The NI-based industry body has recently announced that all bookmakers in Northern Island are expected to voluntarily limit the maximum stake allowed at fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs) to £2.
The laws that come into force on April 1st, 2019 apply to UK bookmakers only, and were not expected to affect the NI terminals, but the NI Turf Guardians Association (NITGA) has announced that some bookmakers in Northern Island have already committed to following the limit, with all bookmakers expected to follow suit.
NITGA reported that it had met with representatives from several gambling firms, including A McLean’s, Toals, Ladbrokes, Coral, William HIll and Paddy Power – and all of them had committed to introducing the £2 cap on their machines on April 1st, too.
“NITGA is calling on all bookmakers to voluntarily implement the £2 maximum stake from 1 April 2019,” it added.
“We are aware that other operators are in the process of exploring how they too can implement the reduced stake and we expect all bookmakers will adopt the £2 limit.”
Gambling Laws in NI Are ‘Outdated’
Operators in Northern Ireland warned, last year, that the reduction in stakes could lead to the loss of thousands of jobs, and could also lead to thousands of shop closures, and while the changes are, so far, voluntary, it’s likely we’ll see legal changes too.
The BBC reports:
“The law has not been extended to Northern Ireland and the Department for Communities (DfC) said any changes would have to be made by a devolved minister.
There have been no ministers in place for two years, since the collapse of the power-sharing Stormont Executive in January 2017.
It is understood that there are around 600 such FOBTs terminals in Northern Ireland.
The last laws in Northern Ireland regarding gambling were introduced in 1985, when FOBTs did not exist.
The former Department for Social Development, which became part of the DfC, said in 2015 that the legal status of FOBTs under Northern Ireland law “could only be authoritatively determined by the courts”.
The PUP Councillor of Belfast, Dr John Kyle recently ran a debate at Belfast City Council about problem gambling, and he said he was happy to learn that the voluntary reductions were being implemented by around 90% of bookmakers throughout Northern Ireland.
“I have had overwhelming support from parties across the council, and a very positive response from people and the betting community itself,” he said, when speaking to BBC Radio Ulster’s ‘Good Morning Ulster’ show.
“I have had patients and constituents whose lives have been wrecked by gambling addiction.”
FOBTs Are The ‘Crack Cocaine’ of Gambling
The controversy around FOBTs started being highlighted many years ago, after multiple stories of punters who lost homes, broke up families, and – in the most serious of cases – took their own lives – begun to sweep British media.
It wasn’t long before the government got involved, and over the past few years, both Tory and Labour had tried, unsuccessfully to bring in reforms.
That all changes in May 2018, however, when the government announced that bookmakers would have to lower the maximum stake to just £2 (previously punters could wager up to £100 every 30 seconds), and though this was met with fierce opposition from gambling operators, the government refused to back down, with the new changes coming into change on April 1st, 2019.
Whether the move will actually help to curb problem gambling – or just drive bettors online – remains to be seen, but responsible gambling campaigners across the country are incredibly happy about the move.
Bookmakers, however, are less-than-thrilled, and it’s estimated that many of the UK’s high street branches may have to shut due to the cuts.