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How casino regulation in Ireland compares to Spain

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Every country in the world takes its own approach to gambling and casino laws. Regulations are influenced by many factors, and when it comes to betting, one of the biggest in a lot of countries is historical, often religious, inhibitions against any form of gambling. Spain and Ireland are two very interesting case studies, with laws that are in many ways similar but at the same more than worth of contrasting comparison.

Today, we’re going to look at the main ways that regulations for casinos work in these two nations—how they are similar, how they’re different, and why this might be.

Let’s get stuck in.

Land-based casinos

The first distinction to get out of the way is that Ireland is split into two regions, Northern Ireland governed by the U.K. and the Republic an autonomous country. The regulations are, of course, different in both, and that always bears close examination when comparing Irish casinos to other nations.

In Northern Ireland, casinos are all but non-existent. Except for small, sparse arcades of slot machines and other virtual games, casinos basically do not exist in Northern Ireland. This is due to historical legislation which has yet to be reformed, which is furthermore steeped in certain Protestant sensibilities. Gambling views do vary among Protestants, but many discourage or even outright forbid the practice.

Spain on the other hand, is home to as many as 50 casinos across the whole country, from the largest and most opulent game houses in Madrid and Barcelona to the smaller, family run businesses in the smaller cities. While they are, of course, regulated, the Spanish population is and has historically been majority Catholic. Catholics are permitted to gamble as long as it does not interfere with regular “duty.” The Republic of Ireland, too, is majority Catholic.

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There are, of course, a lot more factors at play than the majority religion, but it does contextualize this information in an important way. Ireland as a whole has had issues with casinos for a lot of reasons, not least the Catholic/Protestant split.

Regional regulations are present in Spain, too, as all gambling matters are regulated at both national and subnational levels. With 17 autonomous regions, regulations differ from place to place.

But while once land-based casinos were the only game in town, today, they are being rapidly and robustly challenged by the advent of online casinos.

Remote and online casinos

The first thing I want to say is that in both Spain and Ireland, online casinos cannot offer gambling and betting products on the basis of foreign licenses. They must be licensed and regulated by the local commission, even if they operate internationally.

But that said, over the last ten years, huge numbers of enormously popular online casinos have cropped up, and this has changed the face of casino play in both countries. Even in Northern Ireland, restricted as it has been from physical casinos, has a huge number of daily online casino players.

In Spain, by 2018, around 1.47 million people were gambling online in some capacity—which is around 3% of the population. This included growth of around 300,000 new users, and that number only continues to grow.

Ireland has seen similar growth since the advent of online casinos. Today, Ireland as a whole accounts for around 2.6% of the total gambling population in all of Europe.

Again, as long as these casinos are licensed, then they are perfectly within their rights to offer casino games or Irish casino slots to the Irish public. Undoubtedly, part of the reason this move has been so popular is due to the heavy regulation on casinos. Compared with Spain, though we can see that online casinos are still very popular there, there is a greater split between remote and physical casinos.

Regulation for the betting industry in both these countries has a primary focus on the prevention of financial crimes, so let’s look at how these regulations function.

Financial crime prevention

In Spain, the local regime in control of preventing large scale money laundering and the financing of terrorist activities is the AML. This body establishes what are known as ‘obliged subject’, meaning that all the rules and corresponding regulations set forth in a piece of 2010 legislation apply to gambling operators.

In many ways, the exact requirements of these regulations are very similar to what is found in Ireland. These rules apply certain obligations to casino operators, and mean a few things. For one, it means that casinos are expected to use their own discretion about in identifying at risk customers.

It also means casinos in Spain and Ireland are expected to report inconsistent activity which could potentially imply money laundering.

Other basic requirements around bookkeeping, internal control and risk assessment are also held by both countries, whether we are talking about remote or live, land-based casinos.

Advertising and marketing

In any country, where the regulations on casino operators are going to be the strictest is in advertising. In Spain, there are many regulations in place dictating how marketing ought to operate—Royal Decree 958, of 2020, limits the scope of advertising these operators can carry out.

These rules are very similar to Ireland’s, where both have laws specifically, for example, about their marketing appealing to children and young people. Both countries’ regulatory bodies seek to limit the influence on young people of casinos.

In Spain, though, the rules are a lot more strict—operators only being able to broadcast audiovisual marketing between 1 and 5am. Irish operators may run their ads anytime.

When it comes to casino regulation specifically, then, Ireland is still somewhat of an outlier. There are very few land-based casinos in the country, and though we can expect further reforms to this legislation in the future, for now, casinos in Ireland are heavily regulated. Spanish casinos are, of course, regulated, but the fact is that casinos are more or less universally permitted, for licensed premises, across the country. Ireland, or at least Northern Ireland, still more or less lacks land-based casinos except in Dublin.

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