Despite much debate over the years, casinos are currently banned in Northern Ireland. While a new public consultation over an ambitious casino project could see all that changing in Belfast, the proposals will still have to make it past a sceptical public.
Northern Ireland is set to launch a public consultation on gambling which could pave the way for the creation of a new £300m casino complex.
Beginning this December, the new consultation by Belfast City Council will “determine a corporate position in relation to the development of an entertainment and casino complex and extended licensing hours” in the city.
Belfast is currently the only major UK city that does not have the opportunity to open a casino, unlike the rest of the country the regulation of gambling has been devolved to the regional government under the NI Act 1998.
The council has now voted in favour of launching a new public consultation into the possibility of developing a new casino project which it claims would bring large-scale investment to the city and generate 1,000 jobs.
But while there seems to be shift in political will towards a change in gambling legislation – what are the chances of the laws actually changing?
“The UK’s Gambling Act 2005 does not generally extend to Northern Ireland, so the provisions which allowed sixteen UK local authorities to issue casino licences did not allow for any such licences there,” explained Melanie Ellis, a senior associate at law firm Harris Hagan.
“The consultation will give local residents a chance to have their say on a change of law, however, even if approved by the Council the changes would need to be agreed by the Northern Ireland Assembly.”
While Ellis concedes that changes to the legislation are “long overdue” she suggest that the chances of a change in legislation to allow a land-based casino are unlikely given the unpopularity of gambling with the Northern Irish public.
Nevertheless, there are some who are hopeful that a change in legislation could be hugely beneficial to Belfast.
Sinn Féin councillor Jim McVeigh contends that developing an entertainment and casino complex and modernising the licensing system would provide stimulus to the tourism sector and city’s economy.
“It’s about having a mature debate,” he stated, speaking to local media.
“It’s some way off but one thing we can say for sure – there is more than one organisation looking to do this …[and the] jobs would be very significant.”
Two leading casino groups are believed to have been in discussion with politicians concerning a new casino development, said to also include a hotel, food and beverage outlets, and a water park.
One of the two interested parties is British land-based casino and bingo operator, the Rank Group, – owner of the Grosvenor Casinos brand – which has reportedly shown interest in developing a £200m complex.