A new gambling authority will be given power to impose a levy on all licensed gambling facilities, under new laws planned by the Government.

In a significant policy shift, the Government has decided to set up an independent statutory authority instead of having a gambling control office within the Department of Justice.

The new body will also have powers to enter and seize documents and computers from licensed operators for any suspected breaches of the new legislation.

Outlining the plans on RTÉ’s This Week programme, Minister of State at the Department of Justice, David Stanton said he hoped the legislation might be enacted by the end of the year.

The Minister said the new authority will be given powers to grant licences and to have oversight of how operators comply with the legislation.

Mr Stanton said the authority would be able to seek background checks and reports from the gardaí on any persons applying for licences to operate a gambling facility.

On the issue of so-called "secret shoppers" - getting people to access gambling facilities undercover - to assess if they are complying with the law, especially age limits, the minister said the new authority will be able to do this.

"I have no difficulty with that at all, I would encourage it," he said.

The levy, the details of which will be decided in the coming months, will be used to establish a separate Social Gambling Fund that will be used to help provide treatment for problem gamblers and also to fund research into problem gambling.

Mr Stanton said the legislation is quite technical and will need to take account of the growth in online gambling and virtual casinos.

Originally, it was intended to limit the number of casinos to 40 and to cap the number of tables in any one casino at 15.

According to Mr Stanton, this will now have to be revisited particularly in light of technology advances. A working group is due to report on various options by the summer recess.

It is also intended to have limitations on advertising of gambling, especially with regard to young people.

But, he said, there are some challenges in this area as many TV channels providing gambling services were beamed into this country from overseas.

However, the Minister said it might be difficult to ban gambling operators from engaging in sports sponsorship as many clubs rely on this source for funding.