Bookmaker arrested as part of probe into whether fixed odds betting terminals breach north's gambling laws

Fixed odds bettings terminals were legalised in the rest of the UK in 2005, but gambling law is devolved in the north. Picture by Daniel Hambury/PA Wire
John Monaghan

A BOOKMAKER has been arrested as part of a police investigation into whether fixed odds betting terminals breach the north's gambling laws.

There are understood to be around 600 such terminals in Northern Ireland, with the six major bookmakers offering the service in their shops.

Stakes of £100 can be placed every 20 seconds on the machines, which offer maximum winnings of £500.

Although legal in the rest of the UK since 2005, gambling legislation is devolved in the north and no gambling laws have been passed in more than three decades.

According to the last law, introduced in 1985, gaming machines should have a maximum stake of 30p, with an upward winning limit of £8.

Campaigners claim that the terminals pose problems for gambling addicts.

It is believed that bookmakers dispute whether the terminals should be defined as gaming machines, and say that the majority of people use them responsibly.

A BBC Spotlight programme, broadcast on Tuesday, said that the police were recommending prosecution in relation to two counts under the 1985 law - permitting a player of a gaming machine to receive excess winnings and charging a player of a gaming machine an amount in excess of that permitted.

A file has been sent to the Public Prosecution Service, which will decide whether to bring charges.

In 2015, the Department for Social Development said that fixed odds betting terminals operate within a grey area of the north's gambling law and that "their legal status under Northern Ireland law could only be authoritatively determined by the courts."

It comes a week after the owners of two pubs in Co Fermanagh had an application for the renewal of their drinks licences rejected following an 'illegal betting' case brought by a leading bookmakers' chain.

Toal's Bookmakers brought the case against Brian McGovern of Mac's Bar and Martin Maguire of Frank's Bar, both on Main Street in Lisnaskea.

Both licensees have appealed the rulings and were bailed on £500, and will be allowed to trade in the meantime.

Around 20 pubs in the north are facing legal challenges from bookmakers from having their drinks licences renewed because they allegedly allow illegal gambling on their premises.

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