Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

Bookies attack opening hours law

Bookmakers have hit out at 80-year-old laws on opening hours

Bookmakers have hit out at 80-year-old laws on opening hours, claiming they cost 500 betting shop jobs last month.

The Irish Bookmakers Association (IBA) said its members were forced to lay off hundreds of staff as outlets must revert to shorter winter business hours every September.

From March until the end of August shops can trade until 10pm, but they are forced to close by 6.30pm during the rest of the year.

Sharon Byrne, IBA chairwoman, said Government policy was adding to the record numbers of unemployed.

"By forcing betting shops to close early, through legislation which will soon celebrate its 80th birthday, an extra 500 people are forced on to the dole queue," she said. "This makes no sense for the 500 unemployed, for the betting sector or for the Exchequer."

The IBA wants the shops open until 10pm at least three nights a week in winter.

"The betting sector has changed radically since the time the Betting Act 1931 was written," Ms Byrne said.

"Online and telephone betting can be done at any time, yet betting shops must close by 6.30pm from September 1 to March 31 unless there is an Irish race running after that time. Betting shops - which make a real contribution to the Exchequer - are therefore seriously disadvantaged, adding even greater pressure to a sector under stress."

Dr Fiona Weldon, clinical director of the Rutland Centre which works with addicts, warned of the dangers of making gambling more accessible. The centre has seen the number of chronic gamblers, mainly young men and some with debts ranging from tens of thousands to a quarter of a million euro, multiply from 0.1% of its clients to 6%.

"I would not be in favour of having extended hours. In huge times of stress and recession as we are going through, people are disconnected from their problems. They are looking for an easy way out," Dr Weldon said. "It's not a good time to be looking for extended hours."

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