Gambling has a long history in Ireland, and so do Irish gambling laws. Many of these laws have remained unchanged, despite innovations in technology and evolutions in culture. Bookmakers are now taking issue with an 80-year old law, the Betting Act of 1931, which regulates opening hours.
The Irish Bookmakers Association (IBA) claims that this ancient regulation cost betting shops 500 jobs last month, as the calendar changed from August into September. The capricious law allows betting shops to trade until 10pm between March and August, but ends trading after 6:30 during the other months.
The fickle nature of this law is further exposed because it only impacts betting shops: it is still legal to run telephone betting and internet betting in Ireland at all hours of the day. The only exception to this current yet dated law is when specifically Irish races are run after 10pm, in which event the bookmakers are allowed to remain open. Sharon Byren, IBA chairwoman cites Government policy as contributing to Ireland’s current record unemployment.
Maintaining jobs and keeping capable workers from becoming unemployed members of the dole queue is not the only problem. The law also hobbles Irish bookies attempts to compete against overseas competition that don’t face such restrictions. This adds greater stress to a sector already under considerable pressure. This policy doesn’t make sense either for the betting agents nor for the Exchequer, which is responsible for collecting and managing the nation’s revenues.
However, the IBA is not without opposition. For example, Dr. Fiona Weldon, the clinical director of the Rutland Center works with addicts. She cautions that it would be perilous to make betting additionally available. Already their client base has shifted from only having 0.1% gambling addicts to 6%. These people, mostly young men, suffer debts ranging from the ten thousands to a quarter million euro.
Dr. Fiona Weldon fears “In huge times of stress and recession as we are going through, people are disconnected from their problems. They are looking for an easy way out.”
For its part, the IBA is not currently seeking to have a uniform year-round policy, but rather merely wish to maintain open shops until 10pm for a minimum of 3 nights every week. Meanwhile, online sportsbooks in Ireland will remain available to gamblers 24 hours per day, 7 days per week.