New gambling laws to be introduced in Northern Ireland

  • Updated
  • By Max Wright
Northern Ireland Gambling Reform
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Gambling laws in the UK are ever changing, thanks to the role of the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) and government groups like the Department of Media, Culture and Sport (DMCS). However, in Northern Ireland, the lack of a legislative body means that there have not been any significant changes to gambling law in over 35 years.

New legislation is to be be introduced in the next few weeks, which includes a number of major changes that touch on issues of underage gambling and player cheating, and ensures gambling operators stick to a mandatory code of practice, with a statutory levy imposed on those that don’t.

New offences will be created for those who allow children to play on gambling machines like FOBTs, though the full extent of these offences, and whether the operator or the guardian is to blame, is currently unknown. 

Currently in the UK, children are allowed to play on category D gambling machines unsupervised, even if that machine resembles a gambling activity like slots. The UKGC state that because the stake limits are so low at 10p, this slot game is technically fine for children to play.

The full list of new legislative changes:

  • Create new offences in relation to allowing children to play gaming machines
  • Create powers to impose a statutory levy on gambling operators
  • Establish a mandatory code of practice for those holding gambling licenses
  • Broaden the definition of cheating to include attempted cheating
  • Make gambling contracts enforceable in law
  • Remove some of the restrictions on promotional prize competitions
  • Permit bookmakers and bingo clubs to open on Sundays and Good Friday

The gambling reform has been described by the Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey as “long overdue”. Hargey went on to say that Northern Ireland’s gambling regulation has “not kept pace with emerging technologies and other changes”, as technology has allowed players to enjoy casinos on their mobile phones

These new changes are likely to be introduced faster than the UK's gambling reform, which was promised as a part of Boris Johnson's 2019 re-election campaign. Johnson stated that the 2005 Gambling Act was an "analogue law in a digital age" and pledged to review it, though the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has taken far more of his time and attention.