Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 September 2014

No flutter on a Sunday

Bookies at odds with minister over ‘bonkers’ decision

Bookmakers have said Stormont’s continued refusal to allow its shops to open on a Sunday is “bonkers and ridiculous” as an overhaul of gambling laws is set to exclude the change.

The comments came as Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland announced he was updating Northern Ireland’s existing “antiquated” gambling laws.

But despite including provision for the protection of children, making bets “legally binding contracts” and helping those with gambling problems, bookmaking and other forms of betting will still not be allowed on Sundays. There had been expectations of a loosening of the restriction among those in the industry, with previous ministers in the role having also pushed for a change in the law.

Northern Ireland remains the only region in the UK and Ireland which still bars bookies from opening on Sunday.

In 2006 the British Government brought in plans for new laws in Northern Ireland which included allowing Sunday opening for bookies and bingo halls.

But seven years on the changes have still to be introduced.

Bookie Paddy Power said that it was a “disappointing opportunity missed”, which would continue the practice of illegal gambling across Northern Ireland.

“Anyone who believes that people don’t bet on a Sunday has their head buried in the sand, “ he said.

“Thousands of people bet online, across the border and, of course, bet illegally.”

Mr Power told the Belfast Telegraph that moving Northern Ireland into line with the rest of the UK would create some 170 jobs.

“Putting my profession aside, there doesn’t seem to be an argument against this and studies have shown over 170 jobs could be created as a result of opening.

“It doesn’t make any sense, and bookies are the only type of business which cannot open,” he said.

In a consultation document in 2011, the then Social Development Minister Alex Attwood said that allowing bookies and bingo halls to open would “reflect a sensible and pragmatic approach which will benefit the local economy”.

Mr McCausland said that it was “necessary to update the current gambling laws in order to address the rapidly changing gambling environment”.

The new proposed changes also include a lifting of some restrictions on advertising and the continued ban on casinos.

Background

Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland’s new proposals on gambling laws include dealing with the protection of children, restrictions on advertising being lifted and making bets “legally binding contracts”. But despite calls from the industry to previous ministers in the role, bookies will still not be allowed to open on Sunday.

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