The overwhelming majority of people in Northern Ireland support reforming the country’s outdated gambling laws, according to a new poll.
LucidTalk, the Belfast-based polling company conducted the survey on behalf of Christian Action Research & Education (CARE) NI, a faith-based social policy charity campaigning for gambling law change and there were 1,878 responses.
The results come as punters begin to return to betting shops across Northern Ireland this weekend, following their reopening yesterday, Friday 3rd July, after the coronavirus lockdown.
When asked what best described their position, a staggering 92 per cent said maximum stakes and prizes online should be regulated by law, while only eight per cent said there should be no limit.
There is also widespread support for a mandatory levy on betting companies which would force them to contribute more towards treatment for gambling related harms.
In total, 90 per cent of respondents either strongly support (68 per cent) or support (22 per cent) the idea of a mandatory levy for gambling firms while only five per cent were either strongly opposed or opposed to the idea of the levy.
Monies raised by the levy could be used to fund treatment of those with gambling addictions and also further research into the causes of problem gambling.
Northern Ireland’s current gambling legislation dates back to 1985 and CARE NI is campaigning for fundamental changes to bring the law into line with the digital age.
In 2017, the Department for Communities found that Northern Ireland has a problem gambling prevalence rate of 2.3 per cent – more than four times higher than England. The equivalent rate in England is 0.5 per cent, in Scotland is 0.7 per cent and in Wales is 1.1 per cent.
CARE NI, which provides the Secretariat to the new All-Party Group on Reducing Harm Related to Gambling at Stormont, has urged the NI Executive to prioritise addressing gambling law reforms.
The Department of Communities held a public consultation last year on the issue, but the final report is yet to be published.
“Current gambling laws in Northern Ireland are hopelessly out of date and belong to a different era where online gambling didn’t exist,” said Mark Baillie, CARE NI’s public policy officer.
“But times have changed and the recent lockdown here in Northern Ireland has only increased the pressure on people with gambling addictions.
Mr Baillie said it is “the uncomfortable truth” that Northern Ireland has a real problem with gambling related harms and “this means it’s all the more urgent to reform our current laws”.
He said the polling clearly shows that reforming the current laws would be “hugely popular” with the general population, with the clear majority supportive on stake and prize limits on online games regulated by law and a mandatory levy on betting firms.
“CARE NI responded to the Department of Communities consultation on problem gambling and we look forward to the results being published soon,” he added.
“Our politicians must make this issue a priority and address the exploitation of vulnerable people thanks to a poorly regulated gambling industry.”
Picture: A betting shop prepares to safely reopen following the Covid-19 lockdown. (Liam McBurney/PA).