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UK: Proposed amendments to Northern Ireland’s gambling laws

Gaming in Ireland is regulated by the Betting, Gaming, Lotteries and Amusements (NI) Order 1985. In short, this Order covers betting on tracks and in bookmaking offices, gaming machines, bingo clubs and lotteries (other than the National Lottery).

Various aspects of the Order are outdated when compared with current market practice – unsurprising given that it is almost thirty years old!

By way of example, the Order contains what is effectively a blanket prohibition on gambling advertising, yet advertisements appear on broadcast and other media available in the country. Also, because it predates the widespread availability of the Internet, the law does not address online gambling. Although nothing in the Order would prevent a Northern Ireland resident from taking part in internet gambling as a player, the law (at least arguably) doesn’t regulate any Irish-based operators of gambling websites.

Recognising the need to address the rapidly changing gambling environment, Northern Ireland’s Department of Social Development conducted various surveys, reviews and consultations, most recently in 2011. Following a period in which it was widely believed that change would be slow, the Social Development Minister has just announced that new legislation will now be drawn up and will include the following:

  • A section dealing with the protection of children and young people;
  • Residents of Northern Ireland will be able to participate in promotional prize draws;
  • Gaming machine categories and standards currently used in Great Britain will be adopted;
  • Some restrictions on advertising will be lifted;
  • Bets placed in a bookmakers office will be legally binding contracts rather than just a “Gentleman’s agreement”;
  • The current ban on casinos will be retained.

Reference to online gambling is conspicuous by its absence and so it appears that Northern Ireland will not, yet, introduce a regulatory regime of the type now operating in Great Britain and various other countries around the world. This is perhaps a missed opportunity.