Northern Ireland’s Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey has said that the local government will start a review of gambling legislation in the comings weeks. This will be the first time in over three decades that Northern Ireland’s gambling laws will come under review.
The government has planned a two-stage legislative update with the first phase seeing the introduction of a mandatory code of practice alongside a statutory levy for all operators in the province.
A statutory levy for all gambling operators has been proposed throughout the UK following a suggestion by responsible gambling charities YGAM and GambleAware. The proposal was made following the UK’s review of the 2005 Gambling Act.
Northern Ireland’s proposed new legislation will also make it a punishable offence to allow children to use gaming machines while the revised laws will see a new definition for cheating that will include attempted cheating.
Bookmakers are also expected to be allowed to open on Sundays and Good Friday following a 2019 public survey that revealed that 66% of the public approved of such a move.
The second phase of legislation will be rolled out in the coming months and is expected to include rules and regulations that specifically address online gaming.
Speaking of the new legislation Minister Hargey said:
“Gambling legislation has remained largely unchanged since it was enacted thirty-five years ago. As a result, gambling regulation here has not kept pace with industry and technological changes. In my view change is long overdue.
It is clear from our consultation that people are content for some of the existing legal constraints on gambling to be relaxed. But they also believe that government, the gambling industry and others need to do much more to prevent, control and combat problem gambling.
The pragmatic approach I am taking will mean that we deliver some much needed change in the short term, while simultaneously ensuring that complex areas of regulation and online gambling are given the time and consideration they need.”
Northern Ireland’s gambling laws had previously been lambasted by the All-Party Group on Reducing Harm Related to Gambling with chairperson Robbie Butler calling the 1985 laws ‘obsolete’.
In a 2020 interview with local newspaper Belfast Live Butler said:
“While we recognise that for many gambling can be fun and a way to socialise, it can adversely impact the health and wellbeing of individuals and families.
“One of our first tasks will be to hold an inquiry into how we need to reform Northern Ireland’s obsolete gambling legislation. Mobile communications mean that almost everyone has instant access to online gambling.
“However, this aspect of the industry is largely unregulated as the relevant legislation – the Betting, Gaming, Lotteries and Amusements (Northern Ireland) Order 1985 – pre-dates the internet.”
Since then, the Northern Ireland Assembly opened an inquiry into gambling legislation reform that included in-depth analysis of gambling-related harm in society and public surveys on the topic. The surveys found that there was considerable public support for gambling reform with 60% of those surveyed agreeing that all forms of gambling advertising should be banned outright.
This week’s announcement follows a similar move south of the border with Irish Senators recently debating the launch date of a new Irish gambling regulator in the Republic of Ireland.
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