Friday 18 October 2019

Raised stakes for betting machines will be 'a disaster'

Gaming industry attacks new laws for 'crack cocaine' gambling

Betting machine. Stock picture
Betting machine. Stock picture
Wayne O'Connor

Wayne O'Connor

The gaming industry has hit out at new laws allowing stakes on addictive betting machines 333 times more than is currently permitted, saying it will devastate families.

In a first-of-its-kind move, industry representatives called the Government's Gaming and Lotteries Bill "a disaster".

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They say it will lead to an increase in dangerous online betting and areas where people are "three times more likely to develop a gambling problem".

New laws proposed by Junior Justice Minister David Stanton under the Gaming and Lotteries Bill are set to be fast-tracked through the Dail this week.

The move has led to the Government being accused of turning amusement arcades into hard-core betting emporiums by introducing increased caps on the stakes that are out of kilter with other EU nations.

The updated stakes would allow players to wager €10 per spin on a betting machine in an amusement arcade. At present such machines only take stakes worth up to three cents. However with games lasting approximately 15 seconds, industry representatives have warned the laws will enable players to wager and lose up to €40 per minute, or €2,400 per hour.

Industry experts are warning it could cripple problem gamblers, or push vulnerable people into a debt trap.

The Irish Amusement Trades Association (IATA) has contacted TDs and members of the Oireachtas Justice Committee in recent weeks to say it has "a major problem with the above provisions".

In correspondence seen by the Sunday Independent, IATA general secretary John Roche criticised the Government's proposals and say its attention should focus on more widespread regulation of the betting industry.

"This will be a disaster for those who are vulnerable, as it will encourage them to stand at a machine pumping in €10 notes in the hope of winning the big prize," he wrote.

The present stake and prize limits were set when the Gaming and Lotteries Act originally came into force in 1956. While the industry and politicians agree these limits need to be updated, officials in the gaming sector have warned that the threshold will be too high at €10 per game.

Earlier this year, the UK government cut the maximum stakes in fixed-odds betting terminals to £2 because of concerns that they are highly addictive. Academics have referred to the machines as the "crack cocaine of gambling".

In submissions to the Government and TDs, the Gaming and Leisure Association of Ireland (GLAI), the trade group for gaming clubs and casino-like establishments, expressed concern the new laws could lead to 3,000 job losses and "a natural migration of consumers either online, where consumers are three times more likely to develop a gambling addiction, or to underground facilities run by clandestine organisations".

A spokesman for the Department of Justice said the Bill is an interim measure as work continues on the development of a comprehensive reform of gambling licensing and regulation.

The Minister feels the new caps are "realistic, given the time that has elapsed since the 1956 Act came into effect," he added.

Sunday Independent

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