Northern Ireland

Betting machines: NI bookmakers expected to implement £2 limit

Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) Image copyright PA

All bookmakers in Northern Ireland are expected to voluntarily limit the maximum stake allowed at fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs) to £2, an NI-based industry body has said.

Laws slashing the upper limit in the UK from £100 to £2 come into effect on 1 April, but do not apply to NI.

However, some bookmakers have committed to the £2 limit, said the NI Turf Guardians Association (NITGA).

It added that all bookmakers here are expected to follow suit.

NITGA said it had been consulting with its membership and that several firms, including A McLean's Bookmakers, Toals, Ladbrokes, Coral, William Hill and Paddy Power, had committed to introducing the new limit in their Northern Ireland branches on 1 April.

"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."

Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption The Department for Communities has said any change to NI gambling law would have to be made by a devolved minister

It comes after the Association of British Bookmakers, which does not cover Northern Ireland, said it understood that NI branches of its members had committed to voluntarily reducing the stake on the same day the law changes elsewhere in the UK.

NI changes 'need minister'

Some bookmakers had warned in 2018 that the cut could lead to thousands of shop closures and job losses.

Currently people can bet up to £100 every 20 seconds on electronic casino games, but changes were announced by Culture Secretary Matt Hancock in May 2018.

He described the machines as a "a very serious social blight" that "needs to be tackled".

However, 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".

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Image caption Belfast councillor Dr John Kyle said plans to change the law had received a "very positive" response

In 2017 a BBC Spotlight programme revealed that a bookmaker had been arrested and a file sent to the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) after a PSNI investigation into whether the terminals are in breach of Northern Ireland gambling laws.

Belfast PUP councillor Dr John Kyle, who led a recent debate at Belfast City Council about problem gambling, said that he understood the voluntary reductions announced by bookmakers covered "90% of all betting shops" in 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 told BBC Radio Ulster's Good Morning Ulster programme.

"I have had patients and constituents whose lives have been wrecked by gambling addiction."

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