By Michael Godfrey
ANYONE who has ever read this column will know my views on gambling. I’m the type of punter who sticks a pin on the list of runners to see what horse I’ll back for the Grand National. That’s if I even remember the race is on – and as to whether it is the Irish or English version, it makes no difference to me.
The one time I went to the Galway Races I only managed to stay for two races before having enough of it and leaving the grounds altogether. I just didn’t get it.
Unfortunately, there are far too many in this country who do get it – and more than they should. Talk to counsellors, people working in mental health, crime prevention or any walk of life and they will all recite the same story: gambling is up there as the root cause of an awful lot of problems in this country.
We all know there is a huge problem with gambling. There are adverts on both radio and television asking people to do so responsibly – which is like asking someone not to breathe – yet we don’t deal with the fundamentals by either banning it entirely or legislating the hell out of it.
Everyone thinks that because the National Lottery is up for scrutiny and must abide by a certain set of rules that there are protections in place for casino-style online gambling. There aren’t. Anyone, irrespective of their age or financial circumstance, can open an app on their phone and gamble to their heart’s content and there is nothing to stop them.
Everything to do with gambling in this country is governed by the ***Gaming and Lotteries Act, 1956***, but therein lies the problem. Back in 1956, no-one would have known what an app was, let alone the internet, and the language surrounding online didn’t even exist.
And it still doesn’t. The Department of Justice, which rules over this quagmire, says it is in the process of hiring a CEO for a new gambling regulation commission. Happy days, you might shout. Now we are getting somewhere. Here will be an organisation that will finally get to the root cause of all the problems surrounding the modern-age gambling craze.
I hate to be the one to disappoint, but as usual in Ireland we are putting the cart before the racehorse, so to speak. You see, there is no legislation to back up this commission. In fact, such legislation has just been approved for priority drafting and publication. In other words, there is still a lot of work to be done before the Dáil is even close to voting on new legislation.
So here we will have yet another government quango – remember those – where there will be an organisation, CEO and all, with nothing to do because it won’t have the necessary power to implement change. Those involved in online gambling must be rubbing their hands with glee.
Not too long ago, people in the financial sector spoke of Ireland as the Wild West when it came to banking. We had the lightest of touches when it came to regulation. In fact, self-regulation was the buzz word. Sadly, we all know where that led: down a cul-de-sac and, as usual, the taxpayer had to bail out the country.
The same is happening now with gambling. Except like all good things Irish, we tend to cover it up for far too long until matters can no longer be swept under the carpet.
Think about this: if more than €1 billion is being spent on the National Lottery, of which 90% is passed on to ‘good causes’, surely the same amount is being spent on online gambling. The only difference is those responsible for harvesting this money – and it is like a harvest, because the odds are always stacked against the player – will never disclose the amount being collected. They don’t care; all they want is to satisfy their shareholders.
They certainly don’t care about the lives being destroyed or the families being torn apart. It doesn’t cost an awful lot to put legislation in place to prevent this. Why not do that now rather than wait for untold damage to be done?