Report calls for regulator to oversee gambling

A government-appointed committee has recommended the licensing of casinos and gaming, and the establishment of an independent regulator for these businesses.

Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern yesterday published the report of the committee appointed by former minister for justice Michael McDowell to look at the regulation of casinos and gambling. The report recommends that casinos, which currently operate as clubs, be licensed and states that the Government should establish an interim authority to develop a full-scale independent regulator for the sector.

It also states that gaming machines, known as fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs), should not be permitted in bookmakers‘ shops, but could be allowed in licensed casinos and arcades.

Members of an industry body, the Irish Bookmakers‘ Association (IBA), lobbied to have the right to install these machines, which are legal in British betting shops, and which deliver average winnings of about €800 a week there.

The association said that they had legal advice stating that FOBTs are not gaming machines and that their members should be allowed install them.

However, the committee argues that the terminals should be treated as gaming machines, all classes of which it says could be allowed in casinos and arcades, but not in bookies, pubs, restaurants and other outlets.

The report, Regulating Gaming in Ireland, was completed by a committee chaired by barrister Michael McGrath and made up of representatives of Government departments, including justice and finance, and the Revenue Commissioners.

It makes a total of 22 recommendations, covering casinos, arcades, bookmakers, as well as betting and gaming.

Along with licensing and regulation, the committee recommends that the Government impose a tax on casino and arcades turnovers, which it says could be higher than the 1 per cent currently levied on bookmakers‘ turnover.

However, it acknowledges that a number of factors, such as the impact of tax on viability, the cost of the licensing regime and the potential for the industry’s growth should also be taken into account.

The committee also acknowledges that taxation is ultimately an issue for the Minister for Finance.

Mr Ahern yesterday said that he intends going ahead with a proposal he made recently to set up an informal cross-party committee to review the report before taking any further steps.

He added that the committee would consult with the public and consider the nature of the regulatory regime needed.

When Mr Ahern originally proposed setting up the committee, Labour party justice spokesman Pat Rabbitte said that his party would not take part, as it believed that the move was designed to give all-party cover to the Government’s intention to introduce FOBTs to betting shops.

Yesterday, Mr Rabbitte said that the party would have to see the report before deciding whether or not to take part in the committee.

He added that he would not support the introduction of gaming machines to bookies‘ shops under any circumstance.

Key points
  • Casinos and gaming to be licensed and regulated.
  • Establish an interim authority to develop a fully-fledged regulatory body.
  • Impose a gaming tax.
  • The regulator’s first priority must be to protect vulnerable people, such as children.
  • Local authorities to have all remaining powers relating to gaming and arcades.
  • Betting and gaming to be treated and regulated differently.
  • [*]Charities, and bodies such as Horse Racing Ireland and Bord na gCon, to be allowed to apply for casino licences if they wish.