Betting (Amendment) Bill 2013

PaulConnaughton-2-150x150

Dáil Éireann 16 January 2014

 

Thank you for the opportunity to speak on this Bill.

 

I very much welcome this piece of legislation, which represents the enactment of a provision of the Finance Bill 2011 to extend betting duty to remote betting and online betting. Essentially, this Bill puts in place the necessary infrastructure or regime for this tax to be collected.

 

This Bill will mean that it will be an offence to take a bet from an Irish person by remote means unless the betting facility has a bookmaker’s licence or a remote betting intermediary licence (where people are betting against each other as opposed to betting against the bookmaker).

 

I also welcome the fact that a person with an ordinary bookmaker’s licence can also take bets by remote means up to a certain value of betting turnover and that prosecutions under this legislation can be taken in the District court in the first instance.

 

I think a number of national conversations are taking place in Ireland, in relation to our drinking culture, the obesity epidemic and the health implications of that in years to come, but it is high time that a national conversation started on the devastating effect that gambling is having on many families.

 

One just has to look at the innumerable advertisements on television for online poker and online casinos and realise the prevalence of betting apps on people’s phones, to realise that it’s high time that the Government took a firmer grip on this whole industry.

 

During the boom there was an increase in the prevalence of betting shops on our high streets, but they were a major casualty of the downturn and the move to online betting was a major part of this. Horse Racing Ireland has estimated that bookmaker betting fell from €5.4 billion in 2006 to €3.7 billion in 2008 and €2.7 billion in 2011. These are staggering figures. HRI now estimates that the online betting industry takes €1.66 billion from Irish residents.

 

Because it is largely taking place online, it is difficult to estimate exactly how much of Irish revenue is leaving the country via online betting, but I note that tax authorities believe that the enactment of this piece of legislation should raise €14 million per annum.

 

I note that betting duty revenue with an additional subsidy goes to the Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund, but I believe that a portion of this new €14 million, if it materialises, should be ring-fenced to provide funding for addiction centres that deal with gambling problems.

 

In recent weeks and months, I, like many other deputies, have heard harrowing stories of families trying to pick up the pieces and move on after a loved one has become addicted to gambling. The move to online gambling has made the problem even more difficult to deal with, as phone apps mean that gambling is available everywhere at all times.

 

Great work is being done in addiction centres across the country to deal with this problem, but I firmly believe that these centres need further support in their work and the funding that should accrue from online betting sources should go some way to help pick up the pieces when people’s relationship with gambling gets out of hand.

 

If €1.66 billion is being spent by Irish residents in online betting and a percentage of those people encounter gambling problems, then it is only right and proper that the tax duty that accrues be used in part to support those providing services to people with gambling problems, instead of further promoting the gambling industry.

 

I note that the Department of Justice and Equality is currently preparing the Gambling Control Bill to modernise gambling law in Ireland and also to regulate internet gambling and one aspect of gambling that I hope to see addressed is casino opening hours. I believe that casino opening hours must be regulated to ensure that all-night gambling sessions in casinos do not become a regular feature of Irish life.

 

There are many other issues in relation to casinos and their supervision and I know that many of these are being addressed in the forthcoming legislation and I welcome that fact.

 

This piece of legislation reflects this Government’s determination to change and adapt in the face of changing economic circumstances and I believe that the move to online gambling is one facet of life that it will take many years to properly address. However, I very much welcome this piece of legislation, which aims to properly licence those involved in online betting in Ireland and institute a regime where tax is collected on these bets and the Irish government will benefit from monies that accrue, as it is the Irish government that will have to provide services for people for whom gambling becomes a problem.

 

Of course, I could not conclude without acknowledging the need to protect and enhance the Irish horse and greyhound industries. The Irish thoroughbred horse industry was estimated to be worth almost €900 million to the Irish economy in 2010 and provides employment for over 15,000 people.

 

I believe that this legislation is timely and welcome the provisions, but would urge greater monies to be set aside to address gambling problems, where they arise.