This site uses cookies to improve your experience and to provide services and advertising. By continuing to browse, you agree to the use of cookies described in our Cookies Policy. You may change your settings at any time but this may impact on the functionality of the site. To learn more see our Cookies Policy.
OK
Dublin: 14 °C Sunday 22 September, 2019
Advertisement

Long-delayed laws could restrict gambling advertising. So why do bookies want it?

The Gambling Control Bill has been gathering dust in Leinster House for almost five years, but all sides say it’s needed now.

Image: Shutterstock/Cheryl Ann Quigley

IN THE PAST decade or so, watching a sporting event on television has become ubiquitous with watching advertisements for gambling companies during breaks in play.

A proposed set of laws that have been gathering dust on the shelf in the Department of Justice for four years now have the potential to significantly change that, but there are no signs of any significant progress on it.

The heads of the bill suggest allowing the government to ban gambling ads that feature “endorsements by recognisable figures who would be regarded as idols by young persons”, advertisements that suggest “gambling is a rite of passage” and ones that suggest “gambling [...] is a way to gain control, superiority, recognition or admiration”.

Would these adverts stand up to the scrutiny if this became law?

This Ladbrokes one features a group of young men, drinking beer in a pub and describes how each of them gamble. It closes with the tagline: “This is the Ladbrokes’ life.”

Source: ladbrokes/YouTube

And what about this, from BetVictor, featuring the Liverpool Football Club manager Jurgen Klopp?

Source: BetVictor/YouTube

But it’s not just advertising that this bill could affect. It’s a mammoth document detailing how the government would regulate the sector.

Numerous groups have consistently lobbied the government to enact the laws. Perhaps surprisingly, some gambling groups have also lobbied in support of the proposed legislation, as have problem gambling groups.

So what’s it all about? Let’s take a look.

Why do we need it?

Betting is widespread in Irish society but problem gambling has come to the fore in recent years with a number of high-profile sports stars helping to thrust the issue into the spotlight.

They include Galway hurling star Davy Glennon, who went on RTÉ’s Claire Byrne Live to describe how he funded his addiction with loans and even resorted to selling his car.

“My life was turned into a gambling rut, and I couldn’t get out… There were so many lows. I isolated myself. I became a compulsive liar,” he said.

Another well-known case is that of Cathal McCarron, a Tyrone GAA player, who said he took part in a gay porn movie to fund his crippling addiction to gambling.

International football players – among them Keith Gillespie, Joey Barton and Kyle Lafferty – have described how they’ve spent money, in some cases millions of pounds, on gambling.

Away from that, international research has shown that as a nation we lose around €470 per adult per year on different forms of gambling.

The UK’s regulatory Gambling Commission – we have no such body in Ireland – has published comprehensive statistics on gambling participation there.

It says that 48% of people – and 53% of men – have gambled in some way in the past four weeks. A survey of students in UK universities found that 54% of students who gamble do so to make money, and one in four are in debt because of gambling.

Perhaps most worryingly, a survey it conducted last year on children aged 11-15 in England and Wales made for grim reading.

It found the overall rate of gambling in the past week in this age group was 16%. This compared to 5% who’d smoked and 8% who’d drunk alcohol in the same time period.

The Department of Health has its own data on gambling use, with the most recent figures for 2014/15 showing that 64.5% of Irish people aged 15 and over had gambled in the past year and 41.4% had done so in the past month.

Breaking that down by age, just under half (46.5%) of 15-24 year olds had gambled in the past year, with 70.5% of people aged 35-44 had done so.

This data is far from robust, compared to the likes of the UK, Australia and New Zealand according to Rutland Centre CEO Maebh Leahy.

She told TheJournal.ie: “We don’t have any up-to-date research in Ireland. If we have, we believe that the figures for problem gambling in the country could be far higher.

Our figures say that 1% of the population are problem gamblers. Figures just published in Northern Ireland say 2.2% of people are there. That’s a massive difference. If the true figure was the same here, it’d mean about 80,000 people in Ireland are problem gamblers.

Activists here say that many who access their services start as teenagers, and fear that the rates of gambling among young people here would be broadly similar to the up-to-date UK figures.

Leahy said that those figures must not be taken in isolation, because the behaviour of a problem gambler can affect so many family and friends around them.

“Problem gambling can have a ripple effect,” she said. “Getting this legislation would give us a regulator that would actually go and compile this data.”

Why do problem gambling bodies want it?

For Leahy, an independent regulator would go a long way to addressing the issues around problem gambling in Ireland.

Currently, the industry is to a large degree self-governing. The Lobbying Register shows extensive lobbying, particularly from addiction services, on the bill, but this entry from the Irish Bookmakers Association is of note.

Sending a request to meet with Minister of State David Stanton, its “intended result” was to “make government aware of services already in place and being funded by the sector. Also to express support for Gambling Control Bill being introduced ASAP”.

Leahy said: “A key feature of the bill is the establishment of a gambling regulator that’s independent of industry, duties of regulator to regulate advertising, sports sponsorship, access for young people, a social fund for access to treatment and also prevalent information and research.

It’s not about prohibition. Adults will still be able to bet and gamble, but this is about protecting people from the harmful effects.

She said that it’s important to change the culture around gambling, particularly for young people, to try to mitigate the risk of developing an addiction.

“Sport and gambling are now almost seen as one, due to advertising,” she said. “It suggests you can’t enjoy one without the other. It’s shown as a lifestyle choice, but it never shows the negative.

They’re selling a dream that doesn’t exist.

Leahy added that the delay in the bill coming forward was risking the betting landscape changing so much as to make the proposed laws irrelevant.

She added: “We are really asking the government to tackle this. It’s only getting worse. If they don’t get a handle on this now, we’re in serious trouble.”

There are dozens of entries on the Lobbying Register detailing the lobbying being done by this sector on the bill but, comparatively, relatively few entries for bookmakers or representative bodies.

Why do bookies want it?

The bookies say they also want the industry regulated.

They also say they want overseas online companies to be put on an even footing with indigenous Irish operators, with those companies subject to the same scrutiny and obligations as those with physical shops in Ireland.

Sharon Byrne is chairperson of the Irish Bookmakers Association. She told TheJournal.ie that its members, which includes Paddy Power, Boylesports and Ladbrokes, are in support of legislation coming through.

“It puts customer safety measures on equal footing across the industry,” she said.

She said that while there is no official regulator for the industry as of yet, the bookmaker sector is already heavily regulated.

Byrne said: “We have to apply to gardaí every year, we have to register premises, and we have eyes on us all year round.

We’ve already introduced a lot of what is recommended, such as the under-18 code of practice and provisions for problem gambling.

While the members of the association provide funding to problem gambling agency Dunlewy, it is not an obligation and the proposed laws would see all services that offer gambling products – both in store and online – to contribute towards problem gambling services.

“I’d welcome that across the sector,” Byrne said.

That doesn’t mean that the bookies are universally in favour of the laws, however. With the Gambling Control Bill restricted to just the “heads of bill” for now, Byrne said that there is a lot of ambiguity that the finished bill would need to clarify.

She said: “There’s a provision in there to gain a gambling licence for ‘special events’ including ones up to five days. It says to cover race nights and poker nights and things like that but what’s stopping someone setting up their own book for the four days of Cheltenham (busiest event of the horse racing calendar)?”

There is also a provision to ban fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs) in all their forms.

In theory, it’s impossible to win on these machines. It has a built-in margin that’s favourable to the bookies.

The law says that a bookie’s licence could be revoked if “any person, whether or not the holder of a licence or registration under this Act, offering to another the use of or access to a FOBT for purposes of betting”.

Byrne said that an example of this could be someone walking into a bookies and using their phone to gamble online, where these casino-style games are widespread across gambling sites. They would be technically “have access” to fixed-odds betting, but again this would require clear definition in the law.

She added that betting shops in Ireland are high revenue but low profit, and that after all expenses have been taken into account, most shops will only make 1-1.5% profit.

“It’s easy to tax bookies, but we’re not as competitive as what it used to be since the growth of online,” Byrne said. “Our turnover in 2008 was over €4 billion. Last year, it was €2.7 billion.”

She said that the industry welcomed regulation, and the placing of an even footing for all players in the market.

In a statement to TheJournal.ie, a spokesperson for Boylesports echoed this sentiment.

They said: “BoyleSports has always been fully supportive of the Gambling Control Bill as we believe a well-regulated industry is in everybody’s interests. BoyleSports has always taken its responsibilities seriously and we welcome the fact that this bill will put those responsibilities on a statutory footing for all companies involved in gambling in Ireland.

If indigenous Irish providers are not to be disadvantaged by the new legislation it is particularly important it be applied to all companies operating in the Irish market, including online operators based in a foreign jurisdiction.

Byrne added that the industry has taken steps to provide supports for problem gamblers, and that for a large number of people, betting is a hobby.

“What I’d say is people will always have a bet if they want to have it,” she said. “There are people, and it is their right to have a bet.”

What’s the hold up?

The general scheme of the Gambling Control Bill was published by the Fine Gael/Labour coalition in 2013. Four years later, and there’s been little to no progress in actually signing it into law.

It’s a 90-page document. It is wide-ranging and covers numerous aspects around the gambling sector.

The government has consistently made the right noises about wanting to make progress on it. At the beginning of this year, Minister of State at the Department of Justice David Stanton began a review of the regulation of the gambling sector “with a view to early legislative action”.

Addressing the Dáil on 3 October, however, Stanton said: “The general scheme of the Bill was published in 2013. We carried out further research, published last February, which showed the need to update the scheme and that work continues.”

He said that that the government hoped to introduce a smaller bill in the interim to deal with “gambling control”.

“I was hoping to publish it this term but unfortunately it has not been possible to publish the general Bill,” Stanton said. “I hope we will do that next term.”

In a statement to TheJournal.ie, a spokesperson for the Department of Justice said: “Minister of State Stanton is working to ensure that legislation providing for the regulation of the gambling sector can be published at the earliest opportunity. Discussions with the Office of the Attorney General are underway.”

In March, the government said the bill would be published by the end of the year. In 2016, the answer repeatedly read out in the Dáil was “at earliest possible opportunity”. In 2015, the answer given by then-Taoiseach Enda Kenny was “next year”.

Leahy added: “There’s a lot of parallels between this and the Public Health Alcohol Bill, in terms of the harm caused by these products and the role that industry plays.

If the government doesn’t act soon, these laws will be irrelevant. The time was now five years ago. Now, we risk getting to it too late.

If you have been affected by problem gambling and would like to tell your story, email sean@thejournal.ie.

Read: My boyfriend’s gambling: ‘I loved two people. One was a compulsive liar and emotionally unavailable’

Read: ‘They’re not your friend’: Warning over bookmakers as Cheltenham festival begins

  • Share on Facebook
  • Email this article
  •  

About the author:

Sean Murray

Read next:

COMMENTS (18)

This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
write a comment

    Leave a commentcancel