Northern Ireland gambling laws to be reformed

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The first “significant changes” in 35 years will be made to gambling laws in Northern Ireland.

Legislation to allow bookmakers to open on Sundays and Good Friday will be among the changes and it will also become an offence to permit children to play gaming machines.

Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey said legislative reform was “long overdue”.

The legislation will be introduced in the Assembly in the next few weeks.

A Department for Communities consultation on gambling laws carried out in 2019 found “strong support” for the creation of an independent gambling regulator for NI.

It received almost 400 responses. Unlike Great Britain, which has a gambling commission, NI does not.

The legislation will:

  • Create new offences in relation to allowing children to play gaming machines
  • Create powers to impose a statutory levy on gambling operators
  • Establish a mandatory code of practice for those holding gambling licenses
  • Broaden the definition of cheating to include attempted cheating
  • Make gambling contracts enforceable in law
  • Remove some of the restrictions on promotional prize competitions
  • Permit bookmakers and bingo clubs to open on Sundays and Good Friday

The minister has proposed a two phased approach in order to progress changes in the current Assembly mandate.

Ms Hargey said gambling regulation had not kept pace with industry and technological changes.

“It is clear from our consultation that people are content for some of the existing legal constraints on gambling to be relaxed,” she said.

However, she added that the consultation showed the public believes that “government, the gambling industry and others need to do much more to prevent, control and combat problem gambling”.

She said the first phase would deliver tangible changes in around 17 key areas.

Phase two will require a much longer timescale and will include a completely new regulatory framework which will regulate online gambling, including gaming machines.

She also recently announced that local voluntary groups and clubs will be able to raise vital funds by selling tickets online.

In Northern Ireland gambling (other than the National Lottery) is regulated under the Betting, Gaming, Lotteries & Amusements (NI) Order 1985 (“the Order”).

The legislation is “old and complex and has not kept pace with emerging technologies and other changes,” the DfC website explains.

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