Northern Ireland’s First Casino a Possibility in Belfast, Public Opinion Sought

Posted on: November 28, 2017, 02:00h. 

Last updated on: November 28, 2017, 01:37h.

The City Council in Belfast, Northern Ireland’s capital city, wants its citizens to give feedback on a plan to bring the country’s first casino to its town. A consultation document, soliciting residents’ opinions from Dec. 11 until March 5, has been drafted and will soon start circulating.

Jim McVeigh Belfast City Council Northern Ireland casino
Belfast City Councilman Jim McVeigh has introduced a motion to change the gambling laws in Northern Ireland, and supports a measure seeking the public’s opinion on the issue. (Image: Mal McCann/

The city’s leaders are mulling over the possibility of changing Belfast’s licensing laws, since being approached by two companies eager to build a complex there that would include a casino.

City Councilman Jim McVeigh had introduced a motion last month to revamp the laws that govern gaming, and said the public should play a role if ordinances are to be overturned.

He said that a development could have a value of £300 million ($397 million) and create 1,000 jobs.

“The size is huge, both financially and physically” McVeigh told the Belfast Telegraph. “The jobs would be very significant.”

To change the law would require not only the Belfast City Council’s consent, but approval from the Northern Ireland Assembly. As of now, there is no indication if there would be enough votes to legalize the activity.

Groundbreaking Proposal

That hasn’t stopped two companies from moving forward on a future development. One that has expressed interest is The Rank Group, one of the biggest British gaming operators, which operates 56 UK properties under its Grosvenor Casinos brand, as well as Rank Interactive for online gaming.

Executives had proposed a development starting in 2014, knowing that casinos were not legal, but providing a model of their vision, should the activity be allowed in the future. The center they proposed at that time would not only have a casino, but a bingo hall, live theater, movie theater, bowling lanes, bars, and restaurants.

Since that time, revised plans have added a water park and hotel, with the total estimated cost coming in at the $25 million mark.

McVeigh told the Telegraph that despite the legislative red tape, The Rank Group has shown a commitment to its proposed entertainment and gaming complex.

“These guys tend to be very serious,” he said. “They are very keen to get here and keen to do this. The size is huge, both financially and physically.”

Gambling Already in Play

Northern Ireland is no stranger to wagering, sponsoring a national lottery that has produced hundreds of millionaires over the years. It is one of the most popular forms of gambling there.

Betting shops also thrive throughout its provinces that accept bets on horse racing and soccer.

The largest of those companies is Toals, which has 40 facilities and employs approximately 250 people. Last year, the company expanded by taking over a competitor which had a few shops and was no longer operating. At the same time, they also opened their largest venue in Belfast.

Online gambling is also popular. Several companies have a presence in the territory, including Paddy Power Betfair, BetMcLean, and Sky Bet. They offer wagering on all sports, including US leagues, as well as casino slot machines and video poker.