MLAs have expressed their appreciation for the UK’s gambling white paper, but have emphasized that Northern Ireland is not covered by British gambling legislation, and have called for further measures to regulate gambling in the region.
While British gambling legislation applies in England, Scotland, and Wales, the Gambling Commission does not have the authority to regulate the gambling sector in Northern Ireland, where there is still no regulation of online gambling.
In light of the UK government’s recent publication of its gambling white paper, members of the Northern Ireland Legislative Assembly (MLAs) at Stormont have welcomed it but have reiterated their demand for regulation in the region.
Robbie Butler, a member of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) and chair of the Stormont All-Party Group on Reducing Harm Related to Gambling, expressed concern over the recent publication, stating that while it acknowledges the need for tougher regulation and increased protection for adults and children, it falls short as online gambling remains unregulated in Northern Ireland.
The All-Party Group was established in 2020, with Sinn Féin’s Philip McGuigan serving as its vice-chair. McGuigan has shared openly about his own struggles with gambling addiction, which caused him to lose £100,000 over eight years.
McGuigan commented on the recent publication, stating that while they are pleased with the proposals outlined in the white paper, which have been deemed a “turning point” in Great Britain, there is still a long way to go in updating Northern Ireland’s regulations.
He went on to say that the All Party Group on Reducing Harm Related Gambling is dedicated to working towards comprehensive gambling reform that is suitable for the digital age, and will continue to prioritize this issue on the Stormont agenda.
“Whilst we are pleased to see the publication of the white paper with proposals that are being described as a ‘turning point’ in Great Britain, we have a long road to travel in trying to bring the north’s regulations up to date.
“The All Party Group on Reducing Harm Related Gambling is committed to working to bring about gambling reform which will be fit for the digital world in which we live and we will continue to keep it top of the Stormont agenda.”
Gambling legislation in Northern Ireland
Last year, Northern Ireland passed new gambling legislation in the form of the Betting, Gaming, Lotteries and Amusements Bill, which received royal assent in May. This represented the first significant update to Northern Irish gambling legislation since the Betting, Gaming, Lotteries and Amusements Order 1985.
However, this legislation is only the first phase in a larger plan to overhaul regulations. While it introduces a levy on gaming licensees, a code of practice, and permits betting shops to open on Sundays and Good Friday, it does not address online gambling, which will be addressed in the second phase.
In December, the All-Party Group on Reducing Harm Related to Gambling initiated an inquiry into approaches to gambling-related harms, inviting stakeholders to share their views to inform future policy.
The Stormont APG emphasized that current strategies that focus solely on individual behaviors fail to recognize the wider public health impact of gambling. According to research from International Gambling Studies, the typical problem gambler can affect up to six other people.