Deirdre Hargey, Northern Ireland’s Minister for Communities, has presented the Betting, Gaming, Lotteries and Amusements (Amendment) Bill to the Northern Ireland Assembly. The Bill had its second reading on 27 September, marking the second of a seven-step process that must be completed before the amendment expires in 2022.
Northern Ireland gambling law is contained in the Betting, Gaming, Lotteries and Amusements (Northern Ireland) Order 1985 (the 1985 Order). The 1985 Order is broadly modelled on much older law from Great Britain (the Betting, Gaming and Lotteries Act 1963, the Gaming Act 1968 and the Lotteries and Amusements Act 1976).
The Explanatory Memorandum states that the overarching objective of the Bill 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.
At the second reading, minister Deirdre Hargey said:
‘I recognise that many people are impatient to see a more radical reform of gambling laws. There will be those, perhaps, who believe that I should take a far more stringent line on the gambling industry in general. I completely understand those concerns. However, I also believe that the Bill offers a balance between what needs to be done now and what is realistic in the remaining time of the Assembly. It offers a balance between what is fair to the responsible operator and what is right and necessary to manage the risks that are associated with gambling.
‘Importantly for me, the Bill is also a chance for the Assembly to do more for all volunteers, charities and support groups that work in the community, not least the individual charities and NGOs that do so much to assist and care for people who are dealing with the crisis and consequences of problem gambling.’
When asked about the absence of any reference to internet gambling or fixed terminals, the Minister said:
‘The reality is that it will take much longer — a whole Assembly term next time round — to change the full framework of gambling here and, in particular, to look at online gambling and the impacts of that. We need to do more research and consultation on those issues.’
The Department launched a public consultation in December 2019 on the regulation of gambling in Northern Ireland. The consultation which ran until February 2020, sought the public’s views on the appropriateness of existing gambling law. The consultation did not contain any proposals but sought views from interested individuals and organisations on whether any changes to the law could be made in the future to allow a more flexible and modern framework to develop.
Responses to the consultation supported the need for modernisation of the existing laws, including greater regulation of gambling, including on-line gambling. Responses also supported the need for more protection of vulnerable groups (especially children) from problem gambling, while there was a majority response in support of the removal of some restrictions on gambling, including permitting casinos to operate, the relaxation of bookmaker and bingo club opening hours including Sunday opening and some increase to statutory limits on stakes and prizes.
A report on the results of the consultation and a summary of the responses received can be found on the Department’s website Consultation on Regulation of Gambling in Northern Ireland | Department for Communities (communities-ni.gov.uk).