The Irish Labour Party has reiterated its call for national policymakers to curb betting advertisements, as Ireland moves into a new regulatory era for gambling.
Senator Mark Wall, the Labour Party’s sports spokesperson, asserted that there is strong public support for the government to ‘be more ambitious’ in its regulation of Irish betting.
New regulation, same concerns
Irish gambling is currently at the crossroads of significant change, as the country’s tri-party cabinet signed off on the Gambling Regulation Bill in November last year, sending the potential legislation to the Oireachtas legislature.
The most significant consequence of this legislation will be the introduction of a new regulator, the Gambling Regulatory Authority (GRA), under the leadership of debut Chief Executive Anne Marie Caulfield, but the Labour Party argues more can be done.
“I am calling on government to go the full way by implementing Labour’s Bill to ban gambling ads,” Wall said. “The government’s new gambling control bill will impose a ban on all gambling advertising between 5.30am and 9pm, but we need to see more ambition and go the full way.
“Unfortunately for those experiencing gambling addition, this does not go away after 9pm. From the moment we get up in the morning to the moment we go to sleep at night, the gambling companies know they have us in their grip.
“You can’t look at a video on YouTube without being directed to gamble, you can’t use a free app on your phone without facing these ads. We need a full ban to take back the control these companies have over us.”
Clamping down on betting advertising in Ireland has been a longstanding goal of the Irish Labour Party, which introduced its own Bill – the Gambling (Prohibition of Advertising) Bill 2021 – in February 2021.
The Bill sought to ban all betting advertising throughout Ireland, with a particular focus on severing betting’s relationship with sports, to counter what Wall described at the time as the ‘silent scourge’ of gambling addiction in the country.
In the Labour Party’s most recent statement, Wall reiterated this sentiment: “The gambling industry has worked hard to create a strong link in our minds between major sports events and betting.
“Problem gambling is a behavioural addiction which is what these ads feed off. These ads are pushing people to gamble and there are no controls in place to protect those who are vulnerable to addiction.
“I was so impressed by the brave move taken by Belgium in recent weeks to implement a full ban on gambling ads from July. I am putting it up to government to be brave enough to take on the gambling companies and do the right thing for people through a full ban on ads.”
A broad ban, but how broad the support?
The Labour Party is somewhat of a marginal force in Irish politics, holding four seats in the Dail Eireann (Lower House) and seven in the Seanad Éireann (Senate), but its arguments on gambling do hold some broad support.
Notable figures to have shared this view inc lude current President Michael D. Higgins – himself a former Labour Party TD – and Former Paddy Power executives Stewart Kenny (Chief Executive) and Fintan Drury (Chairman).
Sporting reception of such measures has been more mixed, with the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) and Gaelic Players Association (GPA) supporting a rollback of advertising, but the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) has stated that betting sponsorships are an internal matter for its clubs.
As Ireland nears its new dawn on regulation – having reached this milestone much quicker than its UK counterparts – the government looks set to create an ‘extremely powerful’ regulatory body, according to Justice Minister James Browne, the chief architect of the legislation.
The aforementioned GRA will be tasked with establishing a national self-exclusion scheme for both online and land-based operators and managing an industry-financed ‘Social Impact Fund’ (SMF), supporting gambling harm treatment and research.
However, the minority Labour Party believes the government can go one step further and take the route currently being followed by Belgium and the Netherlands and force the industry to hit the brakes on its marketing measures.
Wall concluded: “Doing so now will aid those vulnerable to addiction but also lead to a mind shift in how the younger generations experience the enjoyment of sports, entertainment and even politics.
“According to recent research conducted by the ESRI, 9.3% of young people (aged 17-20) have taken part in online gambling with 7.2% of them are ‘regularly’ gambling. There’s no doubt that the ads are pushing this behaviour.
“The level of addiction and affliction in communities up and down this country demands serious action. We had this argument around the tobacco. Time is ticking. Let’s follow the Belgian lead and ban gambling ads in Ireland.”