The Betting, Gaming, Lotteries and Amusements (Amendment) Bill has entered the Northern Ireland Assembly, commencing the first phase of the province’s overhaul of gambling regulations.

Following the appointment of Communities Minister Deidre Hargey to oversee a review of Northern ireland’s regulatory oversight in May of this year, betting operators in the region were told to prepare to statutory changes to the Betting, Gaming, Lotteries and Amusements (Northern Ireland) Order 1985

Having successfully passed the first stage, the innagural phase of the regulatory adjustment focuses on land-based operations. With regards to compliance, the minimum age for playing any form of gambling machine will be set at 18, and it will become an offence for any licensed operator or hospitality venues to allow anyone under this age to use these products.

Additionally, should the legislation be fully approved by the Stormont, an updated Code of Practice will be enacted, the main focus of which will be on ensuring gambling is conducted fairly and openly, protecting under-18s and making assistance available to people impacted by gambling-related problems.

For retail gambling, a significant shift is that high-street betting shops and bingo clubs will be permitted to open their doors on Sundays and Bank Holidays, including Good Friday.

A statutory levy, similar to the Betting Levy utilised in Great Britain, will also be introduced, with funds directed towards responsible gambling initiatives, treatment of problem gambling and community programmes.

Additionally, changes to the pool betting system will allow licenced bookmakers to accept bets on a pool betting business ‘linked to such a business carried on by means of a totalisator at a licenced track’.

This will enable customers placing bets at licenced premises through the pool betting business ‘to do so on the same terms and conditions asifthe bet were placed by means of the totalisator at the licenced track concerned’.

Lasty, gambling contracts will be enforceable by law, whilst the definition of cheating will also be expanded to include attempted cheating on any betting, casino or lottery product, as well as assisting or enabling another individual to cheat.

Disclosing the scope of the overhaul in May, Hargey disclosed that the establishment of a mandatory code of practice, the broadening of trading hours and introduction of a statutory levy would be the primary focus of the Bill.

“Gambling legislation has remained largely unchanged since it was enacted thirty-five years ago,” Hargey explained. “As a result, gambling regulation here has not kept pace with industry and technological changes. In my view change is long overdue.”

If fully passed through the Stormont, the Bill will enact the most significant changes to Northern Irish gambling oversight in 35 years. However, the Minister also added that the second phase will require a much longer timescale in order to address a regulatory framework concerning online gambling.

The overhaul of Northern Irish betting and gaming regulations coincides with the review of the 2005 Gambling Act in Great Britain, currently overseen by newly appointed UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) Chair Marcus Boyle and DCMS Secretary Nadine Dorries, the latter of whom assumed her position this morning.