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Lobbyists big winners as government revises bingo bill after protests

It comes after a protest at the Dáil on Tuesday.

Michael Healy-Rae with bingo protesters at the Dail on Tuesday
Michael Healy-Rae with bingo protesters at the Dail on Tuesday
Image: @TJ_Politics/Twitter

THE GOVERNMENT HAS has made revisions to its amendment of the Gaming and Lotteries Bill that proposed to reduce bingo operators’ takings from 40% to 25%.

The Minister of State David Stanton initially proposed that 25% of bingo proceeds go to charity, 25% go to bingo operators and 50% to prize-winners. The minister claimed “agents were allowed by law to take up to 40% of the proceeds and charities frequently ended up with very little.”

However, after a protest at the Dáil on Tuesday and a discussion there last night, it was decided that 75% of the takings of large bingo competitions will now be at the discretion of organisers, meaning that they can now decide for themselves how much they keep and how much they dole out in prize money. The original figure of 25% of the takings going to charity remains the same.

For smaller bingos, where the total prize money is less than €5,000, there is no change in the current law.

The bill has been sent to the Seanad for further consideration.

The changes were proposed by Sinn Féin TD Martin Kenny last night and accepted by the Minister of State David Stanton, despite insisting on Tuesday that he would not reconsider his initial proposal of the bill.

“There was a very organised lobby by the commercial bingo operators against this bill, but the main objection being put forward was that there was a cap of 50% of takings at any licenced bingo game being allocated to prizes,” Kenny said.

“My simple amendment changed that 50% to 75%, leaving it at the discretion of the operators as to how much they give as prizes.”

Under the current law, Minister Stanton claimed that “agents were allowed to take up to 40% of the proceeds and charities frequently ended up with very little.”

Speaking in the Dáil about the matter yesterday, the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said that the legislation sets out that 25% of bingo proceeds must go to charity – which he said bingo operators were meant to be doing all along. 

He said some large-scale bingo hall operators have been flouting the rules to date, giving no money to charity or only a “paltry sum”, he said. 

Deirdre Doherty, spokesperson for the Save Our Bingo Campaign, said the revision of the bill was “a great victory”.

“We would like to thank the many TDs who met with us and stood up for bingo last night in the Dáil. Their support will not be forgotten,” she added.

On Tuesday, around 50 bingo players were bussed to the Dáil to protest over the initial changes to the bill.

The campaign group, who organised the protest which included a live game of bingo, believed that it would have resulted in the “closure of every bingo hall in Ireland”.

One woman carried a sign that read, “Leo and posh boys hate bingo”. However, the Taoiseach said he was a frequenter of bingo with his grandmother.

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