Call for clampdown as 20,000 illegal slot machines revealed
There are up to 20,000 unlicensed gambling machines in the country, a new report has revealed.
The Oireachtas Justice Committee is recommending that tighter controls be included in the new Gambling Control Bill being brought forward by the Government.
It will allow for 40 small casinos around the country – with no more than 15 gambling tables and 25 gaming machines each. It will also set up a new gambling regulator to supervise the sector properly for the first time.
But gambling operators have called for the new bill to tackle up to 20,000 unlicensed gambling machines in the country.
There are only 5,600 machines licensed for use, but in Dublin and Wicklow alone there are an estimated 7,000 machines plus 10,500 in Galway, Cork and Donegal. The remaining 7,250 are in other counties.
The Licensed Gaming Association of Ireland, which has 57 members in holiday and seaside locations, wants stricter standards imposed on amusement arcades, which require only a tax clearance certificate and are not inspected.
It said its members are subject to mandatory inspections and have to pay an annual licence fee of €505 per machine.
However, arcade owners insist the unlicensed gambling machines are generally located in takeaways, hackney offices and the back rooms of pubs rather than in their premises.
They also say that the number of unlicensed gambling machines is closer to 5,000 rather than 20,000.
But they agree that the current system is a "mess", and that there needs to be a clear distinction between a venue containing amusement machines and one containing gambling machines.
The report revealed that bookmakers also have concerns about the bill's proposals to make them close on Christmas Day and Good Friday. They want to know if this will also apply to online betting sites.
But Paddy Power, which has a huge online operation, said it was very difficult to police the internet and extremely difficult to try to shut it down for particular periods of time.
The Gambling Control Bill will also impose a ban on slot machines – also known as fixed-odds betting terminals – due to concerns about their harmful effects.
There will also be a new gambling regulator, as well as criminal checks on those who are applying to run casinos.