he Stormont Minister for Social Development, Alex Attwood, believes the law needs to be brought up to date.
The SDLP Minister is proposing bookies pay a levy to fund charities that help those with chronic and addictive gambling problems. One person in 50 in the North has a gambling problem, more than four times the figure in Britain.
He is also is proposing his own department could become the single regulator for gambling. At present licensing and enforcement is shared by the courts, the North’s 26 district councils and the PSNI.
Announcing his proposals and the consultation process, Attwood said: “My priority will be the public interest; striking a balance between developing gambling as a leisure pursuit and minimizing its harmful effects. These have been the standards I have adopted and am adopting in regulating other industries including the drinks industry and the shops trade.”
The Minister believes the law is outdated and needs to reflect current leisure practice. Sunday observance groups have criticized him for his stance on the liberalizing of Sunday shopping and drinking.
But his proposals have been welcomed by figures in the gambling industry. A spokesman for Paddy Power, which operates a chain of eight betting shops in the greater Belfast area, said his company “would be a great supporter” of liberalization.