Gambling Regulation Bill published and set to become law

Home » Gambling Regulation Bill published and set to become law

Friday, 2 December 2022 marked the publication of the long awaited Gambling Regulation Bill 2022. This transformative legislation will repeal existing laws governing gambling in Ireland and provide for the establishment of a new modern and comprehensive licensing and regulatory regime, which will be overseen by the “Gambling Regulatory Authority of Ireland” (GRAI).

Work is already underway to establish this new regulatory agency and the Bill is expected to begin its passage through the parliamentary process this week. The government’s objective is that it will be enacted into law (and operational) by the end of 2023.

There will be much to digest and analyse in this 168 page draft legislation in the months ahead. In this initial briefing note, we cover some of the main headline points around licensing, player protection measures, advertising and sponsorship, promotional practices and the GRAI’s compliance and enforcement remit.

New forms of licences to cover all gambling types

The Bill provides for a modern and streamlined approach to licensing. All providers offering gambling services to Irish customers will require a licence. In particular, there will be:

  • B2C gambling licences for in-person and online gaming, betting and commercial lotteries (including bingo) – the relevant betting activities, games or lotteries which can be provided will be specified in the licence (but can be varied on application).
  • B2B licences for persons selling or supplying gambling products or services to Irish licensees or persons outside Ireland. Products specifically in scope will include machines, equipment or software. A broad range of gambling related services will also be captured, including providing odds, hosting services, support and maintenance, fraud and risk management, safeguarding measures, holding/managing customers’ funds and installing, maintaining or upgrading software.
  • There will be a separate type of gambling licence for charitable or philanthropic organisations (including sports clubs, community organisations and charities). As with B2C licences, the relevant gambling activities permitted under the licence will be specified (but can be varied on application).

In addition to these various licences, the GRAI will have powers to establish certification requirements for gambling products and services.

Consistent with existing exemptions, certain gambling activities won’t require a licence – including one-off small lotteries for charitable/philanthropic purposes (provided the total prizes don’t exceed €2,000) and lotteries held in conjunction with the selling/marketing of products (subject to a prize limit of €5,000 – increased from €2,500 currently).

Protection of players

This is a key focus of the legislation. The Bill seeks to achieve this through the proposed introduction of certain restrictions, prohibitions and licensing conditions, including for example:

  • Maximum stake and prize limits for relevant games and lotteries (but not commercial betting products) – initially set at a maximum of €10 payments for relevant games and lotteries, with limits on payouts of €3,000 for relevant games, €5,000 per week for periodical lotteries, and €360,000 for one off lotteries
  • Licence holders will be required to ensure that customers can set monetary and time limits on their gambling
  • There will be a ban on using credit cards or extending credit facilities for gambling activities
  • The GRAI will have powers to limit the amount of customer lodgements
  • The GRAI will be able to prescribe days or times when gambling can’t be provided by remote means

The Bill provides for the establishment of a national exclusionary register by the GRAI. There will also be a “Social Impact Fund”, which will be managed and controlled by the GRAI and funded through contributions to the GRAI from licensees, based on annual turnover.

Restrictions on advertising and sponsorship

Also central to the legislative objective of protecting players are the various provisions of the Bill dealing with advertising and sponsorship. Some of the key measures include:

  • Significant restrictions on advertising in a broad range of media, including on ‘on-demand audio-visual media services’ (ODAVMS), video sharing platforms, social media websites, telephone, text messages and email. Recipients of gambling advertising in these media must have subscribed to the relevant service and given their “explicit” consent. While not an outright prohibition, it’s intended to be a prohibition on such advertising ‘by default’.
  • A requirement on relevant platforms to put ad ‘blocking facilities’ in place whereby a recipient of gambling ads can opt to block them.
  • A statutory watershed prohibiting gambling advertising between the hours of 5.30am and 9.00pm on TV, radio or ODAVMS. The GRAI will also have broad powers to prescribe the times, places and events where gambling advertising can be broadcast, displayed or published (including as regards frequency and volume).
  • Requirements that gambling advertisements include very specific information to ensure that gambling advertising is clearly identifiable.
  • A specific legal prohibition on advertising material portraying gambling as attractive to children, and advertising that encourages or seeks to exploit a child to gamble. Advertising that promotes excessive or compulsive gambling, or seeks to misrepresent any perceived social or financial benefits of gambling, will also be legally prohibited.
  • Prohibitions on branding by gambling operators of clothing or merchandise which is intended to be worn by children, and sponsorship of events aimed at children, where the majority attending are children, organisation/teams/clubs where children are members or “a public activity that appeals to children”.

Promotional practices

As initially drafted, the Bill provides for a broad prohibition on offering “inducements” to a person to (i) participate in gambling or (ii) to continue to participate in gambling. The term “inducement” is not currently defined. While it certainly seems intended to prohibit ‘free bets’, we expect that its meaning will be subject to intense debate and analysis in the months ahead.

For promotions more generally, the GRAI will be able to make regulations, which limit or prohibit certain types of promotional activity that directly or indirectly encourage people to gamble. The term “promotional activity” is broadly defined as “an activity which is intended to or is likely to promote relevant gambling activities”.

Compliance and enforcement powers

As set out in the explanatory memorandum to the Bill, the overall policy intention is to encourage compliance, rather than to enforce penalties for non-compliance. Nevertheless, the GRAI will have a comprehensive mandate and robust powers to ensure the legislation (and any new regulations and codes of practice established pursuant to it) are adhered to. The range of tools at its disposal will include powers to:

  • suspend or revoke relevant licences
  • compel internet service providers to block access to an online provider
  • obtain court orders to close down providers’ operations on a temporary or permanent basis (including the closure of physical premises)
  • freeze bank accounts or other assets
  • stop payments to licensees

It will also have powers to impose administrative financial sanctions of up to €20m or 10% of turnover (subject to Court approval).

Notably, the GRAI will be the competent authority under Irish anti-money laundering legislation. It will also have powers to establish requirements for processing personal data and to hear individual complaints.

To perform its various compliance and enforcement mandates, the intention is that the GRAI will be self-funded through the application of industry fees (the amount of which will depend on various factors, including licensees’ turnover and costs).

Conclusion

The publication of the Bill marks a pivotal point in the reform of Irish gambling laws and the move towards Ireland becoming a fully licensed and regulated jurisdiction for gambling operators. The putting in place of a regulator with significant enforcement powers, signals a determination to ensure these new laws and regulations will be observed. The Bill is scheduled for Second Stage in the Dáil, tomorrow 6 December 2022. 


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