Northern Ireland Planning Major Gambling Legislation Changes

  • Current gambling legislation in Northern Ireland has been in place for over 35 years
  • Lawmakers will take a two-phase approach to the reforms
  • Retail sportsbooks and bingo halls will be able to open on Sundays and Good Friday in phase one
  • The second phase will focus on creating an online gambling framework
  • The UK government is in the process of reviewing its gambling legislation from 2005
Northern Ireland map with pin on Belfast
Northern Ireland lawmakers are to begin work on a two-phase overhaul of the country’s gambling legislation. [Image:]

Long overdue

Lawmakers in Northern Ireland are planning to overhaul the region’s gambling legislation. The Northern Ireland Executive revealed on Thursday that Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey will be in charge of leading this regulatory reform of the gambling laws that have been in place for more than 35 years.

going to take a two-phase approach to develop the new standards and laws

Hargey outlined how she is going to take a two-phase approach to develop the new standards and laws. Before these measures become law, the Northern Ireland Assembly will need to give their approval.

The initial phase

The first phase of the process will see a focus on ensuring that proper safeguards are in place to prevent children and young people from engaging in gambling. This phase will also look to create more transparency regarding how gambling businesses operate.

Hargey spoke about how the initial phase would help to “establish a mandatory code of practice for those holding gambling licenses.” In all, 17 key areas will be examined during this first step. The Northern Ireland Assembly is also planning to introduce a statutory levy for all gambling operators.

For land-based facilities, changes will allow licensed bingo clubs and retail sportsbooks to open on Good Friday and every Sunday. A public consultation from 2019 found that 66% of respondents were in favor of relaxing restrictions on retail sportsbooks opening hours, including allowing them to open on Sundays. Restrictions on promotional prize competitions could also be removed.

A need for change

Speaking about the reasoning behind reforming gambling legislation in Northern Ireland, Hargey said: “gambling regulation here has not kept pace with industry and technological changes. In my view change is long overdue.”

more complex areas of legislation will “be given the time and consideration they need”

The Northern Ireland Executive is confident that all of the objectives in phase one will be deliverable in the near future. It did note, however, that the second phase would likely need a more long-term approach. A big focus of the second phase would be on creating a framework for online gambling. Therefore, Hargey confirmed that areas of immediate concern will be addressed in the short term, while more complex areas of legislation will “be given the time and consideration they need.”

The news of these legislative reforms comes at a time when the UK government is conducting a similar process. The review of the 2005 Gambling Act in the UK began in December and is still ongoing. Legislators received feedback from a wide range of stakeholders and the general public on potential changes. It is now in the process of discussing what new reforms should come into place. The idea is to bring the region’s gambling legislation in line with the digital age.

The government in the Republic of Ireland is also looking to make significant gambling-related reforms by the end of 2021. It already made some amendments to the Gaming and Lotteries Act in January.

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