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Calls for Stormont to overhaul gambling legislation in Northern Ireland


New report reveals people who use gaming machines are more at risk of gambling addiction as its authors call on Stormont to overhaul gambling legislation

An All Party Group (APG) formed in 2020 to reduce harm related to gambling here has launched a report on gaming machines and their impact on the user following a recent inquiry.

The findings from the APG on Reducing Harm Related to Gambling’s ‘Report on Gaming Machines in Northern Ireland’ was unveiled in the Long Gallery, Parliament Buildings Stormont. Among the attendees were Minister for Communities Deirdre Hargey MLA, Minister for Health, Robin Swann MLA, Dr Matt Gaskell, a renowned expert on gambling harm and James Grimes, founder of The Big Step campaign.


The report lays bare the impacts of gaming machines and the harm they pose to gamblers in Northern Ireland as well as identifying and pushing for changes to gambling legislation here that has disparities with the rest of the UK.

Within the report, the APG reveals the risk of gambling-related harm is significantly higher with gaming machines than with other forms of land-based gambling.


Evidence presented to the APG suggested over half (52.9 per cent) of all users of gaming machines were either problem gambling or at risk, compared to less than 20 per cent for other land-based activities (which is at 11.1 per cent overall).


In the report, the APG quoted Matt Gaskell, Clinical Lead and Consultant Psychologist for The NHS Northern Gambling Service, who told the inquiry that gaming machine usage is the number one land-based gambling activity undertaken by patients presenting at his clinics. He said:


“Playing continuous gambling products, like slot machines, is the single biggest risk factor for gambling problems. It's a bigger risk factor than any individual factor. As far as we're concerned in the clinics that I oversee, 54 per cent of our service users are presenting with gambling machines as their product of choice.”


The APG is also calling for clarity on the legal position of Fixed-Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) — a modern form of gaming machine which offers games such as roulette and video slots via an electronic terminal. FOBTs have been shown to be a “more addictive” product, potentially accounting for more than half of the UK’s gambling harm. However, the relevant Northern Ireland gambling law predates the invention of FOBTs, and therefore does not explicitly refer to FOBTs as constituting gaming machines which are to be regulated by law.

The Department for Communities maintains that FOBTs are classed as gaming machines under Northern Ireland law and therefore subject to lower stake and prize limits than currently advertised. However the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) has advised the APG that this is not their view. The APG is therefore calling on the PSNI to launch a legal test case against a licensed bookmaker operating FOBTs here (such as Paddy Power or Ladbrokes), to provide legal clarity on the matter.


Current gaming and gambling laws here are covered under The Betting, Gaming, Lotteries and Amusements (NI) Order 1985.

But unlike GB, we do not have an independent gambling regulator.

Chair of the All Party Group on Reducing Harm Related to Gambling, Robbie Butler MLA, said:


“We want to make clear that this report has not been released in a bid to ban gambling on gaming machines but rather promote the need for specific legislation around this kind of gambling, legislation that is proportionate to the dangers they pose to those at risk of addiction.

“We have a number of recommendations we’d like to see in place including securing the recognition that FOBTs are in fact gaming machines for the purposes of the law here, and should be regulated as such."


Mr Butler said consideration should be given to banning or mitigating deliberately addictive features, such as ‘near misses’ and ‘losses disguised as wins’, and called for increased testing and licensing of gaming machines.

The number of permitted machines in any given betting environment should not be raised in future legislation, said the APG while separating forms of gambling in bingo club and bookmakers’ premises should also be taken into consideration.

The APG said land-based operators should also be required to inform the Department for Communities and relevant licensing authorities of their gambling data including the number of gaming machines they have in operation.


Vice Chair of the All Party Group on Reducing Harm Related to Gambling, Philip McGuigan MLA, added:


“Our report illustrates the alarming risks around gaming machines and without appropriate legislation in place, those in the gambling community here are more exposed to gambling-related harm.

“We have clinical professionals informing us that gaming machines are the most problematic form of gambling for their patients. They tell us that these types of gambling can present trance-like states in users and they present the most rapid route to gambling addiction: one year versus an average of three years for other gambling products.

“This information alone demands that Stormont representatives update the laws around gaming machines to reflect such risks and protect vulnerable members of the community. We look forward to change in the second phase of NI gambling law reform.”


Department for Communities Minister, Deirdre Hargey MLA, said:


“My department is committed to the much needed phase 2 of Gambling reform, and will work with all stakeholders to bring forward what could be the largest piece of legislation the assembly has ever seen.

“I am grateful to the All Party Group for inviting me to today’s launch of its report on gaming machines here. I also welcome the interest that members of the Group continue to show in the issue of gambling and gambling law generally.

“The legislation that regulates gaming machines here is restrictive – I will examine the All Party Group report carefully.”


Health Minister, Robin Swann MLA, added:


“The All Party Group’s report clearly highlights the risks associated with gaming machines and the related-harm this can have on an individual’s health, as well as the impact on wider society. However it must be recognised that gambling related harm cannot be effectively addressed in isolation and it’s therefore vital that we work collaboratively with colleagues across other departments and stakeholders in this area to fully consider the report and its recommendations.”

For more information on the ‘Gaming Machines in Northern Ireland’ Report by the APG, please visit www.gamharmapg.org

For help with gambling related issues, please visit www.gamblingwithlives.org/help