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Minister promises “long overdue” overhaul of Northern Ireland gambling laws

| By Marese O'Hagan
Northern Ireland is set to undergo the “first significant changes” to its gambling laws in over 35 years, including the establishment of a mandatory code of practice for operators.
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Currently, gambling in Northern Ireland is regulated under the Betting, Gaming, Lotteries and Amusements Order, which dates back to 1985, but Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey said new legislation will be introduced in the coming weeks. A further update – dealing with online gambling, among other topics – will then follow in the longer term.

“Gambling legislation has remained largely unchanged since it was enacted thirty-five years ago,” said Hargey.

“As a result, gambling regulation here has not kept pace with industry and technological changes. In my view change is long overdue.”

Hargey listed some aspects of the upcoming legislation, including a “mandatory code of practice” for those holding gambling licenses and allowing gambling contracts to be enforceable by law..

Further proposed changes include making it an offence to allow children to use gaming machines, expanding the definition of cheating to include attempted cheating, and imposing a statutory levy on gambling operators.

Statutory levies has been a frequent topic in the responses to the Department of Digital Culture, Media and Sport’s (DCMS) Gambling Act review, having been mentioned by GambleAware and YGAM in their responses.

Permitting bookmakers to open on Sundays and Good Friday is also to be included in legislation.

This was supported by the public consultation in 2019, which revealed that 66% of participants thought that bookmakers office hours should be relaxed, while almost all of this percentage thought that bookmakers should be allowed to open on a Sunday.

Politicians in Northern Ireland sought guidance from colleagues in Westminster as the inquiry progressed.

The initial legislation will be introduced in the next few weeks, and will then be followed by a second update over a “much longer timescale”, which will include a “completely new regulatory framework”, which will include the regulation of online gambling.