Regulation of Gambling in Northern Ireland consultation

15 Jan 2020 Denise Copeland    Last updated: 15 Jan 2020

NICVA has prepared a briefing paper on the Regulation of Gambling in Northern Ireland consultation. 


The Department for Communities (the Department) has responsibility for policy and legislation relating to gambling in Northern Ireland.  The Department has opened a consultation seeking views on the appropriateness of the current gambling legislation and to identify areas of gambling activity which should be included in future legislation.

The law on gambling in Northern Ireland is contained in the Betting, Gaming, Lotteries and Amusements (NI) Order 1985 (the 1985 Order), as amended by the Betting and Lotteries (NI) Order 1994 which was broadly modelled on legislation in GB dating back to the 1960s and ‘70s.


General comments

NICVA welcomes this consultation as the current outdated gambling regulations in Northern Ireland are currently very restrictive and limiting the fundraising capacity of many charities, sports clubs and other voluntary led organisations (Societies).   

Whilst the consultation document considers most aspects of gambling, NICVA is only providing general comments on the relevant policy areas which affect fundraising in the voluntary and community sector, namely lotteries. 

NICVA acknowledges that other charities which have experience of the fallout from problem gambling will be best placed to comment on the other policy issues such as online gambling, gaming machines and casinos.  

Comments are based on practice and informed by the response made to the consultation on the ‘Future regulation of gambling in Northern Ireland’ in 2011 when the Department made proposals.  The Department has not included proposals within this consultation but rather is seeking views. 


A lottery (which includes a draw, raffle, or ballot) is a draw where prizes are won. Participants buy tickets at fixed prices and prize-winners are selected by chance - no skills are involved.

There are currently three types of lottery which fall under the NI legislation: small lotteries at exempt entertainments, private lotteries and societies’ lotteries. There are no proposed changes to the rules for small and private lotteries however the Department welcomes comments on these also.  

The Department has identified some issues with the current rules covering societies’ lotteries as follows:

Monetary limits on stakes for societies’ lotteries

The current rules state that the maximum price of a societies’ lottery ticket must be £1 and that the total value of tickets sold in any one lottery must not exceed £80,000.  If an organisation has several lotteries, then the total value of tickets sold in all the lotteries combined must not exceed £1m in any year. 

Monetary limits on prizes for societies’ lotteries

The amount, or value, of any prize may not exceed £25,000 or 10% of the proceeds, whichever is the greater. 

Selling tickets online

There is no provision in the current legislation for selling tickets online, but the legislation prohibits the sale of tickets by machine, including any apparatus. The Department takes the view that selling tickets online requires the use of a machine, therefore selling tickets online is not currently permitted.  

Parity with the rest of the UK

The table below illustrates the current rules in operation in Northern Ireland against those in GB (England, Wales and Scotland) which has separate legislation.   


Current NI rules

GB rules

Ticket price

£1 max

No fixed amount, but each ticket price must be of equal value

Maximum value of prize

£25,000 or 10% of proceeds, whichever is greater (currently up to max  £8,000)

£25,000 or 10% of proceeds, whichever is greater (up to max of £400,000)`

Total value of ticket sales in each lottery



Total value of combined lottery sales in a year





Lotteries are a very common method of fundraising for Societies in the voluntary and community sector.  According to the 2016 Gambling Prevalence Survey, highlighted in the consultation document, 20.6% of respondents have bought a raffle ticket or ballot in a local raffle, making it the fourth most popular gambling activity in NI (the first being the National Lottery).  When this same survey was carried out in 2010, this activity was the second most popular gambling activity with 38% of respondents having bought a raffle ticket or ballot in a local raffle.  This is a significant drop and the onerous restrictions on running a societies lottery could be the cause. 

  • £1 stake should be removed

NICVA believes that the maximum £1 stake for the price of a society lottery ticket be removed. If a Society currently wants to run a societies lottery with a substantial prize, for example to win a car worth £25,000, it is obliged by current legislation to sell the raffle tickets for £1 each - it is not permitted to sell the tickets at £5 or £10.   So, in order to raise the maximum amount of money permitted, the Society would have to sell 80,000 tickets at £1 each. 

This is currently very restrictive and cumbersome as it takes a considerable amount of time and effort on the Society’s part to sell that amount of tickets.  A Society should be permitted to set its own ticket price as it is better placed to know what price would be acceptable to charge. 

  • £80,000 sales limit should be removed

NICVA believes that the £80,000 total sales limit should also be removed, and a new higher limit implemented such as that in GB, currently £4m. This would then mean that the maximum value of the prize permitted would be £25,000 or 10% of £4m as opposed to 10% of £80,000 which is currently very restrictive. 

  • Introduce small-scale societies lottery

NICVA would also ask if there would be merit in permitting small-scale societies lotteries (for example, the total value of sales would be £1,000) without the need to register for a license with the local council. Small Societies may be put off from fundraising by way of a societies’ lottery because of the need to register with the local Council, or indeed they could be conducting a societies’ lottery without realising that it needs to be registered.  

  • Should be able to sell tickets online

NICVA believes that Societies should be able to advertise and sell their lottery tickets online. People now rely on many things digitally and technology helps how we communicate with each other, this is the same for Societies in the voluntary and community sector.

Most Societies have a social media presence and use it to communicate effectively with their members, beneficiaries and the wider public.  Societies should not be prohibited from using the internet to fundraise via selling their lotteries.  The legislation should be amended to allow for this and also for future developments in technology. 

  • Should be able to have UK wide societies’ lotteries

It is currently not permitted to run a societies lottery UK wide.  There are many UK wide Societies that would like to run a UK wide lottery but are forced instead to hold a GB wide lottery only.  NICVA believes that the legislation should be amended to allow a societies lottery to be  held on a UK wide basis.  In addition, a similar arrangement could be introduced for those Societies who operate on the island of Ireland who want to hold an island of Ireland lottery.

Licensing, Enforcement and Regulation

The Department has outlined that local councils are responsible for the registration of societies lotteries which must be renewed annually and that it is the PSNI that has responsibility for enforcing the law on this.  The Department is seeking views on whether the license could be extended for longer and if indeed the PSNI is the appropriate body to enforce the legislation and if there is a need for a regulatory body for gambling. 


According to the consultation paper, there are around 160 registered societies lotteries.  While these Societies may be following the rules there are others who perhaps are not.  Societies quite often learn from each other and if several Societies are carrying out bad practice, for example conducting a societies lottery which isn’t registered and selling the tickets for more than £1, then there is a chance that others follow suit. It perhaps could be perceived that there are no regulations as people don’t see any examples of the regulations being enforced. 

NICVA believes that the lack of transparency of monitoring information about societies lotteries may be part of the reason why there appears to be a breach of the rules about societies lotteries.  It is also not very clear on some councils’ websites about who the application should be submitted to. 

For example, a Society must report back to the local council within three months of the lottery date, but this information does not appear to be published anywhere.  There does not seem to be a consistency of approach across the councils about the monitoring of data from the proceeds, prizes and expenses of societies’ lotteries.

NICVA believes that local councils should be collating and monitoring this information.  We would suggest that each council display on its website not only the requirement to register a societies lottery along with the application form and who to send it to but also list the societies’ lotteries that are registered with it.  We would also propose that all councils report to the Department on an annual basis with information on the number of societies’ lotteries in their areas along with other monitoring information such as proceeds, prizes and expenses.

This level of transparency should encourage other organisations to realise they need to register and help the public to see which society lotteries are registered in their area.  Perhaps the Department could publish an annual report on this, and the report could then be shared by the councils, Charity Commission, umbrella bodies and governing bodies of sport.  

Consultation seminar on 7 February 2020

NICVA is holding a consultation seminar on 7 February 2020 where you will have the opportunity to hear from a Department official and discuss the issues in more detail with others. Register here.

Respond to the consultation

To contribute to our response, please send your comments by Tuesday 18 February 2020 to [email protected]

Copies of the consultation document can be accessed from

The responses to the Department’s consultation are required no later than 21 February 2020.  You can respond online at the link above or email [email protected] or write to

  • Regulation of Gambling in Northern Ireland Consultation
  • Department for Communities
  • Social Policy Unit
  • Level 8,
  • Causeway Exchange,
  • 1–7 Bedford Street
  • Belfast
  • BT2 7EG's picture
by Denise Copeland

Governance and Charity Advice Manager

[email protected]

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