Northern Ireland gambling: 'Strong support' for industry regulator

By Jayne McCormack
BBC News NI Political Reporter

Betting chips on a keyboardImage source, Rawf8/Getty Images

There is "strong support" for the creation of an independent gambling regulator for NI, according to a Stormont department's consultation.

The Department for Communities carried out a consultation on gambling laws between last December and February.

It received almost 400 responses. Unlike Great Britain, which has a gambling commission, NI does not.

The communities minister is expected to make an announcement on the next steps in the "coming weeks".

Appearing before Stormont's Department for Communities committee on Wednesday, departmental official Michael McAvera said there had been 382 responses to the consultation.

The majority were from individuals, with almost a quarter received from organisations.

Surprise over casino support

He added that nine out of 10 respondents supported a regulatory body for gambling in Northern Ireland.

But Mr McAvera also said three-fifths of respondents believed the law should be amended to allow casinos to operate in Northern Ireland.

He also said almost two-thirds of responses support relaxing the opening hours for bookmakers and betting shops to allow them to open on Sunday.

However, he stressed that 97% of people who responded to the consultation agreed that the industry should contribute to "funding research, education and treatment" for those with gambling addictions.

Some committee members expressed surprise at the number of positive responses about casinos, which are currently illegal in Northern Ireland.

In 2014, then-minister Nelson McCausland said he would not approve a plan to allow a casino to be developed in Belfast.

DUP MLA Jonathan Buckley said "the very fact they're calling for casinos and increased hours in bookmakers is going to cause more harm, because of the actions they're taking, as opposed to addressing the societal harm".

Other MLAs also said there needed to be specific legislation to protect people as much as possible, particularly when it came to addiction issues.

The details of the consultation findings are due to be published in the coming weeks, before the department moves ahead with any legislation.