Saturday, 8 October 2011

Gambling in Northern Ireland

Earlier this year Alex Attwood MLA, my predecessor as Minister for Social Development, initiated a consultation on gambling legislation in Northern Ireland and this week DSD officials presented the Social Development Committee at Stormont with a summary of the responses. 

I was therefore interested to see a news report on North Western Bookmakers.  This company was formed in 2008 when Ladbrokes bought the Eastwood's chain of betting shops, merging it with its existing shops.  It is the largest chain in Northern Ireland, holding 24% of betting shop licences.

Their turnover in 2010 was £265m, up from £262m in 2009, and they reported a pre-tax profit of £6.4m.

With a turnover of £262m and holding alomst a quarter of the total number of licences, we can estimate that the total amount of money spent on gambling in betting shops in Northern Ireland must be around £1,060m a year, which is something like £600 for every man, woman and child.   If we exclude children and those who do not bet at all and if we bear in mind that some people only bet once or twice a year, on something like the Grand National, then it is clear that there are other people who are each spending many thousands of pounds a year in betting shops.


  1. I see that it has been decided to maintain the ban on casinos in Northern Ireland, thus driving people who want to gamble into betting shops to use Machines, arcades and online. A recent panorama report showed that these machines are the most profitable space in the majority of betting shops , many of which feature casino table games and as there is no human interaction to say stop, gamblers regularly become addicted and develop problems. The same is true with online casinos and games arcades which are full of the same faces every day pumping in all their money , with no-one to say stop or offer help. Yet they are everywhere in Norhtern Ireland.
    Banning casinos does not stop people gambling , it just drives them to less safe environments to gamble. Casinos can be a fun night out for most , who rather than spending £80-100 on dinner would spend the same having a few drinks and betting with friends. Most importantly , they are controlled and safe gambling environments when run correctly, with staff trained to spot anyone with a potential problem. These environements are safer for people to gamble as opposed to in front of a machine with a credit card , or their weeks wages.
    Your statement said : "My priority is to minimise the harmful effects of gambling; the new law will be underpinned by objectives aimed at keeping crime out of gambling, ensuring fairness within the gambling industry and protecting the young and vulnerable."
    All the new laws would appear to do is drive gamblers to less safe environments where they are more likely to develop a problem , when we should be attracting them to safer environments where there are staff trained to say stop and other friends to help shuld anyone develop a problem.
    Right now poker games are taking place in illegal premises , because it has been driven underground. We are the only place in Europe (apart from the Vatican) where this is so. As a poker player of 10 years , i have not seen many poker players who could be classed as having a problem. Yet i have met hundreds who enjoy the game safely and responsably. Again by banning casinos , you make criminals out of anyone who wants to meet with friends in a place outside their home to play poker. Again going against your statement of reducing crime.
    Many travel to dublin or UK mainland to play poker now or visit a casino , certainly over a few hundred every week do so. We stay in hotels and spend our money outside northern Ireland. Some fly to the UK again taking money our of NI thanks to our out of date gambling laws , which i think are set by religious beliefs and not by what is in the best interest of our people and economy. A casino would attract people to northern ireland , and not send them away.

    After reading the BBC report on the new laws , I think you have managed to do the exact opposite of what you have proposed in your statement. How do you feel about that?

    1. In preparing my proposals I consulted extensively and there was strong opposition to casinos.