Northern Ireland to Overhaul Its 35-Year-Old Gambling Laws

The lawmakers of Northern Ireland have recently announced a major overhaul of the existing gambling laws that have been in place for 35 years. Namely, the Betting, Gaming, Lotteries & Amusements (NI) Order 1985, which currently regulates gambling in the state, does not keep up with the industry’s technological advancements and overall changes. That is why the Department for Communities has luckily acknowledged the dire need for improvement.

A completely new regulatory framework is expected to be presented to the legislators by Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey in the upcoming weeks, one that has been long in the making. 

In fact, in 2019, the Department carried out a consultation on the gambling laws that recorded close to 400 responses and found that an independent regulator, like the United Kingdom Gambling Commission, is absolutely necessary if the industry is going to go forward. 

Let’s see what kind of an impact these new laws might have and what type of changes can be expected. 

Two-Phase Approach 

Deirdre Hargey, the Communities Minister, has stated the change will come in two phases in developing new standards and laws. In the first phase, they will address 17 key areas, which are most likely to have the biggest impact on the country’s current state of the gambling industry. 

Some of the most notable changes deal with protecting vulnerable groups from the negative impact of gambling. The legislation will create new offences in connection to allowing children access to gaming machines. It will also include attempted cheated under the definition of cheating and impose sanctions for the offence. 

As far as the relationship with the gambling operators is concerned, we will see significant changes in the first phase. For example, the law will grant powers needed to create a statutory levy on gambling operators and establish a mandatory code of practice these licensed operators will have to abide by. Also, all gambling contracts will become enforceable in law. 

On the other hand, phase one is also supposed to bring some leniency to the existing provisions. In other words, it will permit sports betting shops and bingo clubs to open on Good Fridays and Sundays, which is in line with the wishes of over 66% of all respondents in the consultation.

The second phase of the proposed changes will not be so quickly implemented. It deals with online gambling and creating a viable framework for it, and considering that it is the most robust gambling arena of today, it is bound to require a lot of work. 

What Does the Future Hold for Online Gambling in Northern Ireland

Since the current gambling law in the country is completely outdated, players can access any offshore gambling sites that have not been regulated by the domestic courts and district councils serving as regulators at the moment. 

Also, no one can guarantee they have any licenses, which leads to concerns about the fairness of games and the overall security of players. Additional problems with these online gambling sites are the availability of roulette, blackjack, and poker games freely. These games are not even available in land-based casinos in Northern Ireland. 

It remains to be seen how the government will handle this situation and if the online gambling laws will sync with the 2005 Gambling Act in power in Great Britain, which too is under review.

Jun 30, 2021