WITH its rugged green countryside, historic castles, and rich culture, Ireland has become a popular tourist destination in the modern era. Home to a boisterous and fun-loving people, the Emerald Isle has plenty to offer a traveler looking to have a good time.
With its famous pubs stocked with whiskey, Guinness, and other dry stouts, Ireland is also known for its gambling action. Horse racing and greyhound racing are an integral part of Irish life.
As a tourist in Ireland, you have multiple options when it comes to gambling including the following:
- Horse racing and greyhound racing
- Other local sportsbooks
- Irish national lotteries
- Private gaming clubs, (AKA informal casinos)
- Online casinos
As you can see, you have multiple options in Ireland if you like games of chance, and the best part is this they're all completely legal.
Now let’s take a deeper look at the history of gambling in Ireland, the evolution of its gambling laws, and what you can expect from each of these forms of gambling when you visit the country.
A Brief History of Gambling in Ireland
Like their neighbours across the sea to the east, the Irish have a long association with gambling. The English affection for betting may be more famous, but the Irish are no slouches when it comes to wagering and games of chance!
Dice and beads made of glass and bones have been found at many ancient historical sites in the Island, and experts feel that they may have been used for gambling. What we do know for certain is that even if gambling was not around in pre-Christian Ireland, it certainly arrived when the English conquered the island in the 17th-century.
Horse racing became popular, and soon, other games of chance like blackjack and roulette also made it Ireland thanks to the British. There were no major regulations governing gambling here, at least until the 20th century.
Major Gambling Laws in Ireland
The first gambling laws were passed shortly after the Irish independence, beginning with the Betting Act in 1926. The Totalisator Act followed in 1929, followed by revisions to the Betting Act in the 1930s.
Perhaps the biggest laws pertaining to gambling was passed after the Second World War, in 1956 - called the Gaming and Lotteries Act. Along with the Betting Act, this law created the basic regulations related to all forms of gambling in Ireland. Also, it made casinos illegal, a situation which continues down to this day.
With the rise of slot machines, the Financial Act was passed in the 1970s and 1991 to regulate their business. A National Lottery was established in the 1980s as the government looked for new ways to fund social services.
The status of casinos in Ireland in 2020
Casinos are illegal in Ireland, as per the 1956 laws on gambling and betting. Unlike in the UK, there are no land-based casinos in Ireland, at all. But betting establishments do exist, thanks to a loophole in the laws.
While casinos and other gambling establishments open to the public are banned, private clubs are allowed to provide betting machines and tables to members. This has led to the rise of around 12 so-called “private gambling clubs” in the country.
For all practical purposes, these are small land-based casinos, filled with poker rooms, roulette and blackjack tables, and slot machines. The only difference is a small formality - all visitors must become members of the club. Membership is free and just an excuse to stay legal under the law!
Seven of these casinos are located in the national capital Dublin, while others can be found in major cities like Limerick, Dundalk, and Cork. Timings vary depending on the club, and entry is open only to adults above 18 years of age. Dress code is usually business casual, or it can even be formal depending on the operator.
Sports betting in Ireland
Betting on horse racing continues to be one of the biggest sources of revenue for the Irish gambling industry. You can place bets on sporting events and races through many channels. In the past, it was restricted to licensed local sportsbooks and betting counters at racecourses.
But in 2015, an Amendment to the Betting Act was passed, which legalized online sportsbooks, including those based outside Ireland in foreign lands. As long as they apply for a license and follow the laws, offshore sportsbooks can provide betting markets to Irish customers.
Options in the sports betting market in Ireland include betting shops from local brands like BoyleSports, as well as big international bookies like Paddy Power, Coral, Betfair, and Ladbrokes. After horse racing, the most popular sports for betting include football (soccer), Gaelic football, and golf.
Lotteries in Ireland
You can play three types of lottery games in Ireland as of 2020 - Lotto, EuroMillions, Daily Million, all hosted by the Irish National Lottery since 1987. You can also buy scratchcards, take part in raffles, and play TV bingo games hosted by the National Lottery in Ireland.
Though it started as a national agency owned by the government, the National Lottery has gone private in recent years due to financial issues. The Lottery Act was amended in 2013 to allow private ownership through a licensing system. It also allowed for the sale of online lottery tickets to increase revenues.
Online Gambling sites in Ireland
Along with online sportsbooks, online casino gambling was also legalized in Ireland in this last decade. This means that while land casinos are formally banned, you can play all the same games like blackjack, poker, roulette and baccarat online while you are in Ireland, fully legal.
Since Irish law allows both local and offshore operators to apply for a license, there are tons of sites of offering casino games in Ireland. These include operators based in the nearby UK, as well as other EU gambling hotspots like Malta.
You will find a comprehensive guide to the best online casinos in Ireland listed here. As long as you sign into a licensed online casino, you should have a smooth and enjoyable gambling session, devoid of any trouble.
Future of Gambling in Ireland
Ever since 2013, the Government has been attempting to modernise the gambling system in Ireland. Several bills have been tabled in the last 6-7 years, and the 2019 version of the Gaming and Lotteries Act was passed recently. These reforms aim to bring these changes to the Irish gambling ecosystem, among other things:
- Create a uniform age limit of 18 for all gambling services
- Create a central regulatory authority, like the UK Gambling Commission
- Upgrade the licensing system for online gambling and sportsbooks
- Legalize land-based casinos
Though progress has been slow, there are indications that we can expect positive changes to appear in 2020. But for the moment, tourists and locals alike have plenty of gambling options to keep them merrily occupied in Ireland!