Irish parliament passes gaming bill after bingo amendment

6 December 2019

Ireland’s parliament has passed an amended version of the Gaming and Lotteries (Amendment) Bill 2019 after protests against the maximum amount of money bingo operators could pay out in the initial version of the bill.

The new legislation, proposed by Sinn Fein TD Martin Kenny, supported by Independent TD Denis Naughten and passed by Dáil Eireann on 4 December. It states that no more than 75% of the total taking from a bingo hall may be allocated to prizes and at least 25% should be allocated to charitable or philanthropic purposes.

The original version of the bill, proposed by the government, also stated that at least 25% of takings must go to charitable causes, but capped the amount allocated to prizes at just 50%.

This, however, drew backlash from bingo operators and the Bingo Players’ Association, who launched a petition to amend the bill. The petition has currently received more than 1,300 signatures.

In the debate over the bill in the Dáil, independent TD Michael Healy-Rae said the bill would be harmful to the Irish bingo industry.

“What the Taoiseach stated earlier was that what the Minister of State is proposing will not affect bingo and will not close down bingo halls,” Healy-Rae said. “That is factually incorrect.

“If the Minister of State does what he is proposing to do, that will have a detrimental effect on the running of bingo operations and games because it is reducing by at least half the funding that can be made available for prizes and jackpots, lines across, full boxes and full houses.”

Independent TD Michael Collins echoed Healy-Rae’s sentiment, arguing that the bill could make charitable bingo unviable.

“There is a serious concern among people who play bingo,” Collins said. “Most of the voluntary groups I am familiar with in west Cork organise and play bingo to try to raise funds for the local hall or local charitable event. Those funds help to keep festivals going in places such as Goleen, Kilbrittain, Bandon, Clonakilty or wherever bingo games are held weekly.

“The worry that they will only end up getting €5 back now and that will not make these events viable.”

Independent TD Mattie McGrath also criticised the bill, considering it an attack on rural Ireland.

“I fully accept that bingo is [also] played in [Dublin], but in the country we have little else left as a result of the actions of the Minister, Deputy Ross, and his cabals,” McGrath said. “We have nothing else left. I ask the Minister of State please to leave us the game of bingo.”

The amendment was accepted despite opposition from Minister of State David Stanton, who was concerned that bingo promoters may not be able to make money with the maximum prize set at 75%.

“It will mean that promoters may get nothing, or 0%, if 75% were to go on prizes, as is the intention of the amendment,” Stanton said.

However, the bill was nonetheless passed by the Dáil. It will now be sent to the Seanad, which may delay its passing if it chooses but may not veto the bill.

The bill also includes a cap on the maximum stake on gaming machines at €5 (£4.25/$5.51), while the top prize will be set at €500.