Submission on Gaming and Gambling Legislation

By

JJ Woods

1.                   Introduction

The Gaming and Gambling industry in Ireland has grown significantly in recent years.  In the past efforts were made to establish a large casino in the Phoenix Park area of Dublin, however, these efforts were not successful.  Since then the Irish economy has grown and is set to double its size in the next 15 years.  Standards of living have increased and the gaming and gambling sector has been boosted by the fact that the average person now has more disposable income.  The growth of private casinos and the influence of the internet are rapidly changing the picture of gambling in Ireland, The laws governing the sector are widely accepted to be out-dated and in need of reform.  The Government have signalled their intention to bring in the necessary reforms and it is with this in mind that I make the following submission.

2.                   Size of the market

Irish people gamble approximately €70 million per week with that figure set to rise to €100 million within the next two years.  Online gambling is now estimated to be growing at a rate of 70% per year.  This would mean that by 2007 the annual spending on gambling in the Irish economy could stand at around €5.2 billion; or near to 5% of GNP.  As many online gambling outlets currently channel much of their business through offshore companies who do not have to levy Irish betting tax, the figures quoted could be even higher.  Considering the growth of internet gambling, and the popularity of games like Roulette and Poker in recent years, the public perception of casino type gambling is changing.  However there are is no contemporary research to show what the views of the general public are on the matter and to date there has been no concerted effort made to convince the public that a casino can have a positive rather than a negative effect.  It is clear that proper regulation of the market could lead to significant benefits for the industry, the exchequer and the general public.

On-course betting through Tote Ireland stands at about €47 million, and the National Lottery enjoys a gaming revenue of €578 million.

On a per-capita basis these figures indicate that the Irish market is similar to that of the UK.

A significant number of non-nationals are active punters.

3.                   The experience of other countries

The following countries for example Russia, South America, North Africa, and the Caribbean experienced great difficulties in my opinion when Casino’s where originally set up there and this was due to a lack of understanding of how to promote the business and secondly how to protect the business. These two basic factors stemmed from the lack of interest each respective government had in the Casino Industry.

My point being that when the 1968 Gaming Act was passed in the U.K. a Gaming Board was also formed within the government to oversee and administrate over the industry. It was decided by this board that any member of staff that worked for the Casino in a gaming zone would be licensed by the government,Gaming zone refers to Dealer’s, Inspectors, Pit Bosses, managers etc, It would not include reception staff , waitresses, cleaners etc. This single act of issuing Gaming Staff with a Government License did a lot for the integrity of the business and the protection of the business as you could not have a license if for example you had any previous criminal convictions.

4.             Key Recommendations of Inter-Departmental Group on Gaming and Gambling

An inter-Departmental group was formed to undertake a review of the Gaming and Lotteries Acts 1956 to 1986 and this group made its report to the Government in 2000.  The key recommendations which they made included the following:

  • Existing Acts are no longer appropriate to current needs and have been overtaken both by technology and society.  There is a need for a modern regulatory structure which will also provide the public with the required safeguards.
  • Irish society has conflicting images of gambling.  For instance, while horse racing and the National Lottery are seen as acceptable, gambling in the form of casinos suffers from a more negative perception.
  • Internationally, gambling has grown over the last twenty years.  Internet gambling has significantly increased in Ireland in recent years.
  • There is a need for a more balanced approach than the original 1956 Act which is very restrictive.
  • While amendments to the current legislation may be a helpful interim measure, there is a clear need for completely new legislation in this area.
  • A Gaming and Lotteries Authority should be set up.
  • There is a need for much greater consultation with all affected parties.
  • Local Authorities should still retain their control in relation to Gaming and Gambling venues, albeit with some changes.
  • Premises should continue to require a licence for their activities.
  • Definitions of gaming machines should be updated to remove the scope for circumvention of the law.
  • An increase in the stake and price limits for machines to 50c and €20 respectively.
  • The ban on casino-type gambling should be retained based upon a Government decision in 1996.

When the report was published the Government undertook to bring forward the necessary regulatory framework. The Group received a number of submissions both for and against casino developments in Ireland.  However, as no specific reference was made to casinos in the Groups terms of reference, they took a largely neutral view saying that arguments could be made on both sides but that in light of the Government’s decision in 1996 not to allow casinos, they were not in a position to make any recommendation in this area other than to reaffirm the prohibition contained in the 1956 Act.

To sum up the above points my view is as follows,

If we accept that the current gaming laws are in need of a revamp we need to clarify and distinguish between an Arcade and a Casino. An Arcade in usually defined as a Beach Front holiday amusement centre where all the family can be entertained, the reality is quite the reverse here in Ireland where high stakes are played on Slot Machines and often Family Holidays are destroyed, these premise are usually very inviting (no membership required) and Hard Gambling is available.These premises are availing of Casino type gambling under the guise of Family entertainment.

For a business like a Slot Arcade to conform to proper Legislation then the Arcade would have to define itself simply as Family Business or Adult Business,  Arcade or Casino .A family business Arcade would have very small stake Slot Machines so they are deemed Fun/Amusement and this would need to be strictly enforced

A Casino has an entry age unlike an Arcade and in my opinion should be set at a minimum 21years.You cannot easily access a Casino as you have a membership procedure in force.

There should be High Stake Slot Machines in a Casino.The question of how many Slot machines a premises should be allowed should be determined by the amount of table games. For example for every Roulette table 3 slot machines allowed, for every blackjack table 3 slot machines allowed, to sum up, a Casino with ten Table games would be allowed 30 slot machines. This suggestion which has been used successfully in other countries keeps the business defined as a Casino for taxation etc and does not allow it to crossover to a 24 hour Slot Machine House.It also protects the young and the vulnerable as access is restricted.

.Growth of Private Casinos

Ireland has seen significant growth in recent years in the area of private casinos.  These small casinos are able to operate in a grey area under the current legislation.  Members are presumed to be betting between themselves and while there is nothing in the law to say this is legal there is nothing to say that it is illegal either.

It is relatively easy to obtain access to these clubs and the public are often admitted as guests or else signed up as members “on-the-spot” when they arrive at the club.  It is clear that in the long term Ireland cannot afford to allow this type of casino to continue to grow without any form of regulation, as eventually they will present opportunities for criminal involvement and money laundering.  The majority of those involved in the industry do not want this and would therefore welcome sensible regulation of the market.

5.                   Content of New Legislation

New legislation should focus on a number of key priorities.  I believe that these priorities can be summarised as follows….

1/ Ownership of Casino’s. Director’s/ Shareholders etc should be free from any previous Criminal Convictions.

2/ All gaming staff issued a License from the government , (could be done in conjunction with the Gardai)

3/ Taxation, it can be quite complexed to accurately tax a casino’s revenue, but over the last 15-20 years significant progress has been made and there are various options that need to be discussed. Taxation could be affected in a major way regarding whether an Irish Gaming Board is formed or not. For example a government official is present at the close of business every day to determine the Casino’s result in countries like Spain.

4/ Casino’s should be crime free (both in terms of those who operate it and players it attracts), conducted in accordance with regulations and honest fair play.

5/ Money Laundering can be addressed in exactly the same fashion as Banks and Building Societies have to adhere to, again I will refer to Licensed staff as in most cases of any license that is issued it can also be revoked and it is in the interest of a Licensed member of staff to carry out his duties with due care and responsibility.On that note  the final responsibility lies with the Management of that Casino so we are now in an area of regulation that is Policing itself which should be the mood set for any responsible casino club.

6/ Games Permitted, There is a wide selection of games separate to slot machines available in the market today and these should be studied carefully as some of these games do not give the customer fair play. In some countries a Casino Operator can put virtually any type of game he wants on to the casino floor, this should not be the case here in Ireland. Of course the basic games like Blackjack and Roulette which are played all over the world all have edge’s in favour of the house but these edge’s  are considered fair internationally and are 0.47% on Blackjack and 2.25% on Roulette and if these edge’s did not exist a Casino would not be viable commercial proposition .On that note the’Stakes ‘ that are permitted to be played needs to be discussed.

7/ Where should Casino’s be located.? This is a complexed question which needs to be thoroughly discussed, the following need to be highlighted, Population of the town , city, where it is intended, miles radius of another casino, proper deliberations between the issuer of the license and the Town planners and size of the proposed Casino .

8/ Should Casino’s serve Alcohol .This is a sensitive area and needs to be investigated fully. I would add that you can place restrictions on the serving of alcohol on the basis that if the Casino closed at 6am you would stop serving alcohol for example at 2am which means the Casino is not using alcohol as a form of attraction for people to visit the club.

9/ Protect the vulnerable. This can be done by having a strict age policy and I would recommend a minium of 21 years of age, also by recording the amount of visits a customer has to the Casino in any given Month, but ultimately it is the Professionalism of the management which will ensure that customers are protected which refers once again to the issuing of individual gaming licenses.

6.                   My Experience

7.                   I myself have been in the Casino Industry for over 25 years and have worked and been involved in opening Casino’s in many Countries, I am Irish and my family live here in Dublin. There are many issues involved in the proposed legislation and to be honest I am sure that their are several  points that I have not mentioned but I do have the experience of an Industry that I am very passionate about. I feel strongly for proper legislation and regulation. I still have my British Gaming Board License and I do believe that is the way to attract fit and proper people to work in the Casino business by forming our own Gaming Board, also these are some up to date facts about the industry in the U.K.

8.                   There are 139 land based Casino’s in the u.k

9.                   They employ 16,315 members of staff.

10.               This consists of 9,363 Licensed Gaming Staff and 6,952 non-gaming staff,eg waitresses, reception, security etc.

11.               The casino’s generate millions in revenue for the government yearly.

12.               Implications of EU study on Gambling

Until now most EU states have considered gambling to be a “special industry” subject to special attention because of the social problems that can accompany it.  However, the restrictions that Member States have imposed have created problems for the Internal Market.  The EU have commissioned a study to evaluate how the differing national rules have an influence on the smooth functioning of the internal market for gambling and associated services.  This study will have a considerable impact because on the basis of the study’s findings, the Commission will decide whether action is needed at a European level.

The study will analyse all the current national rules in the 25 Member States and provide a comparative description of the current structure and size of the European gambling industry.  It will investigate the effectiveness of the national restrictions in meeting public interest objectives and will take into account the views of all stakeholders.

Publication of the study is expected soon and if it proves necessary for the EU Commission to propose legislation in this area it will have major implications for the gaming and gambling sector in Ireland.  Indeed any review of the Irish laws will be heavily influenced by the findings of the study and the likelihood of legislation being imposed at EU level.

13.               Conclusions

More and more Irish people are gambling than was the case in the early 1990s when casinos were not favoured. The Irish punter’s views have changed dramatically over this period with many people actively participating in gambling either on-line or in casinos.I mentioned throughout this submission about the need to license the individual casino staff and to sum this up, like any license that is issued it comes with a set of rules and if it is deemed that the rules have not been adhered to then that license is revoked.On a final note if we are to have Legislation we must get fully behind it to establish a confidence and an  integrity within the industry so that staff are proud to work there and not frowned upon by family and friends,also like any other international business we will be competing on the world stage for tourism, Casinos have strong links with Golf and Horse Racing all over the world through sponsorship etc and we must maintain these relationships here in Ireland.

It is my firm belief that with regulation the market can grow in a socially responsible fashion.  I would be happy to discuss these proposals with you at greater length and you can contact me using the details below

 

JJ Woods

130 Seafield Road East,

Clontarf, Dublin 3

Phone – 01 8186669

Fax     –  01 8531952

Mob   – 086 351 2555

Email: casinoconsult@yahoo.ie

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