1. The Reference to the Joint Committee imposed two duties on it, viz.:—
(1) To inquire into the working of the Betting Act, 1926.
(2) To report as to amendments considered to be desirable in the existing law relating to the business of bookmaking.
In accordance with these instructions the Joint Committee has now completed its inquiry into the working of the Act. A number of witnesses were examined and their evidence is attached to this Report. They were selected from amongst the parties most closely connected with, or affected by the administration of the Act, or desirous of placing its operations on a satisfactory basis. The official attitude was defined by the Commissioner of the Gárda Síochána, an officer of the Revenue Commissioners, the Secretary of the Department of Posts and Telegraphs, a Justice of the District Court in Dublin, and the Central Savings Committee. The three leading Churches gave their views, mainly from the moral aspect. Some general points of view were received from the Associated Chambers of Commerce, the National Teachers’ Organisation, and the sporting Press. Two important witnesses explained the reactions of the Act and its corollary, the Finance Act of 1926, on the horse breeding industry. Finally, the executive officers of two bookmakers’ associations were called to state the views of the profession most closely affected by the Act. The Joint Committee is of opinion that in this body of evidence the Oireachtas has complete information on every aspect of the operation of the Betting Act, 1926. In some particulars the general law, relating to the business of bookmaking, apart from the two Statutes already referred to, was dealt with by these witnesses.
2. The information thus available disclosed a large measure of agreement as to the practical effects of the Betting Act. No witness appeared before the Joint Committee to urge that serious blemishes in practice have not accumulated around the working of the Act. These are stated to be of a social character, for example, as adversely affecting public order and decorum, or the economic welfare of the community, particularly of the poorer classes, or the formation of the character of young people. It was generally recognised that the Act was designed with a fiscal purpose solely, and contained no precautionary sections dealing with the kind of abuse which afterwards came into existence. In particular, the Commissioner of the Gárda, in whose Department resides responsibility for public order, has urged upon the Joint Committee that he finds himself without powers adequate to deal with the evils which, he states, have arisen. Again, witnesses, e.g., those representing some of the Churches, were so impressed by the objectionable developments which followed on the passing of the Act as to recommend that its main principles be abandoned, viz., the licensing of bookmakers, and the registration of premises for the receipt of cash bets. Two reasons have induced the Joint Committee to disagree with this proposal. In the first place, its advocates did not satisfactorily dispose of the alternative, which is reversion to the legal position prior to 1926. The Joint Committee is convinced that the existing Act has justified itself in so far as it has wiped out the practice of street betting, which was carried on surreptitiously and illegally. The principles underlying the Gaming Laws prior to 1926, in so far as they were abrogated by the Betting Act, cannot, in the opinion of the Joint Committee, be restored. Secondly, the Joint Committee has taken note of the statement of the Commissioner of the Gárda that, if certain reforms recommended by him are introduced in any legislation that may be forthcoming, he will be able effectively to control the system of betting based on the principles set out in the Act and, at the same time, notwithstanding new restrictions, to prevent the recrudescence of street betting.
3. Proceeding then from the position that the existing law relating to betting should not be repealed but, rather, be amended, so as to eliminate the abuses which have been found to accompany it, it becomes necessary to make a statement of the main faults which have been found in practice. Betting offices have increased to numbers greatly in excess of reasonable requirements; they are conducted in a noisy and disorderly manner; crowds congregate and loiter in them; lists of runners and odds are displayed as on a racecourse; backers wait on from one event to another, payments being made immediately after results, which are obtained immediately by special telephone service; children, and women accompanied by children, are present in the crowd, with a consequent increase in juvenile gambling; these evils are increased in poorer class areas in the cities; the gambling craze has affected all classes down to persons in receipt of unemployment benefit and home assistance, and the total results are demoralising, disorderly, uneconomic, thriftless. This statement of the case, with many points of view following from it, has been adopted by every witness as the general experience, and the Joint Committee must accept it as established. In addition to this defect in the operation of the Betting Act, the Joint Committee desires to refer briefly to another criticism that has been offered against the operation of the revenue-producing side of the existing legislation, as it deals with the bookmaking business. Owing to the practice which bookmakers have endeavoured to establish, a deduction at the rates of the existing taxes is made on gross winnings, and sometimes even on gross winnings and stake combined, and not merely on stakes, as provided by law. Owing to this practice bookmakers, relying on the ignorance of backers as to their legal rights in the matter, often recoup themselves without any authority. Another important effect of the Act is stated in paragraph 8 below.
4. In dealing with remedies suggested by the witnesses, the Joint Committee reports that its members have not been able to agree among themselves on some of the amendments proposed. These latter are consequently left over for determination by the Oireachtas. In the following particulars, agreement has been reached and it is accordingly recommended that any further legislation dealing with betting should embody them:—
(i) As regards juveniles, it should be made a punishable offence for a bookmaker to enter into betting transactions with persons under 18 years of age.
It should be an offence for a bookmaker to allow persons under 16 years to remain on registered betting premises. This should not apply to such persons as are ordinarily resident thereon.
It should be an offence for any person to take or to send a person under 16 years of age to registered betting premises.
It follows from this that the Joint Committee favours the introduction of a clause prohibiting women with children in arms from entering betting premises, analogous to that contained in the Liquor Licensing Laws.
(ii) The principle of a minimum bet, as tending to the limitation of the amount of betting possible to persons whose means render such limitation desirable, is accepted by the Joint Committee. Various sums have been advocated by witnesses, e.g., 2/6, 2/-, 1/-, and even 6d. It is the opinion of the Joint Committee that the sum of 1/- as a minimum bet is most likely to have the desired results, and it is accordingly recommended.
(iii) The Joint Committee is in entire agreement with the view that the evils which have grown up in connection with registered betting premises are mainly due to the practice of paying on results immediately after the race. It is made possible by the special telephone facilities installed. It causes backers to loiter and with their winnings to place a wager on the next event. This continuous betting would not occur in the absence of this practice. The recommendation on this matter is that it be an offence for a bookmaker to pay on results at any time during racing hours. Payment should, of course, be made only in registered betting premises. Racecourse betting is not affected by this recommendation.
(iv) It is, in the opinion of the Joint Committee, improper to conduct a licensed betting premises in a fashion more appropriate to a racecourse. It should be an offence for bookmakers to call odds to customers congregated in their premises.
It follows that to permit overcrowding and loitering on registered premises should likewise be constituted an offence.
(v) The Joint Committee thinks that lists of runners, starting prices, sporting sheets, literature or other incitement or attraction to bet should not be exhibited on registered premises so as to be seen from the street. This practice should be prohibited.
(vi) Persons in receipt of home assistance should be debarred from betting in registered premises, and their benefits should cease on proof that a betting transaction has been made by them or on their behalf, while in receipt of such assistance.
(vii) As regards the question of business hours, the Joint Committee recommends that licensed betting premises should be open for cash bets from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. only. Credit transactions by telephone, telegram, or letter may continue between the hours of 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. The amendment in this case will be to Section 16 of the Act. The Joint Committee in making this recommendation is influenced by the fact that persons of every class are by it afforded ample time to place their bets, and also by the evidence of the Chairman of the Turf Accountants' Protection Association (Q. 587), that “after 3 p.m. no one enters the offices to make bets,” save in the case of offices conducted on the system, described above, to which objection has been made.
(viii) Bookmakers in licensed betting premises should be compelled to give a prescribed and numbered receipt to each customer for each cash bet made in such premises; such receipt should bear the name and address of the bookmaker. It should be an offence to issue any receipt or docket other than one on the prescribed form and bearing a number. The amount of any revenue tax added or deducted in respect of such bet should be shown on this receipt.
(ix) The Joint Committee recommends that the managing clerks and assistants of bookmakers should themselves be licensed, and before licences are granted should satisfy the Gárda and the Revenue Commissioners on all requirements under the Act.
(x) It was represented by the Commissioner of the Gárda that, no matter what irregularities occurred on the premises of a licensed bookmaker, he was powerless to prosecute or even to take action under the Betting Act until the expiration of the year brought with it a renewal of application for a certificate either of personal fitness or suitability of premises. He has, in the opinion of the Joint Committee, established his claim that the police should have power to prosecute at any time during the year.
(xi) The Joint Committee agrees with the representations made that registered betting premises are more numerous than are reasonably required. In some areas, for example, they greatly outnumber the Post Offices. The recommendation is that the ratio of one betting office to 5,000 of the population be not exceeded, as regards the cities of Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Waterford. For smaller urban and rural areas or for suitable combinations of these, the ratio should be one office to 2,000 of the population. Administrative machinery should be adapted to achieve these ratios gradually.
5. With one exception the recommendations above made concern principles not at present contained in the Act. Some amendments of specific sections of the Act were suggested to the Joint Committee. Of these the following were adopted and are recommended:—
Section 1.—That the term “business of bookmaking” should be defined.
Section 3.—That there be added a new sub-section to the effect that where a person not resident in Saorstát Eireann and consequently not entitled to apply for a certificate under this section desires to take out a licence he should, as an alternative to the conditions set out in the section prior to application to the Superintendent of the Gárda obtain a recommendation from the ruling authority of the Turf Club or the National Hunt Club as to his personal character and financial fitness.
Section 4.—That the words “and on no other ground whatsoever” be deleted.
Section 4.—That the following additional grounds of refusal be added:
(a) Unsatisfactory financial circumstances.
(b) If previously licensed on proof that the applicant has refused or failed to pay bets.
(c) That the applicant has less than 12 months’ residence in Saorstát Eireann.
Section 5.—That there be added a provision that all licences should expire on the same date, viz., the 30th November in each year. This date is adopted as marking the end of the flat racing season.
Section 5.—That the photograph of the holder should appear on each licence.
Section 8.—That the words “and on no other ground whatsoever” in line 2 be deleted.
Section 8.—That additional grounds of objection be added:—
(a) that there are sufficient registered premises in the district already.
(b) that the applicant is a licensed publican.
It is not intended that this objection should apply where the premises for which a certificate is sought have been before 28th July, 1926, portion of premises licensed for the sale of intoxicating liquor.
Section 10 (2).—That the period of 21 days specified herein be reduced to 14.
Section 10 (5) (a).—That the Superintendent should be entitled to call any member of the Gárda Síochána or any citizen to give evidence.
Section 15 (4), line 2.—That after the word “maintain” the words “inside or outside” be added.
Section 16.—A recommendation on the subject of hours has been already made.
Section 19 (3).—That the Gárda Síochána have power of arrest under this sub-section.
6. In respect of the relevant sections of the Finance Act, 1926, the following suggestions are made:—
The Joint Committee is in favour of the repeal of the present tax on betting transactions, which has not operated satisfactorily. To compensate the Exchequer for the loss that would be caused by the adoption of this proposal, it is recommended (1) that the duty on bookmakers licences and the duty on the registration of betting premises be increased, (2) that a duty be placed on the number of telephones installed by bookmakers, and (3) that a duty be placed on the employment of staff by bookmakers, graded according to official status.
If, contrary to the above recommendation, the tax on betting transactions remains as at present, the Joint Committee considers it desirable to insert a provision to restrain the unauthorised collection of tax on winnings referred to in paragraph 3 above. One way to accomplish this would be by requiring that any sum deducted by way of tax by a bookmaker be paid into the Exchequer.
7. The Joint Committee has not in any general way entered into the question of the particular powers by way of arrest or fine or penalty required to enforce the law as it will be amended. The necessary machinery should, however, be supplied in the forthcoming Bill.
8. It is opportune at this stage to refer to evidence of two authoritative witnesses, who dealt with the effects of the Betting Act, 1926, and Section 24 of the Finance Act, 1926, on the bloodstock industry of Ireland. Their argument was to the effect that the universal provision of betting facilities in places other than those in which horse racing is taking place, and the pressure of the betting tax collected on racecourses, are amongst the leading causes which are depressing the attendances at race meetings; that the prosperity of racing executives is consequently being seriously affected; that stakes are declining in value and meetings dying out. Thus, it is stated, the owners and breeders of bloodstock are being deprived of an essential means of display of one of the most valuable of the productions of Saorstát Eireann. The annual financial value of this industry, the unique position occupied by Irish-bred horses in the present-day world, and the labour given by the industry are features of the evidence of these witnesses to which special attention is directed by the Joint Committee. The operation of the present betting legislation has produced an effect of such importance that recommendations to meet the emergency have been laid before the Oireachtas in an Interim Report. On further consideration the Joint Committee endorses these recommendations and is convinced that the revenue resulting from the introduction of the totalisator will more than recoup the Exchequer for any loss involved in the relaxation of the present tax on betting as applied to racecourses.
9. The Joint Committee has not pursued its enquiries in any complete way into the older law as it affected the business of bookmaking. Some aspects of it, however, have been treated in the evidence submitted. A suggestion was made that betting debts should be recoverable in law. The Joint Committee is not desirous that any change should be made in this respect in the existing law.
A second matter arising out of the Betting Act, 1926, the Finance Act of the same year and older statutes was brought to the attention of the Joint Committee by Mr. Cussen, a Justice of the District Court in Dublin. In the two Acts first named certain large penalties for offences are prescribed. These are styled “excise penalties,” and their amount varies up to £500. The term “excise penalty” involves the implication that the person who on being so directed fails to pay the sum in question may be committed to prison on a warrant, which the Justices are obliged to sign, to remain there during the pleasure of the Revenue Commissioners. The District Justice informed the Joint Committee that the law in this respect was amended in Great Britain as far back as the year 1879, but remains unchanged in this country. He suggests that this should now be done. He has also expressed an opinion that if the penalties in question are intended to have a revenue purpose, this latter would be better served by the reduction of these large sums to a reasonable amount, and that at the same time the public interests would be served. In both of his contentions the Joint Committee supports him. It is, therefore, recommended (1) that the present law regulating the amount of these penalties be amended so as to give the Justice discretion to reduce them from their present figure to the nominal sum of ten pounds if the circumstances, in his opinion, justify that course, (2) that the present anomalous position of the law as regards committal be remedied.
(Signed), P. J. RUTTLEDGE,
Chairman pro tem.
9 May, 1929.