Sunday gambling laws are slammed
A MAJOR local firm of bookmakers has claimed that the industry is at odds with Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland after his update on the Province’s gambling laws declared Sunday opening a non-starter.
Brothers Mel and Frank Hughes - who own a string of 17 betting shops in Mid Ulster - point out that punters can bet online 24/7, and every other business premises in Northern Ireland can open legally on Sundays, “but the bookies have been left in the paddock”.
They added, “Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK and Ireland where bookies aren’t allowed to open their premises on Sundays. And bookies are the only business in Northern Ireland that can’t trade on Sundays. It’s doubly unfair.”
They are third generation of the family firm, and have premises in Portadown’s High Street and Tandragee’s Main Street, and describe the McCausland document as “totally unfair to us and betting shops like us”.
Speaking from their Tandragee premises, Mel said,“Shops, pubs and clubs can operate, but we can’t. Online betting has taken away a large slice of our trade. But we don’t have a level playing field to take on the opposition, and we would ask the minister to think again.”
Frank claimed that Mr McCausland,a past secretary of the NI Sunday Observance Society, was applying his DUP ethos to the decision. He continued, “He’s totally entitled to his principles, and I wouldn’t criticise those for one minute.
“But I don’t see why bookmakers should be the only section of commerce excluded when clubs and can open on Sundays and when people can bet online to their hearts’ content. We’re talking about 500 jobs here.
“We have a betting shop in Newry which has to remain closed on Sundays, but just over the border in Castleblaney, betting shops are operating normally.
“Last Sunday, for example, our shops would have been pretty busy, with the Manchester United v Liverpool match the big attraction, but we were denied that while our usual punters sit at home and go online.”
Mr McCausland announced comprehensive plans last week to update the gambling laws “to address the rapidly changing gambling environment and to ensure that our law complies with the relevant EU provision”.
He added that the Gambling Prevalence Survey showed that one in 50 of the Northern Ireland population had problems associated with gambling.
He added, “The new law will be underpinned by objectives aimed at keeping crime out of gambling, ensuring fairness within the gambling industry, and protecting the young and vulnerable.”
He pointed to a section dealing with the protection of children and young people; that NI residents can participate in promotional prize draws; gaming machine standards in GB will be adopted here; some advertising restrictions will be lifted; there will be new contracts for bookies’ offices; and the current casino ban will remain.
Mel Hughes said, “In other words, some EU and Great Britain standards will be adopted, but not all, even though bookies’ shops in GB and the EU remain open, while we’re kept locked up. That certainly doesn’t make for the fairness the minister espouses.”
A statement from the DSD said the minister was not prepared to increase the types of premises where gambling was permitted, the number of gaming machines and the opening hours for premises where gambling was permitted.
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Weather for Portadown
Saturday 25 May 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 16 C
Wind Speed: 13 mph
Wind direction: South
Temperature: 9 C to 15 C
Wind Speed: 14 mph
Wind direction: South