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US legalises gambling and Ireland moves towards regulating it

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By Gary Rice, Aidan Healy & Niall Sexton


Published 30 May 2018


The US Supreme Court has struck down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act 1992 (Pub.L. 102-559) (known as the Bradley Act) and endorsed a 2014 New Jersey State ruling which legalised betting at New Jersey casinos and race tracks.

Organisations such as the National Basketball Association ("NBA"), Major League Baseball ("MLB"), and the National Collegiate Athletic Association ("NCAA") all opposed the move. The NBA and MLB opposed the move as draft legislation failed to provide for an integrity fee which the leagues would have used to put measures in place to try to prevent fixing and assist in protecting integrity. The NCAA opposed the move due to the threat to the "integrity of athletic competition".

This brought to mind issues related to betting closer to home. There is little data available on the problem of gambling in Ireland. A UCD study from 2015 indicated that 40,000 people in Ireland are known to have a gambling addiction. There is plenty of colloquial evidence, however, of sports people with a gambling problem. The number of high profile GAA players who have confessed to gambling addictions means that it is not just highly paid professionals who apparently use gambling as a release from the highly pressurised environment of elite sport.

Sports betting in Ireland is regulated in Ireland by the Betting Act 1931. This was amended in 2015 to provide for a limited licensing regime for bookmakers and betting exchanges, but there is no regulation of the industry in any real sense. Under Alan Shatter, the Department of Justice published the General Scheme of the Gambling Control Bill in 2013 (the "General Scheme"), with little evidence of progress since then. Of note from a sporting perspective is that the General Scheme provides for an offence of 'manipulation with intent to alter outcome'. This would make it an offence for any participant in sport, including players, management, medical and technical support personnel, to accept any payment, gift or reward in return for agreeing to or, in so far as that person can, bring about a particular score or outcome.

In February 2018, Fianna Fáil introduced a Gambling Control Bill 2018 (the "Bill") as a Private Members Bill. Many of the proposed provisions of the General Scheme are included in the Bill. It came before the Dáil on 9 May, with the Government confirming that it did not oppose the Bill but felt it should be amended to provide greater scope. It has now been referred to the Select Committee on Justice to consider, for example, whether there should be a new statutory body to act as gambling regulator, or whether it can sit within the Department of Justice.

The Bill proposes to regulate and licence gaming, betting, lotteries, bingo and gaming machines. However, those licensed by Horse Racing Ireland and the Irish Greyhound Board will continue to be licensed by those organisations. The National Lottery and financial spread betting (regulated by the Central Bank) will fall outside the scope of the Bill.

The Bill provides for the regulation of betting / gambling related advertising and sponsorships. It would also require licence holders to fund and operate a scheme for dealing with customer complaints and for compensating customers. A social fund will also be established to promote socially responsible gambling and counter-act the ill effects of irresponsible gambling. The fund may also be used for education programmes and to fund research in the area.

It will be interesting to see where sports bodies fit into any new regulatory regime. As matters stand, most sporting bodies have rules in place dealing with the manipulation of sporting events and players betting on matches, as well as rules requiring players to immediately report an approach by anyone in connection with influencing the course of a match. However well-drafted a sports body's rules may be, they are of little use if they cannot be policed and enforced effectively and sports bodies simply don’t have the resources or legal powers to do this. It remains to be seen how the new regulator might interact with sporting bodies but one would suspect that protecting the integrity of sport and the complex investigations that may be required to do this would not be at the top of the new regulator's agenda.

As we have advocated previously, when it comes to the integrity of sport, national measures are only one piece of a much larger puzzle. A coordinated global response to gambling in sport is required to ensure that the integrity of sport in general is protected from this growing problem. Recent years have seen repeated calls for a world-anti-corruption agency with similar mandate and powers but little progress. In 2014, the Council of Europe agreed a Convention on the Manipulation of Sports Competitions. It has yet to come into force and Ireland has neither signed it nor ratified it.

What happens next in this space is unclear. What is clear is that there are many challenges for sports bodies conducting investigations in this area. Such Investigations are highly specialised and there are many potential pitfalls, not least the GDPR and the potential use of social media in investigations.