The Punter: Sundays opening up
It's hard to understand the reasoning for trying to keep the door firmly shut on betting shops opening on a Sunday and continuing the ban on Northern Ireland casinos.
A new Bill, bringing in much-needed changes in local gambling laws, will come before the Assembly prior to the next election, but the Department of Social Development is determined not to be totally British about them.
The proposed alterations should have been introduced years ago, once Parliament's 2005 Gambling Act came into operation in March 2006.
For too long there has been foot-dragging in adopting this piece of legislation which has brought about more effective betting protection and regulation on the mainland, curtailing illegal operators who, alas, continue here, depriving the Exchequer of additional revenue.
If Direct Rule had been still in place, then the proposed new legislation would have been introduced here in 2008 but since the return of Stormont, nothing has been done until now to update the situation.
Better late than never, I suppose, and it does give time for Sunday-opening lobbyists to seek amendments before the Bill is finalised.
The most significant move for local punters is that bets, as currently in England and Wales, will be legally binding and subject to contract law if either party to a bet is dissatisfied by an independent ruling.
The decision to oppose Sunday shop trading, which has been permitted in the rest of the UK and the Repubic for years, is a further blow to local bookmakers and a potential opportunity to create more jobs in a climate of economic stringency.
The campaign for Sunday trading has been on-going for the last few years in a bid to stop customers having to open phone and online accounts or, alternatively, use the services of unlicensed ‘bookmakers'.
Ladbrokes corporate affairs director Ciaran O'Brien said: “It's disappointing because we think there is a very strong argument for Sunday opening, not least because there are so many other avenues to gamble and it does encourage the potential for illegal gambling.
“It doesn't make sense given that Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland allow gambing in betting shops on that day.”
Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland recognises the need to update legislation.
The minister said: “The new law will be underpinned by objectives aimed at keeping crime out of gambling, ensuring fairness and protecting the young and vulnerable.”