Last month, the Betting, Gaming, Lotteries and Amusements (Amendment) Bill entered the Northern Ireland Assembly and passed through the first stage to becoming law.
If it comes into force, the Bill will amend the Betting, Gaming, Lotteries and Amusements (Northern Ireland) Order 1985, and will introduce the most significant changes to gambling regulation in Northern Ireland in 35 years. As the name suggests, the Gambling Commission of Great Britain does not regulate gambling in Northern Ireland and, similarly, the Gambling Act 2005 does not apply to Northern Ireland. The Northern Ireland Communities Minister, Deirdre Hargey, said that reform of the current 1985 legislation was “long overdue”.
The proposed changes follow a public consultation, from which it was determined that the public were comfortable with relaxing some of the current restrictions on gambling, so long as the government and the gambling industry were sufficiently engaged in dealing with problem gambling. In its overview of the Bill, it was stated that the Bill’s overarching objective is to “address a number of specific anomalies with regard to the current regulation of land based betting, gaming, lottery and amusement activities. It is also designed to strengthen existing regulatory protections for operators and consumers as well as young people and those who may be vulnerable to gambling harm”.
In particular, high-street betting shops and bingo clubs will be allowed to open on Sundays and Bank Holidays. In addition, a new statutory levy on operators will be introduced, with the money raised being used to fund responsible gambling initiatives and treatment of problem gambling.
The Bill will also require updated Codes of Practice to be issued, which deal with procedures for ensuring that gambling is conducted in a fair and open way, protecting children and other vulnerable people from being harmed or exploited by gambling, and making assistance available to people who are or may be affected by problems related to gambling. Rules around cheating and prize competitions will also be updated.
If it comes into force, the Bill will represent the first stage of changes to the system. The second phase, which is not the focus at the moment, will deal with the regulation of online gambling. It is expected that this next phase will require a much longer timescale for implementation, given the need to draft an extensive set of new regulations.