Members of the civil service of Northern Ireland have claimed they have no power to impose any restrictions on controversial fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs). Under the new regulatory crackdown which has already become a fact in England and Wales, the maximum betting stake of FOBTs was reduced from £100 to £2.
For the time being, several hundred of the machines are situated on the territory of Northern Ireland, in a total of 305 betting shops. The legislation under which the gambling machines are being regulated has been unchanged for more than thirty years.
Still, in spite of the fact that anti-gambling campaigners have called for action, the local Department for Communities said that there is not much it can do to change the situation. A spokesman of the Department explained that any proposed changes to the gambling law of Northern Ireland could be made only under a resolution of an incoming minister.
A couple of days ago, the UK Government revealed its decision to make a significant reduction of the maximum stake allowed in FOBTs, following several delays of the outcome. The measure is to be taken by local authorities in order to offset the possible harm which gambling could cause to local residents, and especially to children and more vulnerable people.
Department for Communities Has Its Hands “Tied”
According to Charity CARE NI, Northern Ireland was the territory with the highest rate of gambling addiction across the UK. Authorities have often been criticized for not doing much to bring some changes to the existing legislation which has not been amended since 1985.
Ian Paisley, a Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) MP, put the lack of action in the Northern Ireland under criticism, saying that the fixed-odds betting terminals were to be blamed for the difficulties faced by many families. He once again called for tighter regulation of the machines, saying that the Government had to find the right balance in its actions, as its decision would not only have impact on the customer protection but would also have an influence on the gambling sector, and more specifically, on companies’ revenue and retail shops jobs.
The Northern Ireland Turf Guardians’ Association which represents local sports betting operators commented on the clampdown imposed on fixed-odds betting machines, saying it would appreciate authorities’ efforts to provide an evidence-based review of the local gambling industry. The Association further explained that it was waiting for the Department for Communities to confirm the legislation’s future after a consultation which took place in 2011 and was especially focused on the regulation of the controversial machines.
As mentioned above, a total of 305 betting shops currently exist on the territory of Northern Ireland, with hundreds of terminals available. Approximately 1,500 people are employed in the retail betting sector, which contribution to the country’s economy amounts to about £29 million.