A new consultation paper has been launched in Northern Ireland to assess whether the current regulatory framework for the Northern Irish gambling industry needs to be updated. The three-month consultation opened on 16 December and will seek public opinion on (i) the current gambling laws in Northern Ireland and (ii) whether changes should be made to ensure “a more flexible and modern licensing framework capable of responding to the many societal and technical changes which have occurred in the industry”.

The current framework

When the Gambling Act 2005 was introduced it was decided that it should apply only to Great Britain and not to Northern Ireland. As a result, the Northern Irish gambling industry remains regulated by the legislation dating back to the 1960s which applied before the 2005 Act came into force.

The consultation

The consultation paper was drafted by the Department for Communities (the “DfC”). The DfC state they “are keen to hear the views of all parties with an interest in gambling in Northern Ireland, so that relevant views and evidence can be taken into account in any future policy decisions.” Each section of the consultation summarises the current regulatory regime for a different topic relating to the gambling sector under consideration and follows up with questions and prompts for feedback. The key topics covered are:

  • physical casinos;
  • online gambling;
  • consumer protection – particularly the protection of children;
  • advertising;
  • prize competitions;
  • problem gambling;
  • lotteries; and
  • licensing and enforcement issues.

The overall proposal looks at whether the law in Northern Ireland needs to be changed or updated to be brought more in line with the rest of the UK. The consultation closes on 21st February 2020. You can read the full consultation paper here.

The gambling sector is constantly changing and in the last two decades the law applying to Great Britain has evolved in an attempt to keep up with the rapid pace of change. The Gambling Act 2005 and the Gambling (Licensing and Advertising) Act 2014 are two examples of this, demonstrating an understanding of the need to keep up with technological advances in the industry and changing attitudes towards gambling and its regulation. This consultation is the foundation for meaningful regulatory change in Northern Ireland - for example, the consultation recognises the economic benefits that online gambling can have as well as the potential harms, but the current legislation pre-dates the development of the internet and therefore doesn’t contain any provisions in respect of remote gambling activities.