If you know much about Northern Ireland then you’ll know that the country has always been rather puritanical in its beliefs. Whilst the people are lovely, the Guinness is. Top notch and you’ll have great craic anytime you head there, the reality is that the stricter of the governing parties in the country are those that dictate the laws and rules.
To get into why that is the case would require a much longer article, looking at the history of the country and the religious differences that have sat astride Northern Ireland ever since it was split from Ireland. Whilst there have been numerous negotiations to change the rules, at the time of writing it is still the case that Northern Ireland has no casinos.
At a Glance: There Are No Casinos in Northern Ireland
For those of you looking for a simple yes or no answer, we can confirm that there are no casinos anywhere in Northern Ireland although there are a couple of smaller ones just across the border. For bigger casinos you’ll need to head to Dublin.
Why Aren’t Casinos Allowed in Northern Ireland?
Though Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom and subject to the same changes in rules and laws as the rest of the UK, it is also able to create its own laws and has done so around the area of gambling. The Betting, Gaming, Lotteries & Amusements (NI) Order 1985 is what dictates how any gambling other than the National Lottery will be handled.
There have been a number of attempts to change the way that gambling is handled in Northern Ireland over the years, largely with the hope of altering the antiquated language and making it easier for businesses to navigate. Even something such as a free draw is much harder to do in Northern Ireland than in the rest of the UK.
The good news for people that live in the country is that the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland is still open, meaning that they can travel from one part of the Emerald Isle to another if they’re desperate to go to the casino. Ireland does offer casinos, though they’re not the sort of venue that people in the rest of Britain will have grown accustomed to over the years.
In Northern Ireland, however, the law remains one that is based on British law from the 1960s. The country did not move with the times as the rest of the United Kingdom did when the Gambling Act 2005 was introduced. At the time of writing the laws are such that it is unlawful to offer a prize in a competition if success does not depend on skill to a substantial degree.
There are some exemptions to this, which are as follows:
- Small lotteries at entertainments that are exempt
- Private lotteries
- Societies’ lotteries
Even these exemptions are still controlled strictly, with the likes of the private lotteries only being available to people who are part of the same society that wasn’t created specifically to gamble or people who live or work in the same location as each other.
Of course, the devolved nature of law in Northern Ireland means that laws that take effect in England don’t automatically come into play over the water. For that reason when the law changed to introduce a new maximum stake for Fixed Odds Betting Terminals, the law was not extended to Northern Ireland’s bookmakers. That drew plenty of criticism, but nothing changed.
These strict laws also stop casinos from being able to open, given the fact that so many of the games played in a casino are games of chance rather than skill. The biggest problem for changing laws is that Northern Irish MPs left Stormont in 2017 and haven’t been back since, save for a brief spell in October 2019.
There Have Been Many (Failed) Attempts to Open a Casino
Just because there are no casinos in Northern Ireland doesn’t mean that there haven’t been attempts to open one in the past, of course. In 2014, for example, The Rank Group drew up plans to open a casino in Belfast in spite of the fact that minister in charge of deciding whether it would be allowed or not had already ruled it out.
The plans were likely to cost around £18 million and included the opening of a new theatre, a cinema, bowling lanes, restaurants and even a bingo hall. Given The Rank Group’s status as one of the biggest gambling businesses in Europe, it was hoped that they would have the clout to make the Northern Irish government re-think things.
In the end, however, no such complex was built. The failure to pass any new laws by the Department for Social Development meant that even The Rank Group’s decision to create a ‘prototype model’ that was not similar to any other casinos in its group didn’t pass muster.
The Rank Group didn’t give up, however, and maintained their interest in opening a new casino in the capital. It even went so far as to result in Belfast City Council conducting a public consultation that ended in March 2018. It’s likely that the desire to open a casino was appealing to the Council because of the money that it would bring into the city.
Despite the desire of different companies to open casinos in Northern Ireland, it has yet to actually happen. In order for something to take place along those lines the country’s laws would need to change. As recently as September 2019 a report into the matter made the following conclusion:
Any change to the existing regulatory framework for gambling in Northern Irelandwill require primary legislation in the Assembly; it will be for an incoming Minister for Communities to determine the way forward.
There Are No Future Plans to Change the Rules
Whilst most MPs in Northern Ireland agree that some major changes to gambling legislation need to be carried out, the issue is made complex by the fact that the Assembly is still not functioning in the country. As a result, there is no active administration and gambling law reform can’t be looked at in any great detail.
The calls for the devolved government to return to Stormont and get back to work have been growing in intensity on an almost daily basis in Northern Ireland, but no plans are currently in place for it to do so. That means that companies like The Rank Group can come up with whatever major plans for casinos and other leisure facilities that they want, but they’ll remain pipe dreams.
Casinos Near Northern Ireland (Just Across the Border)
With the lack of casinos in Northern Ireland unlikely to change in the near future, people that either live in or are visiting the country will have to travel into the Republic Of Ireland if they’re hoping to visit a casino. Casino operators in Ireland aren’t stupid, of course, and so there are a number of options pretty much right on the border between the two countries.
To the northwest of Northern Ireland is a Majestic Casino in Letterkenny. It promises both live table options and other amusements, with plenty of slot machines there for your entertainment. It’s a similar story to the west, where the Adelaide Casino stands in Sligo and offers slots alongside table games like blackjack and electronic roulette.
For those wanting a casino experience a little bit closer to home, the Diamonds Private Member’s Club that is located in the centre of Monaghan offers just that. Roulette and blackjack are the prominent games here and sit alongside a limited number of slot machines. There are also cash poker games on offer relatively regularly.
Casinos in Dublin
As the capital of the Republic Of Ireland, it’s rather clear that Dublin is not in Northern Ireland. It is, however, around two hours away from Belfast whether you’re travelling in a car or by train. Being the main city of a country that has relaxed gambling laws, it goes without saying that Dublin has more than a few casinos on offer to those that want to travel there.
From the likes of Fitzpatrick’s Casino in Dun Laoghaire, which is outside the city, through to the eight or so that are based in the city centre, a trip to Dublin is an opportunity to sample a number of different casinos. Here’s a quick look at the eight that are closest to the middle of town at the time of writing:
- The Fitzwilliam Casino & Card Club – With a focus on card and table games, this venue offers no slot machines. Poker is the specialisation, though blackjack and roulette are both popular too
- D1 Club – Named after the postcode in which the venue is located, the D1 Club offers plenty of slots and a large live gaming section
- Fitzpatrick’s Casino Dublin – Part of the Fitzpatrick’s chain of casinos, the slots are linked to others in the same brand and promise large payouts. Table games are not included, but you can play electronic versions of the likes of roulette
- Emerald Casino Dublin – Slots aren’t as overwhelming here as they are in some other casinos in Ireland, but there are still a number available. The main focus is table games, with offerings like three-card poker added to the standard poker, roulette and blackjack tables
- Amusement City Dublin – The clue is in the title here. This is very much an electronic casino and slots dominate the gaming floor. In fact, it’s so dominant that you can’t play roulette, poker or other games unless it’s in an electronic form
- Macau Casino Dublin – The latest slot offerings sit alongside table games including European roulette. There is a new card room as well as the chance to play slightly more exotic games such as Punto Banco
- The Sporting Emporium – With more than half of the casino floor given over to slot machines, there’s barely room for other popular games. You’ll still be able to get involved with the table game mainstays, plus Brag, Sic Bo and baccarat
- The Colossus Casino Club – No slot machines sit on the casino floor here, thanks to its obsession with table games. That means that there’s no shortage of room for blackjack, roulette and Brag. In spite of all of that, poker is the main game that the attendees enjoy getting involved in in the separate poker room
The one thing to bear in mind if you find yourself in Northern Ireland and tempted to pop across to the Republic Of Ireland is the potential impact of Brexit. When the United Kingdom leaves the European Union it will no longer be as easy to move between the two countries in a frictionless fashion, so heading out to go to a casino might be harder work than it is at the time of writing.