With full lockdown measures still enacted in Northern Ireland, it is expected that many citizens will turn to online gambling as weeks spent in-doors turn into months.
The first lockdown in March 2020 witnessed a large increase in online gambling and betting. Almost 1 million more bets were placed during lockdown one across the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland as the statistic below from Gambling Insights makes clear.
Total number of online #gambling bets placed in the UK since first lockdown in March 2020 now up +17% to a total of 50,688,098,194.
The Gambling Commission do not think this is an issue. Clear second wave of increased betting.
— Gambling Insight 💙 (@GamblingInsight) January 20, 2021
Furthermore, when the second lockdown was enforced, the number of bets placed online shot back up again. According to the BBC, online searches for the keyword ‘online casino’ reached a record high during lockdown.
Initially, there was a large decrease in many forms of gambling due to the cancellation of sports events in 2020. This ensured that sports betting was off the cards. Football and horse racing make up 75% of the UK sports betting market. The suspension of both these sports was a determining factor in the share price drop of many gambling companies.
However, gamblers who would usually bet on sports instead switched to online casinos and betting on slot machines. This switch has continued into 2021.
The Project Manager of a Megaways Casino informs us that search traffic being directed to their casino site increased quite dramatically during each lockdown phase.
William Brown from the Megaways Casino told LoveBelfast:
“The evidence shows that when people are forced to stay in-doors they quickly become bored and look for things to do.
“The age of the internet has ensured that it has never been easier to access gambling online. Our site allows our visitors to access Megaways casinos online from wherever they are in the world.
“Now that we are witnessing yet another lockdown in the UK and Wales in 2021, the stats indicate that people are once again turning their computers on in order to play casino games.”
Gambling Act Set for Update in March 2021
There has been calls for a number of years now to update the 2005 Gambling Act which sets the laws for all gambling companies operating in the UK. Those opposed to online gambling state that when the act was written, the internet was not as widely accessible as it is now and have called for the act to be re-written so that it is ‘fit for the digital age’.
At the end of 2020, the government announced that a review of the Gambling Act would be taking place. The call for evidence of the review is due to be published on March 31st, 2021. This will outline what changes to the Act will be made.
Naysayers of problem gambling have the opinion that stricter regulation of the online gambling market in the UK and Northern Ireland will create a larger threat of an online gambling black market. There are already casinos which are not regulated by the UK Gambling Commission, but which still accept UK players.
What is to be Expected from the Updated Gambling Act?
The government is expected to make updates to the Act so that the online marketplace becomes a safer place for gamblers. Currently, any online casino player is able to get up to £500 on one spin of a slot machine. Gambling critics expect the government to limit this sum.
In 2019, the government enacted measures to ensure that gaming machines in land-based gambling premises were limited. The maximum stake was cut from £100 to £2. We could see something similar in the online gambling sphere.
The main objective of the review is to: “Examine whether changes are needed to the system of gambling regulation in Great Britain to reflect changes to the gambling landscape since 2005, particularly due to technological advances.”
Northern Irish Laws
Gambling Laws in Northern Ireland may not follow suit, though. At present, gambling in Northern Ireland is regulated by the 1985 Order which is based on an old Great Britain law from the 1960s – a law which was replaced by the 2005 Gambling Act. Certainly, gambling law in Northern Ireland are outdated.
Several prominent Northern Irish politicians have indicated that gambling legislation in the country is not fit for purpose.