The Northern Ireland All Party Group (APG) on Reducing Harm Related to Gambling has met for the first oral evidence session of its inquiry into public health approaches to tackling gambling-related harms.
Joanna Purdy and Helen McAvoy of the Institute of Public Health (IPH) gave talks on the importance of a population-level public health approach that seeks to protect the well-being of the entire population at the evening on Monday (February 13), according to a press release published by the APG.
“They made a series of recommendations, including a prevention-first approach, cross-government mandate and inter-departmental support to ensure policy coherence within health, communities, justice and also finance and a focus on reducing inequalities and protecting vulnerable groups,” according to the APG.
Prominent British gambling campaigner Matt Zarb-Cousin of Gamban and Clean Up Gambling told the APG that despite gambling participation remaining relatively constant, public losses have increased.
Zarb-Cousin added that “younger age groups tend to engage in higher-risk and more frequent gambling. This is compounded by the prevalence of online gambling, and easy access via smartphones,” the APG said.
Members of the APG also discussed the importance of protecting children and young people, data collection and a potential public awareness campaign to prevent gambling-related harms.
The session is available to view online. The next oral evidence session is scheduled for February 27 and will take place virtually.
A call for written evidence opened on December 13 and closed on February 3. A set of policy recommendations, based on the written and oral evidence, will be produced.
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.
Last year, the Department for Communities (DFC), which oversees gambling regulation in Northern Ireland, provided VIXIO with an update on its plans to reform gambling laws in the country.
A DFC spokesperson added in July 2022: “The Betting, Gaming, Lotteries and Amusements Act 2022 made some minor amendments to the 1985 Betting, Gaming, Lotteries and Amusements Order that came into force on 26 April 2022. Sections 7,13, 15 & 16 will come into operation at a future date to be decided.”
Since the DFC update, broader political issues with the country’s legislature have resurfaced, largely centred around the post–Brexit implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol, meaning it cannot continue other businesses as normal. There have, therefore, been no updates on gambling policy reforms since mid-2022.
The changes proposed before the Assembly that have ground to a halt would reform lottery rules to allow for pricier tickets and create new offences designed to prevent 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 reforms that will allow Northern Ireland to much more fully regulate online gambling.