Ireland’s Gambling Crackdown Worrying Gaming Firms

Ireland’s Gambling Crackdown Worrying Gaming Firms

Gambling companies operating in Ireland are complaining that excessive interference by the Revenue Commissioners, the government agency that oversees tax matters, is making it hard for them to run their operations effectively. They have also asserted that pressure being exerted on them over tax and licensing non-compliance issues stems from an unclear regulatory regime that is desperately overdue for an update. As David Hickson, director of the Gaming and Leisure Association of Ireland, explains:

“At the moment, our law dates back to 1956, so we need to update the legislation for a whole host of reasons. Progress towards regulation has been remarkably slow and bedevilled by delays.”

In the meantime, the Revenue Commissioners has said that it will continue its crackdown, and would target all types of gambling non-compliance in the country, with those companies operating outside of the law facing prosecution, and the seizure of their gaming machines.

Tax Crackdown

The crackdown was launched in order to identify and prosecute those companies involved in the gaming and amusement sector who are deemed to have broken the country’s licensing rules. The campaign has born fruit, too, and since it started the Revenue Commissioners has collected around €1.1 million in unpaid taxes, in addition to issuing 4,000 new licenses worth €899,465.

Unclear Gambling Regulatory Laws

In the meantime, operators have retaliated by claiming that Ireland’s gambling regulatory laws are unclear, and thus are causing confusion and uncertainty in the industry. According to an Irish gambling law dating back to 1988, for instance, all casino-type gambling machines (video roulette, poker, blackjack) are banned from the country’s capital city of Dublin, while businesses offering amusement type machines must apply to Revenue for their licenses.

Nevertheless, many establishments have been discovered operating under the wrong license, and furthermore some venues have been implementing insufficient controls to ensure underage gambling does not take place on their premises. As a result, over 300 businesses have been hit with criminal prosecution, some of whom have had their gambling machines seized by the agency.

Gaming vs Amusement Machines

In contrast to gambling machines which award monetary prizes, amusement machines, on the other hand, offer non-monetary prizes that should not exceed €7. Despite being subject to different license and tax rates, however, many establishments have applied for the wrong gaming licenses, apparently in an attempt to reduce their annual gaming license obligation from €630 to €125. By applying for improper licenses, they also stand to benefit from a range of other fundamental differences in the licenses, including those related to hours of operation, and the number of machines allowed.

One such example includes Dr. Quirkey’s Good Time Emporium in Dublin, that hosts machines in which players are able to place bets of up to €2,500, while featuring a rather misleading sign stating “Fun for all ages”. In addition, no age checks were found to have taken place at the premises, with a report from The Times also pointing out that the machines could also readily be used for money laundering purposes.

Gambling Operators Respond

For their part, Irish casino owners and gambling operators have claimed that the regulations being implemented by Irish authorities are completely vague, and that no clear licensing framework presently exists in the country. In fact, prior to the crackdown being launched, a group of casino owners submitted a legal submission questioning the constitutionality of Ireland’s current gambling law. Furthermore, a piece of legislation with the potential to address the issue, known as the Gambling Control Bill 2013, has been gathering dust in the Irish Parliament for several years, with no clear progress expected on the legislation anytime soon.

Meanwhile, the Revenue Commissioners has vowed to move ahead with its clampdown, meaning that the country’s gambling companies continue to face hefty fines related to tax evasions and the holding of improper licenses.