Northern Ireland Gambling Laws to be Reformed

Northern Ireland FlagIt’s been a long time coming, but after more than three decades ministers in Northern Ireland are finally reforming the country’s antiquated gambling laws.

Amazingly, it had not been an offence for operators to permit children to play gambling machines up until this point, but now that will be considered a crime.

Betting shops and bingo halls will be allowed to open on Sundays and bank holidays, and a new code of conduct will be introduced that will look to raise the standard of gambling sites and casinos in Ireland.

The new rule changes also touch upon cheating – now, attempted cheating in a gambling context will be considered a crime, while operators may yet be imposed with a statutory levy. In England, the levy is a tax that betting firms pay which then gets re-invested into various projects, which include the horse racing industry and research/treatment for problem gambling.

It is still uncertain as to whether Northern Ireland will create its own independent regulator like the UK Gambling Commission, but for now the new legislative motions will be introduced in the Assembly for ministers to discuss.

Deirdre Hargey, the communities minister who has overseen the changes, said that reform was ‘long overdue’ and was hoping to accelerate the plans through Assembly to ensure that the gambling industry was regulated appropriately at a time of technological evolution.

The overall theme of the regulatory changes is for some legislative constraints to be relaxed, and so the overall picture is one of positivity for both players and operators.

However, Hargey warned that her government and the wider gambling industry ‘needs to do much more’ to tackle problem gambling in the country.

In the future, a second phase of regulatory reform would overhaul online gambling laws from top to bottom.

Why Does Northern Ireland Have Different Gambling Laws to the UK?

Stormont Parliament House in Belfast
Credit: SCPhotog / bigstock

The individual countries of the United Kingdom have what is known as ‘devolved’ power – that is, they can opt to follow the UK’s rules on various things or instead create their own laws.

The Northern Irish government has implemented many of their own regulations for decades, and their gambling law – known as the Betting, Gaming, Lotteries & Amusements Order – hasn’t been amended since 1985.

The world has changed a lot since then, of course, and the way in which gamers access their favourite casino titles has also moved largely online – not something that legislation from the eighties truly deals with.

Scotland and Wales adopted the UK’s overall update – the Gambling Act – in 2005, however Northern Irish rule-makers have decided to go their own way….until now.

The UK Gambling Commission is the independent body that is tasked with upholding the law in England and some of the devolved nations, however Northern Ireland has opted not to fall in line – their betting regulation is overseen by a complex network of councils, courts and ministers.

That could change, with the potential of a dedicated regulator, amid concern about the online gambling landscape in NI. Right now, there are licensing loopholes and offshore operators can offer their games to players in Northern Ireland without the threat of prohibition.

There is a need for clarity, too, given that land-based casino gaming is banned and yet online gaming is not.