Northern Ireland gambling bill passes consideration stage

Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland

The bill proposes the first overhaul of Northern Irish gambling legislation for almost four decades.

UK.- Northern Ireland’s Betting, Gaming, Lotteries and Amusements (Amendment) Bill has passed the consideration stage at the Northern Irish Assembly with the clock ticking towards elections in May.

Some legislators said they would have preferred the Bill to be a “full and modern replacement” rather than an amendment of prior legislation but generally supported the Bill’s key elements.

The assembly’s Committee for Communities has recommended that the Department of Communities now carry out research to calculate the size of the Bill’s proposed betting levy. It also called for research to define the roles and responsibilities of a new gambling regulator for Northern Ireland.

Committee for Communities chairperson Paula Bradley MLA said: “The Committee is generally supportive of key elements of the Bill, including the legal enforcement of gambling contracts and the removal of restrictions on promotional prizes and offerings.”

She added: “The majority of the Committee were supportive of allowing bookmakers and bingo halls to operate on Sundays and Good Friday. Throughout our deliberations, it was important to us all that this legislation would strike the right balance between supporting the industry while protecting children and enhancing support for those at risk from gambling.

“We are therefore pleased that age restrictions regarding access to gaming machines have now been set at 18 and that it will now be an offence for operators to allow minors to play gaming machines. However, we remain concerned that the absence of a regulator means that there is no clear structure or resource for monitoring and enforcement.”

Legislators also stressed that Northern Ireland must follow closely the developments in the British government’s current review of gambling legislation and must liaise with the British government since many gamblers in Northern Ireland use online gambling services offered in Britain.

Northern Ireland’s new gambling bill

The Minister for Communities Deirdre Hargey presented the new gambling Bill to the legislature in September as the first stage of a planned overhaul of gambling regulations that remain largely unchanged since the introduction of the Betting, Gaming, Lotteries and Amusements (Northern Ireland) Order 1985.

The Bill proposes new regulatory controls with a mandatory Code of Practice for operators and the introduction of a betting levy to fund problem gambling research, education and treatment. It would also allow retail betting shops to open on Sundays and bank holidays, including Good Friday.

The Committee for Communities has called for the Department for the Economy to publish guidance on safeguards for staff with regards to working additional days. 

There’s no mention of online gambling in the Bill – that’s still to come in a second phase since Hargey says it requires a longer timescale in order to implement a regulatory framework for the sector.

The Bill will now pass to the further consideration stage and the final stage before it can be sent for Royal Assent.

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