Bill Seeking Major Reforms in the Northern Ireland’s Gambling Industry Proceeds to Further Consideration Stage

Daniel Williams

A bill seeking to bring reforms to gambling in Northern Ireland by replacing the existing legislation was officially introduced in the Assembly in September 2021.

The proposed bill is to replace the original gambling legislation from 1985 and earlier this week was presented to the Committee for Communities for review as part of the so-called “consideration stage”. After a number of amendments were added, the bill is to further advance to the next stage, while Northern Ireland is getting closer to finally making the much-awaited changes to its gambling industry.

The proposed bill, which is called the Betting, Gaming, Lotteries and Amusements (Amendment) Bill, has been specially designed to enhance the existing regulatory protections for gambling companies and customers. As Casino Guardian previously reported, it seeks to bring some changes to the already existing rules, including the suspension on Sunday trading by local bookmakers and seeks to make sure that gambling contracts are enforced in the sector.

Several years ago, in 2019, more than half of the respondents in a survey (66%) suggested that the office hours of Irish bookmakers should be relaxed. The majority of the survey participants also said that bookmakers should be given permission to open on Sundays. If the proposed piece of legislation gets Irish lawmakers’ approval, these changes would be implemented on the gambling market of Northern Ireland.

Apart from that, the bill will also provide the country’s Government with the right to tax the gambling industry, permit bingo operations without the requirements of club membership. It will also allow local bookmakers to start offering so-called betting pools in their shops across Northern Ireland. Under the provisions of the bill, the use of gaming machines by underage individuals is set to be criminalised.

The Proposed Gambling Amendment Bill Faces No Serious Challenges so Far

The proposed piece of legislation is part of the plan for larger and more comprehensive gambling reform in Northern Ireland. After more than 30 years without any major upgrades brought to the existing gambling legislation, local lawmakers are finally set to introduce some changes in two phases, as they wanted to make the transition to the new rules smoother.

So far, the bill has not faced any serious challenges. The chair of the Communities Committee, Paula Bradley, has confirmed that the Committee supports the major elements of the bill, including the planned legal enforcements of gambling contracts. Ms Bradley also noted that the Committee also supports the planned removal of restrictions regarding promotional offers and prizes. Furthermore, she said that most of the Committee members also backed the idea of some gambling activities being allowed in local bookmakers’ outlets on Sundays.

The gambling bill, however, has not initially included all the items the Communities Committee, and others, have asked for, such as a home-grown strategy aimed at reducing gambling-related harm.

The establishment of a gambling regulatory body has also been required as an addition to the existing police enforcement, with the idea being backed by Northern Ireland’s Minister for Communities Deirdre Hargey.

The proposed piece of gambling legislation is now heading for further consideration. It will have to pass through a couple of more stages, called “further consideration” and the “final stages” and if it receives all necessary approvals, the bill will be then be signed into law through Royal Assent. For the time being, no schedule for the completion of the process has been announced.

Daniel Williams

Daniel Williams has started his writing career as a freelance author at a local paper media. After working there for a couple of years and writing on various topics, he found his interest for the gambling industry.

Daniel Williams

Author: Dale Alvarez