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Odds-on Favourite Irish Gambling Reform Imminent

The Minister of State in charge of Law Reform, James Browne TD, recently announced the appointment of Anne Marie Caulfield as the new Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Designate of the Gambling Regulatory Authority of Ireland (GRAI). The appointment of a CEO is a significant milestone in the much-anticipated reform of gambling laws in Ireland and the future establishment of the GRAI. Ms Caulfield will lead the first dedicated regulator to oversee all forms of gambling in Ireland – except for the National Lottery which will remain regulated by its own dedicated regulator. As the first and primary hire to the GRAI, the new CEO will be a key stakeholder in the staffing, management, and early development of the GRAI, including helping to set its agenda.

Legislative and operation progress

The government press release also noted that the Department of Justice has established a Programme Board to ensure that the legislation and the operational preparations for the authority are progressed in parallel but no further details on the make-up of its members were provided.

Legislation to provide for the establishment of the new watchdog is currently being prepared for publication under the title of “the Gambling Regulation Bill”. The purpose of the Bill is to provide for a modern approach to the licencing of gambling activities and to establish a gambling regulator. Following the publication of the General Scheme of the Gambling Regulation Bill in October 2021, the Bill itself is expected to be published this autumn. According to the Government Legislative Programme for the Autumn Session 2022, pre-legislative scrutiny has already taken place. Once the Bill is enacted into law, it is anticipated that the GRAI will commence operations shortly thereafter. This is expected to be in 2023.

Commencing operations

Minister Browne noted that the early appointment of the CEO will ensure that there is no delay in the new regulator becoming operational following the enactment of the Bill. Similarly, the establishment of the Programme Board should help to minimise the time between the enactment of the Bill and the date on which the GRAI commences its operations. The Government is clearly keen to ensure that there are building blocks in place to facilitate the commencement of the activities of the GRAI right away.

Companies should act now

This desired short lead-in period post enactment suggests that companies who are active in the gambling or related services market would be wise to start their preparations for the new regulatory landscape now.

Although the legislative process is not yet complete, and the final text of the Bill as enacted may change, some of the key provisions as outlined in the General Scheme which companies should be aware of include:

  • A new comprehensive licensing regime: this streamlines the licence framework for all forms of in-person and remote / online gambling in Ireland – including gaming, betting, and lotteries. There will be three licence types, with the GRAI to specify the detail on what gambling activities, products and services can be offered under each licence. These are:
    • ‘Business to customer’ (B2C) – for in-person and remote gambling activities; it is important to note that foreign operators will be required to have an Irish licence when offering any form of gambling services to customers in Ireland
    • ‘Business to business’ (B2B) – for individuals and corporates who provide gambling products or related services to Irish licence holders wherever they are located, and
    • For organisations promoting gambling products or services for charitable or philanthropic causes eg sports clubs or charities
  • Geographical limitations for licensees: the General Scheme proposes a requirement that, to apply for a licence, licensees’ and their operations must be based in either the European Economic Area, the UK, Northern Ireland or “any country or territory” specified by the GRAI. This has the potential to be a very significant change to companies / operators, although in practice it will depend on the extent of any list of specified countries or territories as prescribed by the GRAI.
  • Detailed licence application process: to obtain a licence, the General Scheme envisages that there will be a significant increase in the level of information that applicants will be required to provide. This will include details of the applicant company’s beneficial owners, copies of business plans, and lists of all software and systems used. In assessing licence applications, it is also envisaged that the GRAI may interview licence applicants, visit their premises and request additional information.
  • GRAI monitoring of compliance and GRAI enforcement powers: the GRAI will have a broad range of powers to tackle non-compliance, including the ability to conduct inspections and investigations, imposing fines and prosecuting where necessary.
  • Advertising regulations and sponsorship: the GRAI will address the advertisement of gambling across all forms of media and sponsorship by licence holders.
  • Safeguards: the General Scheme envisages safeguards for the protection of minors and to address problem gamblers, the prevention of crime, ensuring public safety and well-being, and consumer protection.
  • The Social Impact Fund: this is provided for in the General Scheme for the purposes of financing research and information, education and awareness raising measures, and appropriately supporting problem gambling treatment activities by relevant health professionals.

Next Steps

The appointment of the new CEO Designate is a clear sign that Ireland is well on the road to the much-needed reform of its outdated gambling laws. The early announcement of the CEO’s appointment prior to the Bill being enacted into law indicates that a short lead-in period is likely. As a result, companies and operators providing gambling and other related services, both online and land-based, should start making preparations for the new regulatory landscape now.

For more information on how the new regulatory regime can and will affect your business operations following enactment, contact a member of our Technology team.

The content of this article is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute legal or other advice.

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