Big Changes for Northern Ireland’s Gambling Laws

The luck of the Irish may very well be coming into play; there are changes afoot for gambling in Northern Ireland. Like a lot of the rest of the world, the country is now realizing that reform is necessary given the current gambling climate, online offshore options, and outdated laws from a time long since past.

With new legislative directives to be put before the Assembly imminently, Northern Ireland is about to get their very own updated gambling laws that reflect the times.

From the past…

Northern Ireland gambling is mainly governed by The Betting, Gaming, Lotteries & Amusements (NI) Order 1985 (“the 1985 Order”). While Great Britain is governed by the Gambling Act 2005, this is not the case in Northern Ireland, and things were a lot different in 2005 than they were in 1985. Not only that, the 1985 Order is based on older legislation from the 50s and beyond.

If you take a brief step back through history, you’ll come acquainted with the fact that casinos (including slots) were around back in the 80s, as was horse racing, and other forms of betting. However, what we were yet to come across in the 80s was personal computing and even computers in many businesses.

These days, we have so much power in our pockets. But not only that, gambling providers can be very exact in their measurements, with complex algorithms powering odds, payouts, features, and more. What worked in the 80s is no longer relevant in 2021 – which is why lawmakers are getting ready to overhaul the gambling laws.

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What’s been done already?

In 2016, the Department for Communities published their special survey, the Northern Ireland Gambling Prevalence Survey, as an update following their 2010 edition. The findings indicated that around two-thirds of Northern Irelanders gambled in the past 12 months and that the rate of problem gambling remained steady, at 2.3% of the popular. The survey also concluded that opinions towards gambling were becoming more positive – up to 33.3% from 26.7% in 2010.

Then, back in 2019, the Department for Communities (DfC) launched a consultation with the public and other stakeholders on the effectiveness of the current legislation in the country.

The results?

  • 63% of respondents thought the law should change to allow casinos in Northern Ireland
  • 66% thought bookmaker hours should be relaxed, particularly around allowing them to operate on Sundays
  • 68% believed the £1 stake limit on society lotteries should be scrapped
  • 93% were in favor of establishing a regulatory body for gambling in Northern Ireland
  • 54% thought there should be more regulation surrounding online gambling

Following the results of this consultation, Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey announced in May 2021 that reform was coming to the archaic laws, under a proposed two-phase approach.

In her announcement, the minister outlined the distinct changes coming in. “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.”

Phase one includes items like:

  • Making it illegal for children to use gambling machines
  • Imposing a levy on gambling operators
  • Establishing a code of practice for license holders
  • Making gambling contracts enforceable
  • Removing restrictions on promotional prizes
  • Letting bookmakers operate on Sundays and Good Friday.
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Phase two will take a lot longer to compose, however, phase one legislation is due before Assembly imminently, and will likely pass quickly. This is set to prove a breath of fresh air to the Northern Irish, as they will be able to gamble with greater trust, as well as place bets on the day during big sporting days. Being able to place bets on the UEFA Euro Cup on Sundays will be a breath of fresh air for gambling and sports fans alike, for instance.

Phase two

While phase two is going to be perhaps the more interesting part of the legislation that’s created – rather than the simple “must-haves” – suggested changes are likely to be debated for some time. This will likely involve looking to Great Britain and other countries in their governing of challenging areas like online gambling.

In the meantime, the Northern Irish, like much of the world, will continue to gamble online through offshore operators. Operators continue to offer no deposit bonuses for Irish players and other similarly attractive deals for players.

The changes coming in phase two are likely to take quite some time to develop.

You can keep tabs on what’s happening in the Northern Ireland Assembly to check when gambling business is debated.

 

 

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