September of Ms Anne Marie Caulfield as CEO designate of the planned new regulatory agency. Ms Caulfield has been tasked with establishing the GRAI in parallel with the further development of legislation, to ensure that there is no delay in it becoming operational following the commencement of the legislation.

Ms Caulfield is said to be already working closely with Minister of State at the Justice Department, James Browne TD, and his department in actively recruiting staff for the GRAI and in developing procedures for how the authority will function once it is operational. The Minister has commented that: “Ms Caulfield’s ongoing preparatory work, in parallel with the passage of the [Bill], will ensure the authority will be ready to hit the ground running once it is formally established.”

It is envisaged that the GRAI will ultimately comprise of seven members, including an appointed Chairperson, with relevant experience across a range of areas, including gambling activities, consumer affairs, gambling addiction, information and communications technology and financial services, including audit and forensic accounting practice. 

Rob: I think change is inevitable. The Gaming and Lotteries (Amendment) Act 2019 amended the 1956 legislation in a modest way to account for online bookmaking and betting intermediation services. However, this Bill represents the culmination of over a decade of governmental initiatives targeted at broader reform. The recent publication of the British government’s white paper on gambling regulation and the regulation of gambling is also likely to inform developments in Ireland given the number of operators who are established in both jurisdictions.

What are the fundamental principles of establishing any new regulator? 

Rob: Ensuring it is adequately funded by government so it has the skills and resources necessary to apply the legislation in the manner intended. The legislation itself should ensure that the powers of the regulator are in line with Irish constitutional requirements, but the exercise of those powers will also be an issue that attracts Constitutional rules around fair procedures and natural justice.

Micaela: In establishing any new regulator, it is critical that there is clarity on their role, decision making, accountability, transparency and how they engage with the industry they are regulating. As the Gambling Regulatory Authority of Ireland will be the first dedicated gambling regulator in Ireland, for what is a rapidly evolving industry, engagement with all key stakeholders will be particularly important to ensure that the regulatory model provided for in the Bill and implemented by the GRAI is effective and sufficiently flexible to evolve as the industry does so. 

What will be the likely impact upon industry?

Micaela: From what we have seen so far, it is clear that the Irish government is intent on putting in place a comprehensive, yet flexible, regulatory regime and a regulator which will safeguard a well-controlled gambling industry. Ireland has a long history and tradition of sports betting and more recently, has embraced gaming in the online sector and in private members clubs offering casino gaming.

This Bill itself and the creation of a new regulator dedicated to supervising, managing and effectively licensing gambling activity, will be largely welcomed by all compliance-focused businesses, most of which are already well used to operating in highly regulated jurisdictions and which have developed significant compliance functions. 

Overall, there will be greater clarity for operators as Ireland moves to become a ‘fully regulated’ jurisdiction as regards gambling services – although that clarity is only likely to come when the GRAI is established and develops regulatory codes, which will set out the detail of relevant licence conditions and required player safety measures.  

That said, there are certain provisions of the Bill that are already drawing particular attention from industry, in particular the areas of advertising and the ability to offer promotions. However, the ability to fully assess the impact of these potential restrictions is limited given much of the detail of what is, and what is not, ultimately allowed will be determined by the GRAI by way of regulations, rather than in the Bill itself. 

Rob: The biggest impact on industry is likely to be the changes to the licensing regime, restrictions and requirements for advertising (specifically regarding on-demand services and the need for blocking facilities for ads) and restrictions on sponsorship and other promotional work. Some of the other big changes will be the obligation to make contributions to the Social Impact Fund and the fact that gambling debts will be enforceable for the first time. Once the regulator is properly established, we are likely to see a greater appetite for investigation of offences and prosecution as there has been confusion up until now about which stakeholder enforces the law (e.g., An Garda Síochána, Department of Justice, Revenue etc.).

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