Northern Ireland sports betting and bingo halls are now open 7 days a week

Posted: April 29, 2022, 5:52 a.m.

Last update on: April 29, 2022, 01:26h.

Northern Ireland’s attempts to update some of its gambling laws are now complete. Thanks to Royal Assent last Tuesday, sports betting and bingo halls can now open on Sundays without breaking the rules.

Totals bookmaker
Inside Toals Bookmaker’s largest sports betting store, above. The bookmaker and others across Northern Ireland can now open on Sundays. (Picture: Toals Bookmakers)

It’s been a long time since 1985 when Northern Ireland last attempted to update its gambling laws. A lot has changed in nearly four decades. But progress came last month.

Game Reform jumped the final hurdle and crossed the finish line last Tuesday. The Betting, Lotteries and Entertainment (Amendment) (Northern Ireland) Act 2022 has received Royal Assent.

It is now possible for sports betting retailers and bingo halls to do something they have not been able to do for over 40 years. They can, if they wish, open their doors on Sundays. It’s a feat that almost didn’t happen.

Open for business

There are 295 sportsbooks in Northern Ireland and several bingo halls. Owners of all properties should have already received a letter from the Department of Communities advising them that the updated laws are now in effect.

The legislation had to go through seven stages to become law and was only passed at the last minute before the March deadline. Some betting operators thought, according to Irish newsthat it could be later this year or maybe next year before the bill goes through the final stage.

However, this week the updated rules received a surprise royal decree, effective immediately. From this Sunday, betting offices can operate normally seven days a week. They can also operate on Good Friday. But Christmas Day is still not in the books.

In addition to opening hours, the legislation added other updates. Lottery tickets for local readers can now cost up to £100 ($131). Previously, the limit was £1 (USD 1.31). Some 20% of proceeds from the sale of lottery tickets can now be designated as operating and administrative expenses.

Anyone under the age of 18 found playing a slot machine can face up to six months in jail under the new laws. Additionally, operators can expect to pay a new mandatory levy for their licenses.

The law leaves room for smooth changes in the future. New responsible gaming protocols and measures can be introduced more easily, without the need for lengthy discussions that could take decades.

Not all open on Sunday

Not all operators think they will open on Sundays right away. Gary Toal, owner of Toal’s Bookmakers, said Irish news that there are certain challenges that companies will face before taking a step forward. A big one is staffing.

Working the whole week means hiring more employees or paying more salaries to existing staff. In either case, companies need to consider whether the expense justifies the reward.

Northern Ireland has no law regarding extra pay for Sunday work or overtime. However, companies can make deals with their employees to pay them more if they work more than the standard 48 hours per week.

The timing of the entry into force of the law is earlier than expected. It was expected that this would not take place before mid-May or the end of May. Preparation is now underway for the Sunday opening, which is expected to create up to 250 part-time jobs,” said the Northern Ireland Turf Guardians’ Association.

The Northern Ireland Turf Guardians Association shares Toal’s position. He said in a statement that most sportsbooks would not be open this Sunday as they need to make changes to prepare to operate seven days a week. However, independent stores with lower overheads could take the plunge and start collecting bets from May 1st.

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