Northern Ireland’s politicians seek changes to gambling laws

In a time of utmost shifting political and social landscapes, Northern Ireland’s politicians seek changes to gambling laws.

Northern Ireland’s politicians seek changes to gambling laws

Underfire for quite some time, Northern Ireland’s ‘outdated’ gambling laws have finally been put under the microscope for review.

With an aim to protect those ‘most vulnerable’ to the highly addictive betting industry, Derry councillors support due changes to gambling legislation in Northern Ireland.

Addiction, as well as mental health ties with gambling, are points of note and acting as catalysts for change to the laws.

A topic of debate

Most recently, Derry City and Strabane District Council (DfC) union saw Northern Ireland’s gambling laws as a key topic of debate. Committee members were asked to either endorse or reject said regulations.

This comes in light of the Department for Communities (DfC) online consultation in which all citizens were welcome to submit their views that either challenged or supported the gamblings laws currently in place.

Current laws

The current laws, which were last updated in 1985, support the regulation of gambling in Northern Ireland. This includes betting across a number of platforms, such as in bookmakers, and at dog and horse racing tracks.

Betting or gambling in game arcades and amusement parks are also cited. In addition, the laws outline the participation in social gaming clubs, such as bingo halls.

Procedures and licencing of gambling are outlined in the law, as well as penalties and offences for misconduct. 

As it stands, the courts and district councils are responsible for licensing gambling activities. The DfC issues track-betting licences, and the enforcement of gambling law lies and infringements lie with the Police Service of Northern Ireland.  

Time for a change?

The open consultation – which closed on February 21, 2020 – welcomed opinions from all parties, in a bid to gain a rounded perspective on the subject. And, in turn, a better understanding of potential changes to the laws.

With profound shifts in cultural mindset and vast technological advancements since 1985, it is a widespread belief that Northern Ireland’s laws regarding gambling are terribly outdated. An opinion held too by the DfC. 

Sinn Féin Councillor, Aileen Mellon, is advocating the change of said laws, “We need to support the most vulnerable… I’m very much in favour of regulating it. We have a responsibility to deal with problem gambling in the North.”

She went on to say that “When we talk about addiction, gambling is very much a part of it within families and communities.”

A potential hazard

Darker issues that lay beneath the surface of this oft labelled “hobby” include mental health issues and early onset gambling dependencies. 

Mellon explained that children as young as five are becoming accustomed to online gambling in our tech-savvy society.

She also took the stance that premises which serve alcohol should not be permitted to offer gaming facilities. 

“Some people working in pubs end up spending their wages on machines and go home with nothing.”

Potential self-harm

Alderman Andrew McKane of the Ulster Unionist Party also shares strong beliefs about the desperate need to change current legislation.

With experience working in the addiction services, McKane explains, “People can have a flutter, but we need to be really strong in terms of online gambling when it has financial implications, it can move into self-harm.”

Social Democratic and Labour Party, Councillor Brian Tierney, also agrees that it is a terrible addiction, adding that “people can only drink so much before they fall down, whereas they can keep putting money into a machine”.

Coming from another angle, Alliance Councillor Rachael Ferguson believes that the inclusion of 2p slot machines in family entertainment centres should be banned, as this draws young children to play – a hobby that may turn to addiction in later life. 

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