First major change to NI gambling laws in over 35 years


Gambling operators in Northern Ireland will face a statutory levy and mandatory code of practice under the first phase of reforms to gambling laws.

Department for Communities Minister, Deirdre Hargey, has announced a two phase approach to changing NI’s gambling laws following a consultation in 2020.  Minister Hargey in introducing the changes said:

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

“It is clear from our consultation that people are content for some of the existing legal constraints on gambling to be relaxed.  But they also believe that government, the gambling industry and others need to do much more to prevent, control and combat problem gambling.

“The pragmatic approach I am taking will mean that we deliver some much needed change in the short term, while simultaneously ensuring that complex areas of regulation and online gambling are given the time and consideration they need.”

Key proposals

The first phase will be legislation to deliver changes in around 17 key areas mainly around premises based gambling including improving protection for children and young people, as well as some relaxations around hours of operation.

These changes, amongst other matters, will;

  • 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; and
  • Permit Bookmakers and Bingo clubs to open on Sundays and Good Friday.

Phase two of the reforms will include a completely new regulatory framework which will regulate online gambling.

The Minister also recently announced that she is changing legislation to enable local voluntary groups and clubs to raise vital funds by selling tickets online.

When will changes take effect?

The legislation will be introduced in the NI Assembly in the coming weeks. The two phased approach is designed to ensure the legislation can be progressed in the current assembly mandate which ends in May 2022.  Phase two of the reforms will take place over a longer timescale.

TLT has extensive experience in licensing matters in Northern Ireland and in the jurisdictions of England & Wales and Scotland. 

If you would like to discuss your requirements, please get in touch with Eoin Devlin or Orla Kennedy at our Belfast office.

This publication is intended for general guidance and represents our understanding of the relevant law and practice as at June 2021. Specific advice should be sought for specific cases. For more information see our terms & conditions.


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