Belated new gambling bill needs to deliver
Minister talking the talk as bookies face more scrutiny
Quite a few people who were alive when Alan Shatter published the General Scheme of the Gambling Control Bill 2013 have since killed themselves due to gambling.
To quote Oscar Wilde, the truth is rarely pure and never simple when it comes to suicide. At least when gambling is at its heart, it is more readily explained - arguably more pathetic given the death would have been so avoidable.
The bill will - eventually - impose a measure of regulation on an industry shockingly exempt from same, one which has social consequences hard to understate. Barry Grant of Problem Gambling Ireland, an addiction counsellor, has slated bookmakers for their targeting of vulnerable people.
The bill, to be rolled out as soon as January, will "bring radical changes," Grant says. "There is no country in the western world run like this. The bill will ensure that bookmakers comply with rules and a watchdog will be in place.
"I started this organisation when I realised gambling is the one addiction that is a bottomless pit. You drink so much before falling over, take so many drugs before overdosing. There's no end to the problems you can cause gambling.
"Students come to me who gave all their grant away, people losing every penny they have on dole day. One guy was a bookmaker and became a pro online gambler in the recession.
"He was losing tens of thousands, had huge depression issues and his relationship was feeling a massive impact."
Grant has made his own impact on Minister of State David Stanton, who recently took command of the bill, which confers responsibility for all regulatory matters in this area on the Minister for Justice and Equality.
Stanton isn't an expert when it comes to gambling but has worked hard at educating himself. Recently, Independent TD Maureen O'Sullivan suggested there were 40,000 problem gamblers in the country.
The Minister's press office says it is the "intention to proceed with this legislation at the earliest feasible opportunity". Describing the Bill as "a major undertaking," the Minister of State "has also asked his Department to examine whether there are any individual pressing areas of concern which could be dealt with sooner in the new year by separate legislative measures. This will be augmented by the completion of the more complex work on the main Bill for Government approval and publication later during 2017."
Seemingly, tweaks are being made every week. A curb on advertising is a certainty, while the bill "will have consumer protection as one of its core principles, and it is envisaged that it will include several measures aimed at the protection of vulnerable persons."
The many non-problem gamblers discriminated against because they win are also to expect fairer treatment. "The Scheme envisages that the Minister will devise codes of practice and codes of conduct which will set out what is expected of licensed operators."
This vague language hardly convinces, yet the Minister has been made aware of the crackdown of account purges and restrictions. A key thing for Grant is money going from the benefactors to the problem. "An element of the bill we are very interested in is a social fund," he says. "There would be a levy on the turnover of the gambling industry, a percentage of the fund running the office of the regulator and also going to treatment and education."
Moreover, Ireland's first Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing National Risk Assessment was published in October and anti-laundering will be a key part of the bill. Stanton is genuine in his aspiration to clean up the industry; bookmakers must commit to better practices. Their safeguards against problem gambling amount to tokenism.
Indeed, new ground was broken last week when criminal convictions were spared by payment of costs and donating money to charity, a man having had his phone contact details used for telemarketing after he logged onto free Wi-Fi at a betting shop. "Changes will be radical," Grant says, "and need to be. It's been a race to the bottom, Wild West stuff without regulation, at a time when a teenager can have a betting shop in his pocket 24/7. When do you see anyone losing a bet in a bookmaker's ad on TV?"
RIDE OF THE WEEK
Mark Walsh was characteristically outstanding when riding I Knew Well to an improbable win at Fairyhouse on Saturday, despite a crucial mistake.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
"We got past Sire De Grugy but put down two out and had to fight back; it takes two horses to make a great race."
- Ruby Walsh after Un De Sceaux landed Saturday's Tingle Creek.
TWEET OF THE WEEK
Hoping The Crafty Butcher can make my Leopardstown dream come true.
- Part-owner Ian Madigan (@ian_madigan) can't wait for the Paddy Power Chase at Christmas.
GAMBLE OF THE WEEK
Bottle Of Smoke was smashed into 11/4 at Dundalk on Friday, a gamble that bemused trainer Gavin Cromwell. He was initially 16/1, and finished third.