Belfast Telegraph

Casino complex an enormous gamble

Editor's Viewpoint

A casino and entertainment complex being built in Belfast and creating up to 1,000 jobs - all with £300m of someone else's money - might seem like a gamble worth taking.

It appealed to Belfast City Council, which has put the idea out for public consultation. But what are the odds of this plan coming to fruition?

On the facts of the case, there is an argument that it is an idea whose time has come. Belfast is the only major city in the UK that does not have the opportunity to open a casino.

The Betting, Gaming, Lotteries and Amusements (Northern Ireland) Order 1985, which covers gambling here, bans such establishments but is seen as outdated given the rapidly evolving nature of gambling, particularly online.

One example is the arrest of a bookmaker as part of an investigation into the operation of fixed-odds betting terminals, which allow punters to stake up to £100 at a time. These are legal in the rest of the UK, but our antiquated laws set much lower stakes and rewards for such gambles.

There is also the question of opening hours. The operation of a casino would undoubtedly mean a change in the legislation to allow gambling on premises on Sundays - presently illegal - and extended opening times.

Another argument that will be put forward in favour of the development is Belfast's growing reputation as a must-visit destination. The inclusion of a modern, well-regulated casino following best industry practice would be a novel tourist attraction in this part of the UK.

But gambling has its dark side. A cursory glance through the media will reveal many instances of how gambling addiction can ruin lives, leading addicts not only to spend wildly but also ruin the lives of their nearest and dearest and, in some instances, take their own.

A Department for Communities survey last year showed Northern Ireland had the highest proportion of problem gamblers in the UK, and gambling online doubled in the six years under scrutiny, even though 75% of those taking part said its accessibility made it dangerous to family life.

Balancing potential economic gain against an admitted societal ill will require great wisdom from those who will have to change the law at Stormont if there is a legislative body in operation there anytime soon.

It would take a brave person to call the odds on a casino getting the go ahead.

Belfast Telegraph

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