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Reasons NI Gambling Laws Are ‘A Bit Different’



The four countries that make up the UK are self-governing, meaning they could have their unique gambling laws and regulations. However, while Wales and Scotland’s gambling laws mostly align with those of England, there are some glaring differences between Northern Ireland’s and the rest of the UK.

Despite differences, there is some degree of alignment between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. For example, Gamstop, an online gambling self-exclusion scheme, is available to gamblers in the whole of the UK, including Northern Ireland. (If you’re in NI and would like to gamble outside of the scheme, check out the non-gamstop offered in as chosen by Sergio Zammit).

The main reason why gambling laws are different in NI and the rest of the UK has to do with regulation and legislation.

Gambling laws throughout the rest of the UK are based on the Gambling Act 2005. Regulation is also provided by the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC). 

However, this is not the case in Northern Ireland. Instead, gambling laws in NI are based entirely around the Betting, Gaming, Lotteries & Amusements (NI) Order 1985 (which was later amended in 2022). Every form of gambling (besides the National Lottery) has to abide by this law.

Generally, gambling laws in NI are noted for being a lot more restrictive than the laws found in Great Britain. One such restriction is that it is illegal to open physical casinos in Northern Ireland, while there are many brick-and-mortar casinos in Scotland, England, and Wales.

Despite it being against the law, bookmakers claim that illegal gambling premises are present in NI.

Another key difference is that it is currently illegal to engage in any form of betting that relies on chance as opposed to a demonstrable skill.

Online gambling is legal, but it is illegal to set up an online gambling platform in NI. It is, therefore, also prohibited for gamblers to play on any site based illegally in NI.

So, if you live in NI and want to partake in online poker, you’ll need to use sites that are based elsewhere. Normally, NI residents use gambling sites that are based on the Isle of Man or Malta, as they generally do not have access to gambling sites that are regulated by UKGC and based in the mainland UK.

Not only does the UKGC not regulate gambling in NI, but the country also does not have an alternative independent regulator. Instead, any changes to gambling legislation in NI need to go through the Assembly. This assembly regulates everything in the country – not just gambling. This is another reason why gambling laws are so different.

Without a dedicated body, gambling legislation does not get as much attention as it does in the UK. This can perhaps be why gambling laws in Northern Ireland are often described as outdated, as updates to gambling legislation are infrequent.

Several historical, economic, and social factors arguably influence why gambling laws are so different in NI. As stated in this Institute of Public Health report, gambling is a serious health and social issue. For this reason, the government may be reluctant to reassess and change the current gambling laws.

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