A recent report by the Institute of Public Health, in conjunction with TobaccoFree Research Institute Ireland, has published findings that more than one-in-five (22.9%) of 16-year olds in Ireland have gambled money in the last 12 months, with boys making up the vast majority (80%) of 16-year olds who meet the criteria for problem gambling. The report also finds that 23.1% of 16-year olds engaged in gambling for money did so online with betting on sports or animals the most common form. Increased regulation of gambling products to protect children from its direct and indirect harms is one of a number of recommendations in the Institute of Public Health’s report.
Given that this report is the first study into the gambling activities of children in Ireland, it is likely to assist those seeking to keep the focus on the child protection agenda in discussions and debates around the upcoming Gambling Regulation Bill 2022 (the “Bill”). The Bill anticipates root and branch reform of the sector, and Minister for State, James Browne, has described the Bill as a public health measure “at its core”. Describing the prohibition of gambling advertising on television, radio and audio-visual services between the hours of 5:30am and 9:00pm as a “watershed” reform, the Irish government asserts that the Bill is intended to protect children and vulnerable people from the harms of problem gambling. The Bill also envisages prohibiting commercial gambling companies from sponsoring any event that is primarily aimed at children or where children make up the majority of the audience.
Although it is already an offence for a child under the age of 18 to be in a bookmakers under the Betting Act 1931, the Institute of Public Health report notes that the prevalence of gambling for money amongst 16-year olds indicates there is a failure in age-verification systems both online and off-line. The report further notes that the Online Safety and Media Regulation Act 2022 (“OSMR Act”) will complement the Bill when it is implemented as the OSMR Act requires Coimisiún na Meán (“the Media Commission”) to have regard to children’s safety and co-operate with any public body in relation to that. The Bill envisages authorising the Gambling Regulatory Authority of Ireland (“GRAI”) to cooperate with the Media Commission in relation to the regulation of gambling activities. The Institute of Public Health report does not mention the Digital Services Act or the legislation implementing the Omnibus Directive, each of which will also have an impact on those operating in the sector in Ireland and across the European Union. Age verification itself is a thorny topic for operators, as it raises a number of legal and regulatory issues, including around the capacity of minors to enter into contracts and in respect of data protection compliance.
The new rules contemplated by the Bill have prompted concerns from operators, media and content providers, and advertisers in the Irish market. Sky Sports Racing is reported to be considering withdrawing from the Irish market, if the Bill introduces a blanket ban on gambling advertising between 5:30am and 9:00pm, and Racing TV and Horse Racing Ireland have also expressed reservations regarding the financial impact of the proposals and its likely impact on content availability. There are also reports that the new laws may impact upon broadcasters of sports such as premier league football.
What is certain, is that those making plans to advertise, sponsor or to participate in the Irish market in the gaming or gambling sector will need to be carefully tuned in to the impact of possible significant legal reform, and will need to take account of this in their plans and in their contracts.
Aideen Mahon also contributed to this article.