Between last December and February, the Department of Committees conducted a consultation on gambling laws. Out of the nearly 400 responses, the results were shocking in their ubiquity. The public and many local organisations mostly agreed on calls for:
- an independent gambling regulatory body
- An amendment to allow land-based casinos to open
- Adequate funding for education, research and treatment for those harmed by gambling addiction
Throughout the hearings, the committee listened to overwhelming support for these changes, and it aims to release the findings in full over the coming weeks. However, it’s already confirmed plans to regulate online casinos in Ireland and land-based gambling.
An Urgent Need for Reform
The UK Gambling Commission is an authoritative regulatory body, and you’d be forgiven for assuming it envelopes Northern Ireland as well. However, its jurisdiction ends at the Irish Sea. Instead, Northern Ireland holds a single law written before the 1990s. It includes gaming, betting, the Lottery, and amusements, making it mostly irrelevant nowadays.
Online casino operators are taking advantage of this regulatory wild west. As a result, the territory has experienced an explosive growth of casino sites, which is having a tragic effect on problem gambling.
To further rub salt in the wound, services to support the vulnerable are few and far between. It’s for this reason that three-fifth of the respondents pleaded for legal brick-and-mortar casinos. Furthermore, 97% insisted on proactive measures to mitigate societal harm.
Another area the committee insisted needs reform are in bookie opening hours: around two-thirds of those involved asked for these establishments to be allowed to conduct business on Sundays.
Changing the Course of History
The consultation findings came as a surprise to many committee members. Only some years ago, ex-minister Nelson McCausland took a strong stance against the legalisation of gambling. He said that he would never approve the construction of a casino in Belfast.
Luckily for Irish casino sites fans, there are new sheriffs in town. First Minister Arlene Foster and deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill hold more progressive views on the industry.
Furthermore, findings from CARE NI’s recent poll revealed continuous widespread support for a reform of the law. Statistics show that over 60% desire a new mandatory levy on gambling companies. Moreover, 90% believe the new law should regulate online stakes and prizes.
Exciting times are on the horizon for Northern Irish punters and bookies alike.