Casino play looks ‚bleak‘ for Desmond

The Sporting Emporium, a EUR 5.5m Dublin casino that opened seven months ago backed by financier Dermot Desmond, faces closure by Christmas along with the 13 other casinos in the country.

Officials at the Department of Justice held a meeting with casino industry representatives last Thursday in which they said that plans to shut down the EUR 60m casino industry were already in the hands of the attorney-general.

The proposals from Michael McDowell, the justice minister, are designed to close a loophole that allowed casinos to operate as private clubs. The plans are due to come before a Dail committee within four weeks. They will then be shelved until after politicians return from their summer recess in September. Casinos are illegal under a 50-year-old law.

The Gaming and Leisure Association of Ireland (GLAI), which represents top casinos such as the Fitzwilliam Club and Silks Club but which does not represent the Sporting Emporium, described its meeting with the department as „bleak“ and said „the door is locked and bolted on the casino industry“.

It is understood the GLAI communicated the discussions it held with the minister’s officials to Desmond’s casino on Thursday after the meeting. The Sporting Emporium is thought to be conducting its own separate lobbying campaign against the minister’s plan.

McDowell has voiced concerns about the risk of money-laundering taking place in Irish casinos and said punters who wanted to partake in casino-style gambling could „go abroad if they wanted to“.

Casino industry representatives have argued that McDowell’s plans will cost up to 700 jobs and have called for the establishment of a gambling commission, similar to the one that exists in the UK, to regulate the industry. Ireland is one of only two countries in the European Union to ban casinos.

In a letter to the Department of Justice sent 10 days ago, the GLAI told McDowell: „If the Irish government closes all gaming clubs in Ireland, there is little doubt that the activities encapsulated by some of these clubs will go underground. Completely prohibiting clubs merely deprives the state of any tax revenue from this sector.“

JJ Woods, another well-known industry figure formerly of Silks casino, has lobbied the taoiseach Bertie Ahern to get McDowell to reconsider his approach, but so far without success.

„The government should be listening to voices of experience when it comes to these matters,“ said Woods. „If they legislate for casinos, it could be a well-run, positive aspect of the economy.“

The GLAI is not thought to be considering a legal challenge to McDowell’s plans. It is hoping, instead, to drum up support among rival TDs, some of whom are members of Dublin casinos.

The Sporting Emporium could not be reached for comment.