Unlawful Casinos in Northern Ireland Are Ubiquitous, According to Bookmakers

Two independent bookmakers in Northern Ireland appeared in front of the Communities Committee at Stormont, testifying illegal casinos are “rife” in the country. Paul McLean, who runs A. McLean Bookmakers and Betmclean.com, and Gary Toal of Toals Bookmakers, also claimed some legal venues are running illicit operations at night, accepting higher stakes to generate bigger profits.

The two discussed the problem of legal bingo premises as well as other gaming venues in front of the Stormont Assembly. They highlighted the fact that the police felt unable to do something about the illegal operations because they were under-funded and missing critical resources needed to act.

The Betting Gaming Lotteries and Amusements Bill Is Currently Under Review

The Communities Committee is busy scrutinizing a new bill that would encapsulate the most important amends brought to the country’s gambling laws in the past forty years. Both MacLean and Toal were vocal in expressing their support towards the bill’s betting shop proposal. The proposal asks for these premises to be open and fully operational on Sundays, which are critical betting days for big sporting events. To further explain their position, the two bookmakers claimed that betting already occurs illegally at clubs and pubs in the country, with total disregard of the current ban imposed on these facilities to practice bookmaking operations or offer their services as betting intermediaries.

McLean added punters could currently bet on their phones while attending church services on a Sunday, yet they are not allowed to wager in specialized and licensed betting shops. Toal highlighted the fact that existing betting shop workers would not in any way be forced to take on Sundays shifts provided they did not want to do it.

The initial stage of the bill would primarily address the land gambling regulations following a rather obsolete order dating back from more than three and a half decades ago. The Betting, Gaming, Lotteries, and Amusements Bill would enable high-street bingo clubs and betting shop operators to open on Bank Holidays and Sundays.

The bill would also establish the minimum legal age for accessing gambling products at 18 and label venues and licensed gaming operators offering their services to underaged players as an offense. The same act would introduce a new statutory levy that would fund problem gambling treatment facilities, community programs, and important initiatives regarding responsible gambling.

Deirdre Hargey, the Communities minister responsible for leading the amendment of the country’s gambling laws, has brought additional suggestions and proposals to the table. One of them is an open consultation for the introduction of an offline gambling practice code that would become mandatory in all venues.

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