here are now almost 40 member-only casinos open throughout the country, compared to about 20 when Mr McDowell announced his controversial proposals late last year. And according to figures within the gambling industry, that number could climb to 50 by this summer, ahead of Government moves to strictly regulate' the industry.
An expert group, chaired by barrister Michael McGrath, was set up last August to examine how the industry could be regulated. It reported its recommendations to the minister recently and the report is due to be discussed by Cabinet later this month.
However, with an impending election and with a sizeable backlog of priority legislation, it is very unlikely that any new regulatory regime will be introduced until later this year at the earliest. Up until now, casinos have been operating in a legal vacuum.
The industry is completely unregulated at present, with individual casinos operating as member-only clubs. Last year, Mr McDowell raised his concerns about these type of operations, pointing to potential tobe used as fronts' for money-laundering.
At the time, he also said that while such gambling was illegal in the State under the Gaming and Lotteries Act 1956, it was almost impossible for gardaí to bring successful prosecutions because of the very technical nature of the evidence. Separately, an authoritative figure in the industry warned about the dangers of allowing the industry to continue without regulation.
In his submission to the committee, JJ Woods, an industry consultant with 25 years' experience said it was clear that Ireland cannot afford to allow (the private member type) of casino to continue to grow without any form of regulation.
In sentiments echoing those of McDowell, he said: “Eventually they will present opportunities for criminal involvement and money-laundering. “The majority of those involved in the industry do not want this and would therefore welcome sensible regulation of the market.”
An advocate for casinos, including private casinos, but with strong regulations, Woods argued for a series of strong controls. Among the suggestions are that those involved with casinos be free of criminal conviction; that all gaming staff be issued with Government licences (in conjunction with the Garda Síochána); that only games that guarantee the customer fair play' should be allowed; and that strict age policies and monitoring of visits should be standard to protect the young and the vulnerable.
“I mentioned the need to license the individual casino staff and to sum this up, like any licence that is issued it comes with a set of rules and if it is deemed that the rules have not been adhered to then that licence is revoked,” he said.