Gambling Reform in Northern Ireland Makes It Past Final Stage

Home » Gambling Reform in Northern Ireland Makes It Past Final Stage

Posted on: March 8, 2022, 06:29h. 

Last updated on: March 8, 2022, 01:29h.

Northern Ireland lawmakers pushed a gambling reform bill through its last review today. The updated laws only have one step remaining. But not everyone is happy about the new regulations.

Northern Ireland parliamentary buildings
Northern Ireland parliamentary building in Stormont. Legislators have approved a sweeping gambling reform bill that now heads for Royal Assent. (Image: The Irish Times)

After years of wrangling over gambling reform, Northern Ireland lawmakers caught up. The Betting, Gaming, Lotteries and Amusements (Amendment) Bill passed the first round of reviews last September and has now almost completed its journey.

The legislation, formally Bill 36/17-22, saw most of its forward progress this year. Approval in the committee stage came at the end of January, and the bill advanced through two more stages last month.

Today, lawmakers greenlighted the bill as it made it through the final stage.

One More Step to Go

Lawmakers considered a number of amendments and revisions before giving their final approval. Finally, however, they were able to come to an agreement on how Northern Ireland’s revised gambling environment should look.

Among the changes that lawmakers approved is that there is no longer a price limit on the sale of societies’ lottery tickets. The limit was previously £1 (US$1.31). The maximum for the tickets is now £100 ($131).

Going forward, 20% of the lottery proceeds can go to expenses for running the lottery. In addition, certain restrictions on the use of promotional prize competitions were removed.

In the near future, authorities will develop a code of practice for gambling operators. They will also layout new regulations covering the legal enforcement of gambling contracts and will create a new levy on operators. While underage gambling has always been illegal, operators now face new fines and punishments if caught allowing a minor to use a gambling machine.

While most of the new measures included in the legislation seem to clamp down on the gambling industry, there are some that relax control. Bookmakers and bingo clubs can now operate on Sundays and Good Fridays.

Not Everyone Agrees With the Reform

Some lawmakers feel that the gambling reform missed the mark on a couple of points. Chair of the Communities Committee Paula Bradley told Assembly members that she doesn’t support extending operating hours for bookmakers. This is in spite of all of the new controls the gambling laws introduce.

With Northern Ireland Assembly elections coming in May, Bradley pointed out that her political party is “disappointed,” asserting that “gambling is the second-biggest addiction in Northern Ireland.” Studies have shown that the rate of “problem gambling” in Northern Ireland is around 3.5%, one of the highest among most developed countries.

Mark H. Durkan of the Social Democratic and Labour Party voiced his concerns as well. He felt that the bill should include more provisions for problem gambling, and called it a “missed opportunity.”

In spite of the resistance, there was enough support for Bill 36/17-22 to pass. The only thing standing in the way of the legislation becoming law is Royal Assent. However, there is no announced time frame for that to happen.

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