Why There Are No Casinos in Northern Ireland

While there are proposals to change the gaming laws in the country, as of now, gambling activity is limited to lotteries. The existing law makes it illegal to engage in any form of gaming and betting that relies on luck rather than demonstrable skill. Despite being perfectly legal to play live online on sites like these, there are no casinos in Northern Ireland.

The gambling industry in Northern Ireland has made several attempts to change gambling laws to make it easier for them to operate with little progress. However, there is hope that the latest proposals will be approved.

Why Casinos Are Not Allowed in Northern Ireland

Despite being part of the United Kingdom and subject to many laws in the UK, Northern Ireland has the discretion to create its own laws on certain issues. It has opted to exercise this option regarding betting. The Betting, Gaming, Lotteries & Amusements Order of 1985 is the law that outlines how gambling activities should be conducted. This law applies to all forms of gambling except the National Lottery.

Northern Ireland opted to retain its outdated gambling laws when the rest of the UK adopted the Gambling Act of 2005. Consequently, it’s illegal for anyone to offer a prize in a competition if success is dependent on substantial skill. However, the law does offer exemptions for certain groups to engage in gambling activities for entertainment purposes. These include:

  • Private Lotteries
  • Small Lotteries at Entertainment Venues
  • Societies Lotteries

Even then, these exemptions are subject to strict regulations. For example, private lotteries are restricted to members of the same group who live or work in the same area and are not specifically created for gambling. The strict requirements make it impossible to operate casinos in Northern Ireland since most casino games rely on chance rather than skill.

Previous Attempts to Open Casinos Have Failed

Several groups have attempted to open casinos in Northern Ireland without success. For example, in 2014, a major European gambling company proposed an £18 million investment in an entertainment complex that would include restaurants, a new theatre, bowling lines, a cinema, and a bingo hall.

The aim was to entice the Northern Ireland government into legal reforms with an investment that would create jobs. However, the government refused to play game. Attempts to collaborate with the Belfast City Council failed, and the plan was abandoned.

It is now clear that the existing laws will need to be reformed if any company is to open casinos in Northern Ireland. Any changes to the gambling regulations will require primary legislation in the national assembly.

Online Casinos

It is legal to play in online casinos as long as they are not based in Northern Ireland. Wagers from the country can enjoy the full range of gaming options available on different platforms. Thousands of Northern Ireland residents play slot games, table games, and live poker in online casinos using their desktops and smartphones.

Illegal Brick and Mortar Casinos

According to a recent BBC report, several premises in Northern Ireland operate as illegal casinos. Some of these premises operate as legal gaming premises that convert into illegal casinos at night. Leading bookmakers are of the view that such casinos offer much higher stakes because they don’t pay taxes and the police lack the resources to enforce the law.

Proposed Gaming Law

The Northern Ireland government is in the process of drafting a new law that would pave the way for legal casinos in the country. The Betting Gaming Lotteries and Amusements (Amendment) Bill proposes several amendments to Northern Ireland’s gambling laws.

The proposals include allowing betting shops to open on Sundays to rein in the rampant illegal activities happening in pubs and nightclubs on weekends. Proponents of these amendments hope that they will enable licensed gambling services to compete with online casinos.

Status of The Amendments

The proposed gambling reform bill went through its last review in early March 2022 and garnered enough support to pass. It now awaits Royal Assent to become law. Some of the proposed changes include:

  • Removal of price limits for the sale of society lottery tickets from the previous limit of £1
  • The maximum for tickets has been increased to £100
  • Now gambling firms can use 20% of the lottery proceeds for operations
  • Bookmakers and bingo clubs will now be allowed to operate on Sundays and Christian holidays
  • Several restrictions on the use of promotional prize competitions have been removed

The authorities have committed to developing a code of practice for all gambling operators. This will include new regulations for the enforcement of gambling contracts and the introduction of a new levy. Operators will face penalties for allowing minors to access gambling facilities.

While there are reservations among some conservatives about the risk of problem gambling, industry insiders are optimistic that these reforms will open the way for a successful gambling industry.

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