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Northern Ireland to review "out of date" gambling laws

Out-Law News | 14 Jan 2013 | 10:49 am | 2 min. read

Northern Ireland's outdated gambling laws are to be updated, bringing them closer into line with those operating elsewhere in the UK, the Northern Irish Executive has announced.

Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland said that the changes were necessary to take into account the rapidly changing gambling environment, including the rapid growth of online gambling, and to take into account the effects of EU law.

"My priority is to minimise the harmful effects of gambling," McCausland said. "The new law will be underpinned by objectives aimed at keeping crime out of gambling, ensuring fairness within the gambling industry and protecting the young and vulnerable."

Northern Ireland's gambling laws, other than those relating to the National Lottery, date back to 1985. The law regulates betting on tracks and in bookmaking offices, gaming machines, bingo clubs and lotteries. Gambling has become an increasing social problem in Northern Ireland, with Department of Social Development figures suggesting that three times as many adults in Northern Ireland had a problem with gambling compared to those in Great Britain.

McCausland said that draft legislation would be presented to the Northern Ireland Assembly before the end of the current mandate in 2015. Among the proposed changes are the lifting of some restrictions on advertising, easing the rules on promotional prize draws to allow residents of Northern Ireland to compete in the same giveaways as those resident elsewhere in the UK and the adoption of the same categories and standards for gaming machines as those currently used in England and Wales. In addition, bets placed with bookmakers will become legally binding contracts.

However, the law will not be liberalised entirely. The Department for Social Development (DSD) said that the country would retain its current ban on casinos; while a spokesperson told the BBC that there were no plans to change the law preventing bookmakers and bingo clubs from opening on a Sunday. The new legislation will also have a dedicated section dealing with the protection of children and young people.

Gambling law expert James Griffiths of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said that the review followed a public consultation that was carried out by the DSD in 2011.

"As it stands, Northern Ireland's gambling laws are regulated by the Betting, Gaming, Lotteries and Amusements (NI) Order 1985, which corresponds closely with the historic regime in England and Wales," he said. "The Gambling Act 2005 was England and Wales' reaction to the changes to the gambling industry in recent years, such as the advent and proliferation of online gambling, and it is anticipated that the new legislation in Northern Ireland will carry out a similar exercise."

"Of most significance to companies operating outside of the gambling sector will be the liberalisation of the rules on promotional prize draws, as previously businesses wishing to run prize promotions based on chance had to ensure that there was a genuinely free/no purchase necessary route to entry or else they had to exclude entries from Northern Ireland," he said. "Obviously there will be a number of significant changes for the gambling industry, including the provision that bets placed with bookmakers will become legally binding contracts rather than merely 'gentleman's agreements'."

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