Ireland to ban free bets in bill to establish gambling regulator

| By Marese O'Hagan
Ireland is set to ban free bets and credit card gambling in a bill that will also establish a specific gambling regulator for the first time in the country.

Titled the General Scheme of the Gambling Regulation – and introduced by Ireland’s Minister of State for Law Reform, Youth Justice and Immigration, James Browne TD – the bill was formed with opinions from experts and examinations of the prevalence of gambling in Ireland.

While the bill generally sets out provisions for the new regulator to regulate the gambling industry in Ireland, part of the bill introduces new player protection measures. According to the text, offering free bets are banned, as well as any attempts to incite a person to keep gambling.

Offering credit or a loan to any player is not allowed.

In February this year, Flutter Entertainment banned the use of credit cards for their services in Ireland as part of a safer gambling initiative. The Irish Bookmakers’ Association (IBA) followed in August.

Penalising players by refusing bets or reducing winnings is also prohibited, as is having an ATM on licensed gambling premises

In addition, licensees must clearly display terms and conditions – including applicable odds on offer for events – to both online and in-person players.

In general, licensees must promote safer gambling awareness among bettors and include clear warnings on potential risks from gambling in their premises.

The warnings must be displayed on all screens in each licensed premises and on all receipts, dockets and documents provided where possible.

If the player protection measures are breached, operators could be subject to a fine, have their licence revoked and/or be suitably prosecuted.

Fines can reach up to €20.0m in a case where one person is involved, and €20.0m or 10% of annual revenue where a licensee is involved.

The responsibilities of the to-be-established gambling regulator are also outlined in the bill, and focus on implementing safeguards to ensure responsible play and financial transparency.

The regulator will become the sole authority on licensing, with the power to grant, revoke and renew licences. It will also control gambling advertising and regulate all gambling activities and services.

Features will also be implemented by the regulator to tackle money laundering. The regulator will have the power to investigate suspected money laundering activity and instigate prosecutions and impose sanctions.

The regulator will also maintain a register of all licensed gambling operators.

“The publication of the general scheme is an important milestone towards the effective regulation of gambling in Ireland under the new, independent statutory body – the Gambling Regulatory Authority of Ireland,” said Browne.

“We all accept that the current legislative framework is fragmented, outdated, lacks a coherent licensing and regulatory approach, and is in need of significant reform. Now is the time to finally address this issue comprehensively, once and for all.”

The bill will now be sent to the Office of Parliamentary Counsel for drafting, and to the Oireachtas Justice Committee for review.

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