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More than €2m spent so far on delayed gambling authority

More than €2m has been spent so far on the Gambling Regulatory Authority of Ireland, even though the body has yet to get up and running due to delays in legislation.

Figures from the Department of Justice released to Saturday with Colm O’ Mongáin, show that €161,000 was spent in 2022 to prepare for the establishment of the authority, which includes some staffing costs.

Last year there was a total expenditure of €1.63m.

A total of €303,000 has been spent so far this year until the end of March.

A total of nine of the 11 positions sanctioned have now been filled.

Minister of State at the Department of Justice James Browne said new bill to address gambling addiction will go Cabinet next Tuesday and then to report and final stages the week after next.

Speaking on the same programme, Deputy Browne said the legislation will then pass to the Seanad where he expects it to “move relatively quickly”.

He described the situation regarding gambling addiction as “quite devastating” and said current laws, which go back several decades, are no longer fit for purpose.

“It’s a huge piece of legislation,” he told the programme. “We’re trying to regulate an area that is effectively not regulated in terms of licencing, but we’re coming from a public health perspective so we’re also looking at anti money laundering sections in there, child protection measures.”

“We have a social fund in there so we’ll be levying the industry for education, treatment, awareness … the regulator would be self-financing in terms of a levy … so it’s actually a massive piece of legislation.”

Mr Browne said the legislation was complex and solving those complexities was “probably a bit more difficult than we would have expected” but he was “very optimistic” that it would move quickly.

He said there had been “significant lobbying” in relation to this and he had been criticised by those lobbies for not meeting them sooner, adding that he had been “very steadfast” in telling the sector that it was going to be regulated.

“This bill is comprehensive, it is going to dramatically change gambling legislation in this country for the better in terms of very strong public health measures,” he said.

“I’d like to have seen it passed by now, it has been that bit more challenging, but as I say, it’s a massive piece of legislation.”

A consultant psychiatrist and head of addiction services at St John of God Hospital has said the next generation needs to be protected from harm when it comes to gambling addiction.

Prof Colin O’Gara said there has been a “dramatic increase” in people presenting with gambling harm in the last ten years.

He said recent figures show 130,000 people in Ireland are severely affected by gambling, while 279,000 people have evidence of gambling harm and 15% of the population will endure one negative experience with gambling.

“If you add that up, that’s nearly a million people in Ireland affected by gambling harm,” he said. “That is an astounding figure.”

Prof O’Gara said the problem with gambling addiction as opposed to any other addiction is that it is “incredibly hidden” and it is not something that people can necessarily talk about.

“What we have to do by getting this legislation in is do two things – one, provide care for those who actually need it,” he said.

“And the second thing is we have to protect the next generation from harm, meaning that we have to stop this bombardment of young people in particular with ads.”

Also on the programme, Social Democrats TD Gary Gannon said the legislation was “vital” and he did not understand the delay.

He also said did not understand why gambling advertising was allowed after 9pm and he would like to see a full 24-hour ban.

People Before Profit TD Bríd Smith said gambling addiction was a “hugely serious problem” and she had “no doubt” that the lobbying was causing the delay.

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