- Ireland is a huge gambling nation, with many people employed in the industry
- Gambling has come under scrutiny in recent years due to the prevalence of problem gambling
- There’s a call for further regulations, with some suggesting the country needs to model its industry on that in the UK
Sweeping change might be on the horizon, but there’s no saying when it will come
Ireland is easily one of the biggest gambling nations on the planet. It’s the home of horse racing and now a fast-growing casino and online gambling industry. For a nation of just over 4 million people, a significant proportion of its population are employed in gambling. Over 6,000 people work in betting shops (although these are now on the way down, according to the Irish Bookmakers Association) and another 1,000 in online and operational, office-based roles. Ireland also has an abundance of 24/7 casinos, daily race meets, hundreds of arcades and fixed-odds machine in bookies’ offices. In addition, you can wager on traditional sports like Gaelic Football and Hurling.
With such a huge industry in a small country, Ireland does come high in world rankings when it comes to individual gambling losses however, and now there are more calls than ever to deploy a much stricter approach to gambling.
Gambling law reform in Ireland is currently surrounded by rumours – and it’s widely believed that new regulations could be forced in before the end of 2018. According to David Stanton, Ireland’s minister for the Department of Justice and Equality, the current laws that govern things like problem gambling and betting limits are severely outdated, and provided detailed plans to update legislation on a TV broadcast at the start of the year.
Why is change needed?
Many are calling for more regulation in Ireland’s gambling industry
Although plans to update laws aren’t new in Ireland, this more aggressive stance on gambling certainly is, and it could be the turning point that sees gambling Ireland become more restricted, and certainly more thoroughly regulated. It’s not the first recent call for reform to the industry either, with the Gambling Control Bill published in 2013 taking the first steps towards a more controlled industry.
The 90-page bill was put together to highlight the size of the gambling industry in Ireland, but the recommended changes and controls ultimately did not come to fruition. Now, with more pressure than ever before on things like fixed-odds machines and a lack of support for problem gamblers, the bill will likely be updated and passed so Ireland can enjoy the same levels of gambling authority enjoyed elsewhere.
Comparing Ireland to the UK
Many major casinos are already familiar with UK regulations
In the UK, the gambling industry is heavily regulated, with the gambling commission backed up by both the government and independent organisations who oversee legislative changes and put in place controls that monitor, regulate and in some cases restrict casino and gambling operations that do not adhere to the strict rules put in place. Failure to attack problem gambling and create advertising that appeals to minors or vulnerable people has resulted in fines, and there were changes only this week to the maximum amount that can be wagered at fixed-odds betting terminals. Compared to Ireland, the control that the government has on the gambling industry is infinitely more complex and wide-reaching, with many Irish gambling companies still enjoying the freedoms that many bookmakers in the UK had 25 years ago.
Although controls are a positive outcome for problem gamblers, they could potentially be an issue for people who want to simply enjoy a flutter, and don’t play beyond their means. The online gambling industry in particular is one area that the Irish government are looking at regulating heavily, mostly to prevent children from accessing websites and being attracted to gambling. Despite being a huge positive, this restricts where and when gambling companies can advertise their services, and could end up contributing to negative growth if visibility decreases. Online gambling companies currently have the upper hand in other countries around the EU, especially in the UK where online makes up 33% of gambling revenues.
In Ireland, this figure might not be far off and some of the biggest gaming companies will have both eyes on any legislative changes that could affect both advertising and gaming controls. The majority of online casinos in the UK are used to this kind of strict regulation, and already have stringent controls and support for people who cannot control their gambling, they adhere to advertising regulations to the highest level. Changes to the law in Ireland will be water off a duck’s back to operators like 888 casino online who already conform to the UK’s heavily controlled industry.
The big positive for Ireland’s gambling industry however is the fact that an independent body will be overseeing gambling regulation, much like the UK’s Gambling Commission. Currently, Ireland has no such body and therefore a lack of hard figures, research and industry oversight, something that the Gambling Commission has been providing since its inception. This makes it a lot easier to decide what steps are needed to reduce problems, and if measures could end up being too restrictive.
Where does gambling in Ireland go from here?
The Irish government has been accused of failing to protect problem gamblers
So what happens next for a country with gambling in its blood? Well, it looks like any discussions around changes, no matter how fast or slow, are going to become political. Fianna Fáil has used the delayed 2013 legislation as an accusation, accusing the government of failing problem gamblers and Ireland’s youth by not taking stricter measures fast enough. Granted, David Stanton is certainly on board with the changes but is relying on consultations and meetings with industry representatives and experts before making updates on legislation, creating a delay. This is irking those who want quicker changes.
The figures in a recent web gambling survey in Ireland just cement how quickly reform is needed. According to the segment of the population surveyed, 62% said they had gambled more than they could afford to lose before, and 76% agreed that the dangers of gambling should be advertised.
However long the outcome will take, it definitely looks like sweeping changes will be affecting the industry in Ireland sooner rather than later. With support on both sides of the chamber, and plenty of support from the population itself, restricted advertising and a model a lot more like the UK’s when it comes to warnings and messages on things like TV adverts, a new era for Irish gambling is on the way. This will hopefully protect more vulnerable people and prevent too many big individual losses – both online and in land-based casinos.