Northern Ireland’s new gambling legislation receives royal assent

Northern Ireland's next phase of new legislation will address online gaming.

The Betting, Gaming, Lotteries and Amusements Bill has become law.

UK.- Northern Ireland’s Betting, Gaming, Lotteries and Amusements Bill has become law after receiving royal assent. It’s the first significant update to Northern Irish gambling legislation since the Betting, Gaming, Lotteries and Amusements Order 1985.

The legislation is the first phase in a wider overhaul of regulations, with legislation on online gaming due to follow. The legislation introduces a levy on gaming licensees as well as a code of practice.

Meanwhile, the legislation makes it a criminal offence for under 18s to use a gaming machine, with a penalty of up to six months in prison. 

Betting shops will now be able to open on Sundays and on Good Friday, although they must still close on Christmas Day. That change comes after 66 per cent of respondents to a consultation in 2019 supported a relaxation in opening hours. 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. 

Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey said the bill “will improve protection for children and young people through the creation of a new offence of inviting, causing or permitting a young person under 18 years to play a high stakes gaming machine.”

She added: “The bill also provides increased opportunities for local charities, sports clubs and other voluntary groups to raise more money for good causes by increasing the maximum ticket price and simplifying the rules around deduction of expenses that apply to societies’ lotteries.”

At the consideration state, the Northern Ireland 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.

Hargey presented the new gambling Bill to the legislature in September as the first stage of a planned overhaul of gambling regulations. 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.

See also: Bookmakers claim illegal casinos “rife” in Northern Ireland

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