The Betting, Gaming, Lotteries and Amusements (Amendment) Bill has passed and entered the Northern Ireland Assembly. This marks the first of a seven-step process that must be completed before the amendment expires in 2022.
If the Bill is approved by Stormont, it will bring about significant changes in the supervision of gambling in Northern Ireland in 35 years, changing the Order of 1985 to betting, gambling, lotteries, and entertainment.
The proposed changes were led by Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey, who announced the proposals in May. The main significant changes made to the provincial regulations will be that betting shops and bingo clubs will be able to open on Sundays and holidays, including Good Friday. Also, all gambling contracts will be enforceable by law should the Bill pass through the Stormont.
So far, there is no mention of online gambling in the project, but that has yet to come in a second phase, as Minister Hargey says it requires a longer time frame to address a regulatory framework concerning online gambling.
“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 the industry and technological changes. In my view change is long overdue” Hagley explained.
Hargey also commented:
“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.
An updated Code of Practice will also be implemented, the main focus of which will be to ensure that gambling is conducted fairly, offering protection to those under 18 and assisting those affected by gambling-related issues.
The minimum age to play any form of gambling machine will be set at 18 years, and it will be an offense to any licensed operator or hosting location (e.g. pubs) to allow any underage person to use these products.