For the first time in more than three decades, legislation to change Northern Ireland’s gambling rules has been tabled in the province’s assembly
With the introduction of the Betting, Gaming, Lotteries, and Amusements (Amendment) Bill, Northern Ireland’s gaming regulations might be revised. After being introduced in the country’s Assembly on Tuesday, September 14, the proposal passed its first stage, bringing the country one step closer to substantial gambling reform.
When Deirdre Hargey, the Minister for Communities, introduced the Bill this week, it cleared the first of seven stages on the way to becoming law.
Hargey, who was appointed to oversee the overhaul, feels that gaming regulation in Northern Ireland has fallen behind the industry’s progress.
She expresses: “Gambling legislation has remained largely unchanged since it was enacted 35 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.
“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.”
Minister Hargey has recommended a two-phased strategy to guarantee that the reforms are implemented quickly and that the Assembly’s present mandate is not disrupted.
The first phase will aim to make adjustments in 17 important areas, primarily related to land-based gaming, such as safeguarding minors and younger people and reducing operating hours.
In the meanwhile, the second phase will take longer and will involve a whole new regulatory structure for online gambling and gaming machines.
The measure must be enacted before the current Assembly mandate expires in 2022 in order to become law.
Hargey introduced the proposal earlier this year, which would create new offenses for enabling children to play gaming machines, as well as powers to levy a statutory fee on gambling operators and a required code of conduct for individuals with gambling licenses.
GambleAware and YGAM both highlighted statutory levies in their contributions to the Department of Digital Culture, Media and Sport’s (DCMS) Gambling Act review.
It is also planned to include laws allowing bookies to open on Sundays and Good Friday.
This was backed up by a public consultation in 2019, which found that 66% of respondents felt bookies’ office hours should be modified, and nearly all of them thought they should be permitted to open on Sundays.
The Department for Communities stated in an explanatory and financial memorandum released alongside the amendment bill that the law’s main goal is to solve a number of particular irregularities in the existing regulation of land-based betting, gaming, lottery, and entertainment activities.
It also aims to improve current regulatory safeguards for operators and customers, as well as young people and others who may be at risk from gambling-related damage.
The overhaul of Northern Irish betting and gaming regulations coincides with the review of the 2005 Gambling Act in Great Britain, currently overseen by newly appointed UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) Chair Marcus Boyle and DCMS Secretary Nadine Dorries, the latter of whom assumed her position this morning.
In the following days, members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) will discuss and vote on the bill’s broad principles before it moves to the committee stage. MLAs discuss and vote on the details of the bill, as well as any proposed modifications, before returning it to the Assembly. It must then be cleared by the Secretary of State, who will send it to the Queen for final Royal Assent if it passes.
Join us for the next SiGMA iGathering networking event in Barcelona on the 21st of September at 19:30. Indulge in a delish dinner at the El Restaurant Barceloneta while interacting with like-minded individuals as well as the region’s top industry leaders.