While England and Wales look forward to moving past the FOBT debate, the issue will remain a cause of contention in Northern Ireland, with the country continuing without devolved government as it decides if the controversial terminals are even legal.
Northern Ireland’s Department of Communities has said the country cannot consider following England and Wales’ lead on last week’s cut to the maximum stake on FOBTs as there is no minister to do so.
Despite being the department responsible for devolved gambling legislation, officials stated that it would have to be “the Courts” that determine what actions are to be taken regarding FOBTs until a minister is appointed. The country has been without devolved government since January last year, leading to confusion as to who is in charge.
“This Department notes the announcement made by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport regarding a reduction in the maximum stake permitted for Fixed Odds Betting Terminals in response to their recent consultation,”said a spokeswoman for the Department of Communities. “Gambling is a devolved matter and is regulated here by The Betting, Gaming, Lotteries and Amusements (NI) Order 1985. This legislation predates the development of electronic machines such as Fixed Odds Betting Terminals; their legality can, therefore, only be definitively determined by the Courts.
“Any proposed changes to Northern Ireland gambling law would be for an incoming minister to determine.”
There are currently 305 betting shops across the country, with approximately 600 terminals thought to be in operation. Both gambling charities and politicians from both sides of the aisle have criticised the impasse on legislation, with DUP MP Ian Paisley and Sinn Fein culture spokeswoman both supporting the cut to FOBT maximum stakes that will be made in England and Wales.
Last year, a bookmaker was arrested and a file sent to the Public Prosecution Service after a PSNI investigation into whether the terminals are in breach of Northern Ireland gambling laws. If the case against the bookmaker proceeds to trial, it will be seen as a test case for the legality of the machines in Northern Ireland.