News & Insights: Commercial

Outdated Gambling Laws in Northern Ireland

26 July 2019

The recent news that County Down GAA club Mayobridge GAC had to cancel their raffle for a new house should be of concern to many GAA clubs and other sporting or community organisations who regularly hold these types of draws as much needed fundraisers.

It has been reported that the draw was cancelled following a small number of complaints to the police, who subsequently advised the organisers that their raffle may be in breach of our gambling legislation and they could be liable to criminal convictions if they continued with it.

At present, gambling in Northern Ireland (other than the National Lottery) is regulated by the Betting, Gaming, Lotteries and Amusements (NI) Order 1985 (“the 1985 Order”) as amended by the Betting and Lotteries (NI) Order 1994. The 1985 Order is itself based on old GB law from the 1960s which has subsequently been repealed and replaced by the Gambling Act 2005. Northern Ireland is yet to follow suit with its own updated version and with the doors of Stormont closed, no changes will be made anytime soon. The current laws have been described as complex, framed in antiquated style which makes it difficult to understand, and may not address the changing world of gambling.

Under our current legislation, it is unlawful to conduct in Northern Ireland any competition which offers prizes, where success does not depend to a substantial degree on the exercise of skill.  There are certain strict exemptions to this and all prize draws or lotteries are illegal unless they are;

1.Small lotteries at exempt entertainments (e.g. a fete, bazaar, gala dinner, sporting event or similar event)

2.Private lotteries (where the sale of tickets or chances in confined to members of a society (not established for gaming purposes) or to people who either live or work in the same premises)

3.Societies’ lotteries (a lottery promoted by a society established for charitable, sporting, cultural etc purpose) but subject to very strict conditions.

The typical lottery or raffle organised by numerous groups across the country does not comply with any of the above exceptions and in reality, if groups did strictly comply with the legislation, they would never raise the level of money they aim to achieve with these draws.

You may ask why this draw in particular has been stopped when so many others have passed without issue over the years? I suspect that without any complaints being raised, police have no reason to look into such draws (or no interest) and it is only because complaints have been raised in this case that they have been duty-bound to investigate and have advised the organisers to cancel it to avoid risking prosecution.

The fact is that our gambling laws are outdated and simply do not cater for the many ideas and types of raffle, draw or event that are now quite prevalent. While all organisers should be aware of the restrictions in the legislation and the possibility of breaking the law, I imagine we have not yet seen the last of the knock on door by the volunteer ticket seller.

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