Irish Betting (Amendment) Bill faces further delays at European Commission

By Emma Rumney
The long-awaited Irish Betting (Amendment) Bill has been submitted to the European Commission for review, meaning it is unlikely to be enacted before the end of 2014.

The Irish gambling industry has been anticipating the changes - which include strengthening Ireland's ability to prosecute unlicensed operators, reforming taxation and extending opening hours for traditional bookmakers - since intentions were first announced by the former Irish prime minister Brian Cowen in 2010.

However the situation is particularly urgent for the Association of Irish Bookmakers (IBA) who say that 500 jobs and €16m could be lost if the Bill doesn't come into force before 1 September.

At the beginning of September land-based bookmakers will be subject to a six-month seasonal curfew and have to close shops by 6:30pm - except on days when an Irish race is taking place - as required under existing laws that date back to 1931.

The IBA posit that while the Betting Act, 1931 remains un-amended 500 staff must be laid off each September until the following April.

The amendments to the act would allow outlets to trade until 10pm each evening during the winter months. The IBA says that the extended hours could save jobs and generate a potential €6m per annum in taxes.

Furthermore, this would allow land-based bookmakers to compete with online and mobile operators who can trade 24 hours per day and currently pay no betting duty.

The Irish retail betting sector is the only in the industry to pay betting duty ̶ a 1% tax on turnover.

The IBA says that because bookmakers are taxed on turnover rather than profits they have to pay the same tax rate even when losing money.

In the IBA's view such factors create a "severely un-level playing field" which has lead to a "severe decline" in the Irish retail betting sector. Today there are only 999 shops trading, compared to a high of 1365 in August 2008 ̶ a loss of 1700 jobs.

The Betting (Amendment) Bill would address some of these concerns and bring legislation up to date with developments in the industry.

Along with extending opening hours the Bill would require online operators to pay a 15% tax on betting profits for the first time, which the IBA say could generate a further €10 to the Exchequer.

The IBA launched a major campaign to push the bill through parliament before the summer recess, but says its pleas fell on deaf ears.

After reaching its second reading in January the bill went before the Department of Finance who made several changes such as extending the term for online licences to two years and - since the Republic is still pending the establishment of an industry regulator - transfer tax collection powers from the Department of Justice to the Revenue Commissioners.

As well as taxing legitimate operators the Revenue Commissioners would also be able to deal harshly with unlicensed operators by serving them with a "compliance notice" requiring them to shut down by a set date.

Most parties welcome the Bill as it will update the current laws and detail a framework for regulating and licensing remote bookmakers and remote betting intermediaries, which can't be provided for under the 1931 legislation.

While approval from the Irish parliament did arrive before the summer recess the Bill now requires review by the European Commission to ensure it complies with European anti-monopoly and ethical business practice laws, a process which could take up to three months.

It seems probable that the Betting (Amendment) Bill will miss its deadline for enforcement yet again.

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