Problem gambling has been defined as “gambling behaviour that creates negative consequences for the gambler, either in his or her social network, or for the community.”
These negative consequences can include financial hardship, family breakdown and even suicide. In light of this, CARE in Northern Ireland seeks greater protection for problem gamblers in the province where their number is four times the average in Great Britain.
Gambling activities in Northern Ireland are currently regulated by Betting, Gaming, Lotteries and Amusements (NI) Order 1985. As it stands, this legislation is outdated and fails to provide adequate protection for vulnerable individuals and problem gamblers.
Since 2009, the Department for Social Development have taken steps to review this legislation. In 2011, a public consultation was published seeking responses to proposed changes. In early 2013, Nelson McCausland, then Social Development Minister, announced his intention to update the legislation. By late 2014, Mervyn Storey, the subsequent Social Development Minister, suggested that a new Gambling Bill could be introduced before the summer recess in 2015. However, with the impasse on welfare reform since March 2015, no such legislation has been forthcoming.
Change to legislation is still much needed, and safeguards for modern gambling are long overdue. In particular, there are two issues which need to be addressed in the next Assembly.
- Fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs)
As a “grey area” in current legislation, these high-speed gambling machines are technically outside the law, due to the fact that such technology was not around in 1985 when the legislation on gambling in Northern Ireland was drawn up. In the absence of a clear prohibition, FOBTs – which have been described as the “crack cocaine” of gambling because they are particularly addictive – have become an accepted part of life here in Northern Ireland. At present it is estimated that there are over 900 FOBTs operating in around 312 betting shops across the province. CARE NI believes that it is imperative that legislation is introduced to reduce the maximum stake on these machines from £100 to £2 or for the Department of Social Development to consider banning these machines due to the harm they cause.
- Concentration of betting shops in deprived areas
Over 1/3 of Northern Ireland’s betting shops can be found in the 10% most deprived council wards. Poorer areas appear to be targeted by major betting operators who are pocketing a large profit at the expense of local communities. CARE (NI) is committed to ensuring that this issue of high concentration of betting shops in areas of deprivation is addressed within the new legislation.
Questions for Candidates
- Will you promise to address the issue of the disproportionately high level of problem gambling in Northern Ireland and urge the Department for Social Development to fulfil their promise of long overdue new legislation on gambling?
- Do you agree that Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) – the so-called crack cocaine of gambling in relation to which where someone can play £100 every 20 seconds – should have their stakes reduced from £100 to £2 and, if elected, would you fight for new legislation to give effect to this change?
- Will you commit to fighting for legislation to prevent the clustering of betting shops in our province’s most deprived council wards?
 Committee for Social Development, Betting, Gaming, Lotteries and Amusements Bill: DSD Briefing (2013) 2