Northern Irish Bill Approval Is 'First Step' Of Legal Overhaul

March 9, 2022
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Northern Ireland’s new gambling bill was set to overcome its final legislative hurdles before becoming law on Tuesday, with more changes planned.

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Northern Ireland’s new gambling bill was set to overcome its final legislative hurdles before becoming law on Tuesday (March 8), with more changes planned.

Communities minister Deirdre Hargey announced she would be completing the passage of the Betting, Gaming, Lotteries and Amusements (Amendment) Bill on Tuesday morning.

The bill is the first in a two-stage approach to reforming the country’s gambling laws, with a second piece of legislation expected to tackle online gambling more directly.

The amendment bill reforms lottery rules to allow for pricier tickets and creates new offences designed to prevent underage use of gaming machines.

It also creates the ability for the government to impose a statutory levy on gambling operators and issue a code of practice.

Gambling contracts will be considered enforceable under law once the changes come into effect and bookmakers and bingo clubs will also, for the first time, be allowed to open on Sundays.

“Today sees the bill complete its legislative passage through the Assembly,” said Hargey.

“It will improve protection for children and … provides the creation of enabling powers to allow for a levy to be imposed on the industry, as well as codes of practice.”

However, the minister characterised the bill as only the first step, ahead of what she expected to be major reforms that will allow Northern Ireland to much more fully regulate online gambling.

The government said it wants to create a “comprehensive legislative framework capable of regulating the online gambling industry wherever it is based and above all putting consumer safety at its heart”.

Currently, online operators cannot advertise in Northern Ireland unless they hold a licence for Great Britain with the Gambling Commission, even though its remit does not technically extend to the country.

Northern Ireland sits outside the purview of the UK Gambling Act and the Gambling Commission.

Existing gambling legislation dates back to 1985 and officials have said it needs a major overhaul to address the now widespread use of internet gambling.

“Every journey starts with the first step, and this bill is the first step in a huge programme of reform of the gambling industry here, with more change to come in the next phase,” said Hargey.

Much like in Westminster, which is preparing to reform its 2005 Gambling Act, political pressure groups in Stormont are pushing for tough measures for online operators.

Members of the NI Assembly All Party Group (APG) on Reducing Harm Related To Gambling are calling for £100 monthly affordability thresholds and for all gambling websites to be accessed via a single sign-on portal to help track players.

The group published a report with 38 recommendations in November.

APG chair Robbie Butler said at the time of its release: “Northern Ireland has the highest incidence of problem gambling in these islands. Despite this, we have no gambling regulator, no Health and Social Care treatment services for gambling related harm and no mandatory education programmes in our schools on the dangers of gambling.”

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