Bookies under starter's orders to open from this Sunday
BOOKIES shops and bingo halls can legally open for the first time in Northern Ireland from this Sunday.
The move surprised bookmakers who weren't expecting changes until this autumn at the earliest.
It's the first major alteration to betting laws since 1985, and finally brings the north into line with Britain and the Republic.
Legislation to amend Northern Ireland's gambling laws was given its Royal Assent on Tuesday.
The Betting, Gaming, Lotteries and Amusements (Amendment) Act (Northern Ireland) 2022, presented last year by Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey, had passed the seven stages towards becoming law.
Businesses likely to be impacted by the changes were surprised to receive an email from the Department for Communities confirming its passing.
The email said: "I am very pleased to inform you that DfC has just today received confirmation that the legislation has received Royal Assent and becomes law today, April 26 2022."
It added that Sunday opening is permitted for this weekend, May 1.
Toal's Bookmakers owner Gary Toal, who operates 44 shops across the north, told the Irish News: "I was shocked but delighted to receive the email, though in truth I can't see any big bookie being ready to go with an opening from this week.
"There will be a huge staffing issue to get sorted for a start. I'm certainly not going to ask my employees, many of whom have been with me for decades and who are already doing a 40-hour week, to now work 48 hours.
"For our business, it will mean immediately recruiting 10, 20, maybe 30 staff, and perhaps trying to open a few shops in the next month or six weeks."
He added: "There are around 1,500 bookmaker's shops across the north, so there is a big opportunity to add 250 jobs to cover the extra day. And then there is the additional jobs capacity in other areas impacted by the new law, including bingo halls, so it's jobs all the way."
The new laws will also permit opening on Good Friday.
* This article was amended on May 9 2022