The Betting, Gaming, Lotteries and Amusements (Amendment) Bill passed the Northern Ireland Assembly yesterday, bringing the planned revamp of Northern Irish betting and gaming legislation one step closer.
The first step of the regulatory adjustment focuses on land-based businesses after passing the first stage. By altering the Betting, Gaming, Lotteries and Amusements (Northern Ireland) Order 1985, if fully passed through Stormont, the Bill will effect the most major reforms to Northern Irish gambling control in 35 years.
Following the appointment of Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey to supervise the revamp, betting and gaming companies, as well as hospitality businesses operating in Northern Ireland, were told to prepare for statutory changes to gambling legislation in May of this year.
High-street betting shops and bingo clubs will be allowed to open on Sundays and Bank Holidays, including Good Friday, as one of the most important modifications to the province’s legislation.
A statutory charge, similar to the Betting Levy in the United Kingdom, will be implemented, with funds going toward responsible gambling initiatives, problem gambling treatment, and community programmes.
An new Code of Practice will be adopted as well, with the major focus on ensuring that gaming is done fairly and openly, protecting under-18s, and providing assistance to persons who are affected by gambling-related disorders.
Changes to the pool betting system would also allow licenced bookmakers to accept bets on a pool betting business that is “linked to a pool betting business carried on by means of a totalisator at a licenced track.”
Customers will be able to place bets through the pool betting firm in licenced premises “on the same terms and conditions as if the bet were put through the totalisator at the licenced track concerned.”
When it comes to age regulations, the minimum age to play any type of gambling machine will be set at 18, and any licenced operator or hospitality facility – such as pubs – that allows anyone under this age to use these items will be breaking the law.
Finally, if the Bill passes through Stormont, gambling contracts would be enforced by law, and the term of cheating will be widened to encompass attempted cheating on any betting, casino, or lottery product, as well as supporting or enabling another person to cheat.
The formation of an obligatory code of practise, the broadening of business hours, and the introduction of a statutory tax would be the key focus of the Bill, according to Hagley, who revealed the scope of the reform in May.
The Minister did note, however, that the second phase will take much longer to complete because it will cover a regulatory framework for internet gaming.
“Gambling legislation has remained largely unchanged since it was enacted thirty-five years ago,” Hagley explained. “As a result, gambling regulation here has not kept pace with industry and technological changes. In my view change is long overdue.”