In 2013, the Heads of the Gambling Control Bill were published. The purpose of the proposed legislation is to replace the out-of-date and un-fit for purpose, Betting Act 1931 and the Gaming and Lotteries Act 1956. The proposed legislation seeks to regulate gambling in order to ensure:
All of these proposed measures would be welcomed by Problem Gambling Ireland, as the current vacuum in legislation only serves to create an environment where gambling-related harm can thrive. A dedicated Gambling Regulator with the power to press criminal charges against gambling licence-holders who breach the proposed laws would greatly reduce some of the sharp practices currently in evidence. Also, a Social Fund, into which gambling licence-holders would be compelled to contribute, would greatly increase the provision of dedicated gambling addiction services in the areas of treatment, prevention, education, research and evaluation.
However, the response from one of Ireland's Gambling Industry heavy-weights, Paddy Power, may be indicative of the general attitude to the proposed legislation within the industry. In theirsubmission to government in relation to the Heads of the Bill, they stated "We are concerned however by the proposal to apply the contribution to the Social Fund based on turnover (Head 80) given the intense international competition for online gambling and the narrow margins which generally apply for gambling products. We would encourage the Department to explore models from other jurisdictions that have similar systems in place which are working effectively, for example the UK where operators contribute voluntarily to the Responsible Gambling Trust (RGT) on a flat rate based on scale". It is worth noting that only 63% of gambling licence-holders in the UK actually contributed to the fund in 2014/2015 and that they raised the paltry sum of £6.5 million from an industry which posted profits of of £1.42 billion in 2013 from Fixed Odds Betting Terminals alone. Paddy Power's pre-tax profits for 2014 were €166.6 million.
Surprisingly, Paddy Power, who are renowned for pushing the boundaries in their advertising campaigns, also took issue with the Department of Justice's proposals in relation to advertising and sponsorship. The gambling giant would prefer Codes of Practice and Codes of Conduct in gambling advertising (which already exist) rather than primary legislation. Paddy Power give the following example: "a failure to remove online promotional material within 12 hours could trigger a summary prosecution and sponsorship of an adult sports team which has one 17 year old player would infringe Head 74. We would respectfully query if such granular restrictions would be workable in practice.". I have no doubt that Paddy Power and other gambling industry members would have some difficulty with any restrictions, granular or otherwise, as it limits their ability to actively encourage problem gambling (which generates up to 75% of gambling industry profits in some jurisdictions) and to (inadvertently) promote gambling to children by advertising before the watershed and through sports sponsorship.
Some facts on gambling in Ireland and globally:
On behalf of the estimated 240,000 people in Ireland, whose lives are negatively impacted by gambling-related harm, all of us at Problem Gambling Ireland ask that the new Government act quickly to enact the Gambling Control Bill.
An excellent article in yesterday's Guardian newspaper (06.01.16) claims that the Chair of the UK's Responsible Gambling Trust (RGT) - a charity funded by the gambling industry - lobbied on behalf of that industry.
Unlike Ireland, the UK has numerous other organisations which are completely independent of any potential influence or conflict of interest from the industry.
Neil Goulden, the Chair of RGT since 2011, also chairs the gambling industry lobbying arm, the Association of British Bookmakers (ABB), since 2012. He had previously been on the board at Ladbrokes and was chairman of bookmaker and bingo group Gala Coral until 2014.
The Guardian claims that a 2013 gambling industry strategy paper, written by Goulden and Ladbroke's CEO, Richard Flynn, identified “a large degree of righteous paternalism” which would see the public mood “swinging away from smoking, heavy drinking, gambling, non-contributors and tax avoiders”. The paper went on to call for research “which helps to position gambling as an economically valuable and socially responsible leisure pursuit” (like heavy drinking, smoking and tax avoidance, presumably). It is worth noting that the Irish Department of Justice wrote in their 2010 document, 'Options for Regulating Gambling' - "It can be acknowledged from the start, that for some, the pairing of the words "responsible" and "gambling" is incongruous".
It could be argued that giving the gambling industry responsibility for encouraging responsible gambling (i.e., reducing the industry's profits) is more than a tad incongruous too. This is exactly what we have done in Ireland with the forming of the Irish Responsible Gambling Board's 'Gamble Aware'. While the Gamble Aware website provides some excellent information and support services, the silence from the organisation in terms of raising awareness around gambling addiction (compulsive gambling/problem gambling/pathological gambling) - and the industry's part in perpetuating those issues - is truly deafening. Take Gamble Aware's Twitter account, for example - set up in November 2011 and (4 tweets later) nothing since February 2012.
Just like the alcohol industry in Ireland, the gambling industry encourages you to 'enjoy gambling responsibly' and directs you to the Gamble Aware website (the alcohol equivalent being Drink Aware). Alcohol addiction has an independent organisation with 'teeth' - Alcohol Action Ireland - ready to take on the vested interests, lobby government and actively raise awareness. To date, there has been no such organisation dedicated to gambling addiction in Ireland.
My inspiration to set up Problem Gambling Ireland originally came from reading University College Dublin's research into gambling behaviours (specifically problem gambling) in Ireland , entitled 'Playing Social Roulette' (June 2015). In my work as an addiction counsellor in private practice, I was aware of the damage caused to individuals and their loved ones by gambling addiction. However, the report showed the shocking scale of the issue and the dearth of dedicated, independent services. Subsequent to reading the report, I was fortunate to be involved with the U-Casadh Project winning an Impact Award at the Social Entrepreneurs Ireland Awards (2015). Attending the award ceremony in October, I was surrounded by social entrepreneurs who had followed their passion for positive social change. This was the final push I needed to make the move from having the idea to taking on the challenge. Currently I am operating the website, www.problemgambling.ie, on a voluntary basis. It is a free information resource for anyone who has been negatively affected by gambling. I am in the process of bringing together a Board of Directors (with no links to the gambling industry) in order to set up as a not-for-profit organisation. I intend, with the help of the Board, future volunteers and (possibly) staff, to further develop the organisation to lobby and advocate for improvements to treatment and changes in legislation, raise awareness of problem gambling, develop educational programs, develop treatment programs (and have them evaluated), undertake research, as well as monitoring gambling marketing and advertising.
On a final note, a Goldsmiths University (UK) report in 2014 warned that “the idea of ‘problem gambling’ is politically useful … It focuses attention on individual gamblers, rather than relationships between the industry, the state, products and policies.” These are the relationships that Problem Gambling Ireland, an independent organisation (with teeth) intends to examine.
Founder, The Gambling Clinic
B.A. Degree Counselling Skills & Addiction Studies
Member of the Association of Professional Counsellors & Psychotherapists in Ireland
Email: barry [at] thegamblingclinic.ie
Barry Grant, Founder. Addiction Counsellor