Deputy Niall Collins: ‘There is a lack of regulation’
DEPUTY Niall Collins has called for a major overhaul of the gambling industry in Ireland which is largely regulated by legislation going back to 1931 and 1956.
Goodbody Stockbrokers estimates the gross revenue from gambling in the county at over €1 billion a year. When one thinks of betting it is of having a punt on a horse or a GAA match but Deputy Collins said that around €130 million comes from gaming machines in the back of pubs and amusement arcades.
“These, for example, are very much under-regulated. It is hard to believe that a billion euro industry has so little governance,” said Mr Collins.
The TD says the on-line market has exploded since 2008 with users able to bet on every sport imaginable with the click of a button on their smartphone.
“I read an article with a counsellor in Bruree House who said there has been a 50% increase in the number of gambling addicts presenting there for treatment. He put it down to the fact that people can now gamble anywhere, anytime and he made the point that betting adverts feature prominently during ad breaks of many sporting events,” said Mr Collins.
The alcohol industry has seen increased regulation in terms of advertising and similar rules needs to be enforced on the gambling industry, he said.
“There doesn’t seem to be the same recognition of the potential that gambling has to cause similar effects to alcohol. Gambling addiction is on the rise and has the power to destroy people’s and their families’ lives if it gets hold of them. We have all heard stories of people losing money and then start betting bigger and bigger amounts to try and recoup their losses. It puts huge mental stress on them when they can’t pay the mortgage or household bills," said Mr Collins. Lack of regulation is also having an effect on the majority who enjoy a bet on a horse race.
“I have been made aware of an increasing trend of on-line bookmakers closing or restricting the accounts of winning horse racing punters. It seems that if you have a handful of winning bets they will restrict or close that account down. I know of cases where they limit the amount a person can bet to under a €1 yet they will happily accept endless amounts from a losing punter. They also send them emails with free bets and bonuses. The counsellor likened it to a drinks company sending you an email that there is a free pint for you in your local pub. There would, quite rightly, be uproar. Yet bookmakers do it on a daily basis. It is enticing people to bet,” said Mr Collins.
He says instead of restricting those who win they should be restricting or trying to help those losing vast sums of money.
“Bookmakers are making vast profits and by not accepting bets on horse racing from those who win now and then they are turning people away from the sport. Tens of thousands of men and women are employed in the horse racing industry in Ireland with County Limerick being one of the highest. A lot of funding comes directly or indirectly from the betting industry.
“Bookmakers can’t have it both ways. They can’t just shut down those who win occasionally and keep accepting wagers from long-term losers,” said Mr Collins, who called for bookmakers to be forced to accept a bet from any customer to lose a minimum liability like in parts of Australia. Gambling is here to stay and Mr Collins says a “root and branch” examination of the industry is needed and new laws introduced to govern it - sooner rather than later.