Northern Ireland Gaming Industry Set for Major Overhaul

Posted on: June 1, 2021, 02:13h. 

Last updated on: June 1, 2021, 03:05h.

Officials in Northern Ireland are set to drastically change the UK country’s gaming industry. Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey announced last week that the nation is moving forward with updating its gaming laws and regulations.

Northern Ireland gaming industry regulations
A Sean Graham betting shop. Changes to gaming regulations are soon coming to Northern Ireland. (Image: Shutterstock)

Little has changed regarding the industry since sports betting, lotteries, and fixed-odds betting terminals were legalized through the Northern Ireland Betting, Gaming, Lotteries and Amusements Order of 1985.

Gambling legislation has remained largely unchanged since it was enacted 35 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.”

A 2019 public consultation on gaming laws conducted by the Department for Communities found “strong support” for a revamp of the industry. And that is expected to begin with the formation of a gaming regulatory agency. 

Gaming Changes

Though Northern Ireland is part of the UK, the country has its own rules and regulations on gambling. The rest of the UK vastly expanded gambling through the 2005 Gambling Act. But Northern Ireland did not ratify the British law.

The first phase of adjusting gaming laws, Hargey says, will include the formation of a gaming commission that will oversee all aspects of gambling in Northern Ireland. Lawmakers and the commission will be tasked with updating the gaming code, including setting new penalties for regulatory violations. The gaming commission is expected to have an enforcement division that will possess powers to take enforcement action against licensees found out of compliance. 

Currently, betting shops are only monitored by the Police Service of Northern Ireland. 

Hargey adds that certain restrictions in the 1985 law will be relaxed, most importantly the prohibition of betting shops operating on Sundays. Bookmakers have long argued that being closed on Sundays, a day in which many prominent sporting events take place, fuels gamblers to unregulated channels.

“There are so many major sporting events that take place on a Sunday, from Wimbledon finals to Premier League football. This has driven people online because you couldn’t have a bet in a betting shop,” said Brian Graham of Sean Graham, a leading bookmaker in the country. 

“Ourselves and other bookmakers have been crying out about illegal gambling that’s been happening in Northern Ireland,” added Graham.

Online Gaming Phase 2

Hargey says the first phase of the gaming reform will focus on land-based betting. The second will involve internet gambling and will be much more in-depth.

Northern Ireland’s 1985 gaming act doesn’t address online gaming, and therefore it isn’t necessarily illegal. 

The pragmatic approach I am taking will mean that we deliver some much-needed change in the short term, while simultaneously ensuring that complex areas of regulation and online gambling are given the time and consideration they need,” she stated.

The second phase will bring internet sportsbooks and betting sites into Northern Ireland’s legal jurisdiction. That’s something Graham welcomes.

“This will help level the playing field,” he explained. “This is nothing but good news as far as we’re concerned.” 

Hargey said during his press meeting last week that the gaming regulatory changes will be introduced to the assembly in the coming weeks.