Gambling has quite a history in Ireland. For one, some historians claim gambling has existed in Ireland since the Middle Ages, far before the Irish people received Christianity. Bone games, dice, and glass beads have been found by archaeologists in old Irish sites. Without any certainty, one can assume that these items were used for gambling.
Ireland, as a territory, was secluded from other European territories until the early 17th century when the British Empire gained control of the island after England’s possession. Following this, the first notable gambling activity within Ireland appeared between the 17th and 18th centuries. Between these centuries, horse racing became popular in Ireland.
Blackjack, roulette, and baccarat were popular in other European territories but they made their way to Ireland late and through the British. The British introduced card as well as board games but the citizens gambled more on horse racing. Even today, horse racing betting is the leader of all forms of gambling in Ireland. Irish people are believed to have a historical love for horses, so it is only logical that horse racing betting became popular.
Soon, regulatory bodies were set up to regulate horse racing and race meetings became a norm. At the time, Ireland was an autonomous British colony so the country’s landlords were in control of the land after seizing it from Irish Catholics. The landlords had a simple aim to make as much money as possible, so the country was woefully unlawful. The regulatory bodies were not functional and gambling, as a whole, was unnoticed by the government and poorly regulated.
Despite the popularity, however, racetracks were not built in the country for a long period of time. In fact, there were no gambling facilities in the country until the 20th century. However, there were various gambling activities in the country at the time.
In 1919, a war broke out between the British security forces and the Irish Republican Army (IRA). This war, the Irish War of Independence, ended in 1921 and resulted in a ceasefire after Ireland was declared independent. A year later, the Irish Free State was established. This took a turn in the fate of Irish gambling as the independent government was ready to strengthen the country’s economy and all industries.
In 1926, Ireland passed the first law concerning the regulation of gambling – called the Betting Act. In 1929, the Totalisator Act – which regulates pari-mutuel betting – was approved. In 1931, the Betting Act was further revised. The two significant revisions was a requirement to be licensed by the government before offering bets on a sporting event and a €500 fine if found guilty of illegal gambling (the amount was huge at the time).
Another Act was passed in 1956, the Gaming and Lotteries Act. The Betting Act created a regulatory requirement for betting while the Gaming and Lotteries Act did the same for other forms of gambling. However, the latter Act declared casinos and other gambling facilities illegal – exceptions were lotteries with a charitable purpose and a number of games of skill. Therefore, there were no state or private lotteries.
At the time, there were many casinos and in a few years, many emerged. One might wonder how there were many casinos in the country when the law clearly prohibited them. Well, there was an escape clause in the law which allowed clubs with private members to offer gambling activities. With this, many gambling establishments disguised as private members’ clubs for an opportunity to offer what a typical casino would. The requirement: a player must register so as to become a member, therefore able to gamble in the club.
Moreover, the clubs were self-regulated so everything was in favor of the gambling operators except due business taxes. They could legally choose 18 or 21 years as their minimum age. Some offered alcoholic beverages like modern casinos. Some opened 24/7. Many emerged in Dublin, offering a number of slot machines and table games (such as roulette, baccarat, and blackjack) to their “members” and making enough money from it.
As a result, Ireland’s gambling industry was not massive when compared to other territories in the United Kingdom and other countries in Europe. The industry was more underground and less of a gambling market since there were many clubs but they could not offer as many equipment as they wished.
In 1975, a Financial Act, which subjected slot machines to regulation, was approved. Meanwhile, the Gaming and Lotteries Act covers slot machines and other gaming machines. Another Financial Act was approved in 1992, which permits amusement machines.
In the 1980s, Ireland was going through a metamorphosis to strengthen its economy – from farming to industrial services. Consequentially, the government needed to fund healthcare, education and other social development services. Six years into the decade, the parliament – after a series of debates – passed the National Lottery Act. The Act established the Irish National Lottery (An Crannchur Náisiúnta), which could sell tickets to citizens aged 18 or older.
Meanwhile, Ireland has been pressured by the European Union to update its supposing outdated Betting Act and Gaming and Lotteries Act. The recurring pressures yielded a result in July 2013 when the Gaming Control Bill was introduced by the parliament and a draft was published.
The new and improved law would embrace the licensing and regulation of casinos and other land-based gambling facilities. Gaming fairness, protection of gamblers, prevention of gambling problems, monitored advertising and marketing of gambling services, limited sports sponsorship, and many others would be ensured as well.
In addition to land-based gambling facilities, online gambling would be legalized and regulated alongside land-based gambling. However, the bill would limit the total number of casino licenses in the whole Ireland island to 40 and each facility would offer 15 or lesser table games. This was to ensure a scanty gaming atmosphere, availability of only small to middle-sized casinos, and prevent an environment similar to Macau in China or Las Vegas in the United States. Additionally, a percentage of gambling tax revenues would be used to fund programmes set up for Irish problem gamblers.
In 2015, the Betting (Amendment) Act was passed. This was to reinforce the licensing and regulation of online bookmakers and betting exchanges. The proposed 2013 Gaming Control Bill would enact taxes on casinos and other gambling facilities while the approved 2015 Betting (Amendment) Act do the same to online bookmakers and betting exchanges.
In 2017, a study commissioned by Mr David Stanton, the Minister of State for Justice, produced a report authored by Dr. Crystal Fulton (University College Dublin) titled the “Developments in the Gambling Area”. The report explained how effective the gambling area would affect the country. It identified fresh laws, policy issues, and technological innovations which were not included in the draft of the 2013 Gaming Control Bill. Accordingly, the Department of Finance, on May 19th, 2017, proposed a detailed review of the tax code of gambling in Ireland.
With all these proposals for a better gambling industry in Ireland, many anticipate the approval of the Gaming Control Bill in 2018. Well, that is a mere anticipation for, in February 2017, the Bill is just a 90-page document in Leinster House, Dublin. Today, casinos are still illegal and there are other limiting rules in Ireland.
For one, Ireland is one of the few territories without a single regulatory body set up for gambling activities and facilities. Therefore, all matters relating to gambling or gaming are directed to a number of government bodies. The Revenue Commissioners is Ireland’s tax control and oversees the licensing of both land-based and online bookmakers and operators of pari-mutuel betting. The Department of Justice and Equality also have its own part to play.
Lastly, in January 2017, Mr David Stanton requested a permit to make another draft of the Bill. The new draft would include a section where an independent regulator will be established for all forms of gambling activities and facilities in Ireland.