7 years ago, today, on the 15th of July 2013, the Heads of the Gambling Control Bill were published by the Fine Gael-lead government. The Heads of Bill outline a progressive piece of legislation, which has the potential to put in place fit-for-purpose legislation and regulation of gambling in Ireland, as well as creating a 'Social Fund', which would provide financial supports for problem gambling treatment, prevention, education and research. It saddens me greatly that we are here, 7 years later, with no enactment of the Bill and no Gambling Regulatory Authority in place.
To put this 7 year duration into context, the Public Health Alcohol Bill holds the current record for the longest interval between the publication of a Bill and its enactment - at 3 years. It was one of the most lobbied against Bills in the history of Irish legislation, by one of the strongest lobby groups in the country - the alcohol industry.
In the absence of fit-for-purpose legislation and regulation, we see what the outgoing Minister of State, with responsibility for gambling legislation, David Stanton, called a 'Wild West' environment. In any unregulated sector, with unenforced and, often, unenforceable legislation, you will inevitably see a 'race to the bottom'. Just as in other jurisdictions, unscrupulous gambling operators, in Ireland, prey on vulnerable people for profit.
In March of this year, Betway received a fine of £11.6 million from the UK Gambling Commission for failings linked to so-called 'VIP' customers.
In February of this year, Mr Green received a fine of £3 million for 'regulatory failures', including Anti-Money Laundering and Social Responsibility breaches.
In July 2019, Ladbrokes/Coral received a fine of £5.9 million for 'past failings in anti-money laundering and social responsibility'.
In October 2018, Paddy Power/Betfair paid a 'penalty package' of £2.2 million for 'social responsibility and money laundering failures on its gambling exchange'.
All of these companies provide gambling services, either online or land-based, in Ireland. It would be naive in the extreme to assume that they are better behaved in the unregulated Irish market, than they are in the regulated UK one.
Just over 9 years ago, it came to light that my colleague, Tony O'Reilly, had stolen €1.75 million from his employer, An Post, and gambled every cent of it. The vast majority was put through his Paddy Power account. At no point did Paddy Power staff make any effort to intervene on the basis that Tony clearly had a severe gambling problem - which they were uniquely placed to identify. Nor did anyone from Paddy Power ever inquire as to the source of the astronomical funds which a post office manager was gambling. Instead, Tony was given the 'VIP' treatment and given tickets to race meetings and football matches. This is what an unregulated gambling market looks like. There were no sanctions brought against Paddy Power for Tony's case.
Over the last 7 years of inactivity by the Irish Government, we have seen:
In March 2019, then Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, stated that a Gambling Regulatory Authority could take up to 18 months to establish. This would give a timeline of September 2020. While Covid-19 has, no doubt, impacted on that timeline, it is reasonable, after a 7 year wait, for the people of Ireland to expect urgent action.
If you are reading this and are sick and tired of the gambling industry in Ireland being unregulated, or if you wish to see funding directed towards treatment and prevention services, please contact your local TD. A list of contact details is available here: https://www.whoismytd.com/
The silent addiction cannot become the forgotten addiction. The time for action is now - not in another 7 years time.
Barry Grant, Addiction Counsellor & Founder, Problem Gambling Ireland
[We discuss this issue in more detail, in this week's episode of The Problem Gambling Podcast.]