Get tougher on illegal gambling says bookies' body

Many big race meetings now take place on Sundays - yet the north's bookies must stay shut
Many big race meetings now take place on Sundays - yet the north's bookies must stay shut

THE body which represents bookmakers in the north claims the authorities still aren't doing enough to stamp out illegal gambling.

The Northern Ireland Turf Guardians (NITGA) was responding in the wake of Co Down bookie Gerard Boyle being convicted last week of opening his shop on a Sunday over the period of two and half years.

He was fined £4,500 and ordered to pay back £100,000, an amount deemed by the court to be the proceeds of his crime over that time.

But yesterday the body claimed this was just the tip of the iceberg, and called on police to "get tough".

It also said the PSNI is in possession of "clear cut, irrefutable evidence" about other breaches of current gambling laws, yet has largely failed to take action.

"The Northern Ireland Turf Guardians do not in any circumstance condone unlawful behaviour and believe the case of Mr Boyle does not represent the full extent of illegal gambling in Northern Ireland," its chairman Adrian Eastwood told the Irish News.

“NITGA hope that this case represents more hard line approach on clubs, pubs and establishments other than bookmakers who are breaking the law by laying illegal bets in their premises”.

“Illegal gambling is damaging the business and reputation of bookmakers who are acting within the law, this is despite frequent and ongoing appeals to the PSNI to take action and crack down on illegal incidents”.

“NITGA support the extension of opening hours in Northern Ireland to permit Sunday trading in line with Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland.

"We believe that modernising the law to show parity with the rest of Great Britain has the potential to lessen incidents of illegal gambling in Northern Ireland, particularly on a Sunday”.

The bookmaking industry in Northern Ireland employs close to 2,000 people and makes a significant contribution to the economy, despite what it insists is the "active discrimination" being shown to it.

Since the set-up of the Stormont Executive, there have been a number of attempts to try to change the legislation which would see bookies treated fairly and stop illegal gambling taking place on Sundays.

Just before the last Assembly election, the then SDLP Social Development Minister Alex Attwood said he intended to allow for Sunday opening, but to tighten other gambling regulations and introduce a tax on bookmakers to fund research and treatment of addiction.

However, after the election, the job was taken by the DUP’s Nelson McCausland and subsequently Mervyn Storey, and they have appeared less enthusiastic about further relaxations on Sunday opening.

Because the licensed bookies' doors remain locked on Sundays - which is now seen as a prime betting day for sporting events - it has led to hundreds of pubs and clubs having a "illegal" bookmaker, who'll take bets either on behalf of the premises or a commercial operator.

But according to the Gambling Commission, no commercial betting at all, regardless of the level of stakes, is allowed in pubs and clubs.

It says: "It is not socially responsible and those who facilitate such betting in pubs and clubs – whether publicans, designated premises supervisors or club officials – are providing illegal facilities for gambling and are breaking the law.

"Even where publicans, designated premises supervisors or club officials accept bets on behalf of licensed bookmakers, or just facilitate betting through their own telephone accounts, they are acting as betting intermediaries and could be prosecuted."

It added that individuals who engage in the facilitation of illegal betting in pubs risk up to 51 weeks imprisonment and/or up to a £5,000 fine.