Legislation to present the most significant reforms to Northern Ireland’s gaming laws in over 35 years will be introduced within fourteen days.

Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey today declared a”two-phased strategy”, with instant legislation to be followed closely at the longer-term with the introduction of a completely new regulatory frame.

The first-phase legislation will deliver tangible changes in approximately 17 key areas, mainly around premises-based gaming, including improving protection for children and young people in addition to some relaxations around hours of performance.

Ms Hargey said:”Gambling legislation has remained mostly unchanged since it was commissioned 35 decades ago. Because of this, gambling regulation has not kept pace with industry and technological changes.

“It is evident from our consultation that people are content for a few of the present legal constraints on gambling to be relaxed. But they also believe that government, the gaming industry and others need to do much more to stop, control and fight problem gambling.

“The pragmatic approach I am taking will signify that we deliver some essential change in the brief term, while simultaneously ensuring complex regions of regulation and online gambling are given time and consideration they require.”

The forthcoming legislation will create new offences in relation to allowing children to play gaming machines; create forces to impose a statutory levy on gaming operators; set a mandatory code of practice for all those holding gaming licenses; broaden the definition of cheating to include attempted cheating; create gambling contracts enforceable in legislation; remove a few of the restrictions on promotional prize contests; and allow bookmakers and bingo clubs to start on Sundays and Good Friday.

The second phase of reform”will require a much longer timescale and will incorporate an entirely new regulatory framework which will govern online gaming, including gaming machines”, the Department for Communities (DfC) said.

Ms Hargey recently announced separate modifications to legislation to enable local voluntary groups and clubs to raise crucial funds by purchasing tickets on line.