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.”[i]
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 As it stands, this legislation is outdated and fails to provide adequate protection for vulnerable individuals and problem gamblers.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 has 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 from 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)
It has been argued that FOBTs, a form of high speed gaming machine, operate in a “grey area” in current legislation.[ii] This is due to the fact that such technology was not around in 1985 when the legislation on gambling in Northern Ireland was drawn up. However, CARE in Northern Ireland is of the view that there is a very strong case to believe such machines are in fact illegal under the law as it currently stands. We will be pushing for this reality to be recognised in the months and years ahead due to the harms such machines can cause. Sadly, 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.[iii]
- 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.[iv]
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 someone can play £100 every 20 seconds – should not be operating in Northern Ireland under the law as it currently stands?
- Will you commit to fighting for legislation to prevent the clustering of betting shops in our province’s most deprived council wards?
[i] http://www.gamblingcommission.gov.uk/pdf/developing%20a%20short%20form%20of%20the%20pgsi.pdf .