Northern Ireland’s attempts to update some of its gambling laws are now complete. Thanks to royal assent this past Tuesday, sportsbooks and bingo halls can now open on Sundays without breaking the rules.
It’s been a long time since 1985, the last time Northern Ireland made any real attempt at updating its gaming laws. A lot has changed in almost four decades. But progress arrived last month.
The gambling reform jumped the final hurdle and crossed the finish line this past Tuesday. The Betting Gaming Lotteries and Amusements (Amendment) Act (Northern Ireland) 2022 received royal assent.
It is now possible for retail sportsbooks and bingo halls to do something they haven’t been able to do in over 40 years. They can, if they choose, open their doors on Sundays. It’s an achievement that almost didn’t happen.
Open For Business
There are 295 sportsbooks in Northern Ireland and several bingo halls. The owners of all properties should have received a letter by now from the Department of Communities informing them that the updated laws are now on the books.
The legislation had to pass through seven stages to become law and only made it through at the last minute before the March deadline. Some betting operators thought, according to The Irish News, that it might be later this year or perhaps next year before the bill made it through the final step.
However, this week, the updated rules received a surprise royal decree, effective immediately. As early as this Sunday, betting shops can operate normally seven days a week. They can also operate on Good Friday. But Christmas Day is still off the books.
In addition to the operating hours, the legislation added other updates. Lottery tickets for local drives can now run as high as £100 ($131). Previously, the limit was £1 (US$1.31). Some 20% of the proceeds from the sale of the lottery tickets can now be designated as operating and administrative expenses.
Anyone under 18 found playing on a gaming machine can face up to six months in jail with the new laws. In addition, operators can expect to pay a new mandatory levy for their licenses.
The Act makes room for fluid changes moving forward. New protocols and responsible gambling measures can be introduced more easily, without the need for drawn-out discussions that could take decades.
Not All Open On Sundays
Not all operators believe they will open on Sundays right away. Gary Toal, who owns Toal’s Bookmakers, told The Irish News that there are certain challenges the businesses will face before taking a step forward. One big one is staffing.
Operating all week means hiring more employees or paying more wages to existing staff. In both cases, the businesses have to determine whether the expense justifies the reward.
Northern Ireland has no law regarding extra pay for Sunday or overtime work. However, businesses can make agreements with their employees to pay them more if they work more than the standard 48 hours a week.
The timing of the law coming into force is earlier than anticipated. It had been expected this would not take place until mid to late May. Preparation is now underway for Sunday opening, which is expected to lead to the creation of up to 250 part-time jobs,” stated the Northern Ireland Turf Guardians’ Association.
The Northern Ireland Turf Guardians Association share’s Toal’s position. It said in a statement that most sportsbooks wouldn’t be open this Sunday, as they need to make changes to prepare to operate seven days a week. However, independent shops with lower overhead could take the leap and begin collecting wagers as of May 1.
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