SDLP Social Justice Spokesperson Mark H Durkan has said a bill aiming to update the North’s gambling laws does not go far enough.
Mr Durkan said the bill lacked both ambition and substance and would not address the issues plaguing the North’s 40,000 problem gamblers.
He also drew attention to the fact Sinn Féin Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey’s bill bared no relation to the party’s all-island ‘Problem Gambling Policy’ or recently published ’26 County Gambling Strategy' in the South.
Mr Durkan was speaking after the Second Stage of the Betting, Gaming, Lotteries and Amusements (Amendment) Bill in the Assembly on Monday.
The Foyle MLA said:
“Gambling is an issue that has blighted many homes across the North and there are currently 40,000 problem gamblers here. Families have been ruined, relationships destroyed, businesses gone under and people left broken and destitute by an inability to overcome an issue with gambling. While some people are able to gamble responsibly a large number of people here clearly can’t – proportionally more than anywhere else on these islands – and they need support.
“This legislation is long overdue, we haven’t had any specific legislation since 1985, but there’s no point introducing it if it doesn’t address the problems here. This bill fails to tackle the high rate of problem gambling and includes no meaningful support for those who are currently in the grip of addiction. The bill also fails to properly regulate online gambling or the operation of Fixed Odd Betting Terminals which are increasingly used by problem gamblers as more and more of the gambling industry's trade moves online.
“I’m astonished that Sinn Féin Minister Hargey is bringing forward this bill mere months after her party published its ’26 County Gambling Strategy’ in the South. It calls for a gambling regulator, age verification for online gambling, self-exclusion regulation, the end of offers to entice young people to gamble and regulation on advertising. Where are these proposals in Minister Hargey’s bill? If they are supported by the party then why are they not introducing them here?
"This is yet another to add to the long list of divergence in Sinn Féin policy North and South and once again it will be the people in the North that lose out from the lack of protections in this unfit for purpose bill.”