Bookmaker News – Ulster’s Sunday restrictions set for review

February 28, 2011 | In: Articles

Bookmakers in Northern Ireland could soon be allowed to open on Sundays, ending a decades-old ban. New legislation has been put out for consultation which would bring Northern Ireland into line with bookmakers in the Republic of Ireland and in Britain. Gambling is already allowed on-track at Sunday race meetings and though online accounts and the Stormont Minister for Social Development, Alex Attwood, believes the general law needs to be brought up to date. The Minister, however, is proposing betting firms pay a levy to fund charities that help those with chronic and addictive gambling problems as one person in 50 in the Province has a gambling problem, more than four times the average figure in the United Kingdom as a whole.

Announcing his proposals and the consultation process, Mr Attwood said: “My priority will be the public interest and striking a balance between developing gambling as a leisure pursuit and minimising its harmful effects. These have been the standards I have adopted and am adopting in regulating other industries.” A new statutory social responsibility code of conduct for bookmakers is the cornerstone of proposal and Mr Attwood is also is proposing his own department become the single regulator for gambling for Northern Ireland. At present, licensing and enforcement is shared by the courts, the North’s 26 district councils and the PSNI.

Inevitably, the proposals have been criticised by Sunday observance groups, who have already condemned the Minister for his stance on the liberalisation of Sunday shopping and drinking. But the moves have been welcomed by figures in the gambling industry. A spokesman for Paddy Power, which operates a chain of eight betting shops in the greater Belfast area, said his company “would be a great supporter” of liberalisation. I’d imagine the Sunday opening of high street bookmakers would have the same effect in Northern Ireland as it had in the rest of the UK – very little. Those wanting a gamble will find a way to get a bet on, regardless of whether it’s over the counter or online, and the betting shop staff will be among the few missing out on their Sunday lunch as a result.

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