Gambling committee chief opposes betting machines

The Fine Gael TD asked by the Government to chair an all-party committee on gambling has said he is happy for electronic gaming machines to be excluded from its remit.

Seán Barrett says that he is personally opposed to any change that would see the machines, known as fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs), legalised in bookmakers and other high-street premises.

Labour, whose justice spokesman Pat Rabbitte has described FOBTs as „the crack cocaine of gambling“ and „turbo-charged one-arm bandits“, has said Labour will not take part in the committee unless the machines are removed from its remit.

Mr Rabbitte last week accused Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern of hoping the appointment of a „hand-picked“ committee would get him „off the hook“ on undertakings given to bookmakers.

However, Mr Barrett told The Irish Times that he would not be trying to overturn the Government’s Casino Review Group, whose recently published report came out against the legalisation of FOBTs in bookmakers. „They are not on the agenda. I don’t mind terms of reference for the committee which exclude them,“ he said.

He responded angrily to Mr Rabbitte’s reference to the committee as „hand-picked“.

„This is unfair,“ he said. „If he has any evidence to prove this, he should show it to me. I have no vested interest in terms of support for any type of gaming machine.“

Mr Barrett, who has horse-racing connections through his bloodstock insurance business, said the previous minister for justice, Brian Lenihan, had approached him about chairing the committee.

After consulting with party leader Enda Kenny, he agreed to do so and two party representatives were selected. The group would not be an Oireachtas committee, but would be supported by officials from the department.

He said he had been waiting since and had not heard anything from Mr Ahern.

Mr Rabbitte was being „fed something by someone,“ he claimed, and there seemed to be a concerted effort to suggest political interference in the issue.

Mr Ahern has indicated he will proceed with the committee whether or not Labour takes part, but has yet to formally establish it.

Fixed odds betting terminals can be configured to run roulette, cards and many other games, as well as facilitating online sports betting.