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'Hands off our balls': Bingo players protest Dail over changes to winnings

Around 50 bingo players were bussed to the Dáil this morning to protest a bill that they say could see their winnings cut in half.

 Michael Healy-Rae with bingo protesters at the Dail on Tuesday
Michael Healy-Rae with bingo protesters at the Dail on Tuesday

AROUND 50 BINGO players were bussed to the Dáil this morning to protest a bill that they say could see their winnings cut in half.

Tomorrow, the Minister of State David Stanton will propose an amendment of the Gaming and Lotteries Bill that will see 25% of bingo proceeds go to charity, 25% go to bingo operators and 50% to prize-winners. The minister claims “agents were allowed by law to take up to 40% of the proceeds and charities frequently ended up with very little.”

However, the Save Our Bingo Facebook campaign group, that organised the protest which included a live game of bingo, said the move will result in the “closure of every bingo hall in Ireland”.

“If the legislation comes in there will be no bingo tomorrow, no one will play,” Jean, who plays in Cabra, told TheJournal.ie at the demonstration. “We buy the books out of our money that we have already been taxed on and now they want to tax us again.”

Connie, who plays in Whitehall, added: “This will affect jobs and rural Ireland – the people who maybe only get out once a week. I think it’s disgraceful of the government to even consider.”

Kerry TD Michael Healy-Rae feels like it is a low blow move by the government.

“How more innocent or harmless a thing can you have than bingo?” he said. “The minister will have to wake up and realise that amendments will have to be made because halving [the jackpot] is wrong and a bad decision.”

Unlucky for some

However, Minister Stanton is standing firm, insisting that he would not be making any changes in a statement issued around the time of the protest.

“This is a modest proposal. It will simply ensure that the charities receive a fair share from the bingo operators who act as their agent; that is a minimum of 25% of the proceeds of the bingo,” he said.

“I don’t accept that bingo halls would be forced to close as a result,” he added. “Given its social appeal, people do not play bingo based solely on the prize level, if they did, they would likely gamble elsewhere.”

Responding to the minister, Naomi Reilly, a spokesperson for the Bingo Players Association group, accused him of “blistering incompetence and a total lack of understanding of the game of bingo and the fallout he has caused.”

She added: “The bingo players in his constituency will not forget or forgive the absolute mess he has created … The Minister has gone out of his way to deliberately not understand that we won’t play a game where we lose half of our money before we even start.

“He also doesn’t understand that when every bingo hall is closed by him there are thousands of charities around the country that will lose out on much-needed donations by his total incompetence.”

With reporting by Ronán Duffy

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Amy Croffey

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