Northern Ireland Gambling Reform 'Highly Unlikely' Before 2027

March 2, 2023
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The Northern Ireland All Party Group on Reducing Harm Related to Gambling predicts that the next phase of the country’s gambling reform will “take several years to complete”.

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The Northern Ireland All Party Group on Reducing Harm Related to Gambling (APG) predicts that the next phase of the country’s gambling reform will “take several years to complete”.

“Even assuming officials have had a chance to do the necessary groundwork to prepare legislative proposals and an Executive were formed tomorrow, it is highly unlikely that the legislation would make it through the Assembly in this mandate (i.e., by Q1 2027), given its complexity and scope,” a spokesperson for the APG told VIXIO GamblingCompliance.

Officials had indicated to the APG in early 2022 that ahead of the formation of a new Northern Ireland Executive (which was supposed to take place in May 2022), it would take at least 18 months before the Department for Communities (DfC), which oversees gambling policy, is in a position to consult on its legislative proposals.

"A period after this would then be needed to prepare the legislation before a bill is introduced to the Assembly," the APG said.

The changes, which were proposed before the Assembly ground to a halt over Brexit issues, would reform lottery rules to allow for pricier tickets and create new offences designed to prevent the underage use of gaming machines.

The bill would also allow the government to impose a statutory levy on gambling operators and issue a code of practice.

However, the bill has been deemed only the first step of wider reforms, ahead of what are expected to be major changes that will allow Northern Ireland to much more fully regulate online gambling.

Despite this long road to reform, the APG met for the second oral evidence session of its inquiry into public health approaches to tackling gambling-related harms on February 27.

Members of the APG heard from researchers Alexander Källman and Clare Wyllie, who founded Tackling Gambling Stigma in 2021.

Politicians were told that gambling-related harm can happen quickly and at low levels of expenditure, and that although trauma and other factors may be a route into gambling addiction, industry products and practices are the cause.

Källman and Wyllie then called on the government to publicly state that gambling is addictive and dangerous, just like it does with other addictions.

APG members also heard evidence from Martin Jones, former Gambling with Lives trustee, who said any potential gambling regulator in Northern Ireland should have a duty to prevent harm and to place a duty of care on gambling operators.

Extern Problem Gambling, a free gambling addiction helpline and counselling service available in Northern Ireland and Ireland, called it “another excellent evidence session”.

“Gambling harm is not about 'vulnerable' or 'flawed' people misusing harmless gambling products. It is about harmful gambling products, which are designed to be addictive, and their impact on individuals, families and communities,” Extern Problem Gambling said.

On February 13, the APG held its first session, including speakers from the Institute of Public Health (IPH).

All-party groups are informal groups of members of the Legislative Assembly, Northern Ireland’s legislature, with a common interest in specific issues.

Northern Ireland, although part of the UK, is not covered by the Gambling Act and does not fall under the jurisdiction of the Gambling Commission.

At the time of writing, VIXIO was waiting for the DfC to reply to comment on the situation.

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