Casino gaming can rightfully be called one of the most lucrative entertainment industries on the planet. Yet, it remains banned in Northern Ireland and many other countries and regions across the western world. However, gambling is so widespread and constant that many governments who once banned it completely have grown more flexible in recent years—and Northern Ireland may soon join the club, beginning in Belfast.
According to a recent article from the Belfast Telegraph (read the article), The Rank Group—a major entertainment company—is currently working on a proposal that would land a casino in Belfast. The exact intended location of the casino is still up for debate, but the article notes that the building would include bars, restaurants, a bowling alley, an art house cinema, and a stage theatre in addition to the traditional gaming tables and casino elements. Rank is promising the creation of at least 250 jobs off the bat, and it seems to be selling the idea as a sort of cultural right of passage. Strategic development adviser Dan Waugh stated that Belfast is the only major UK city that won’t even allow a discussion on the matter.
Indeed, the Belfast Telegraph article also points out that the Rank proposal is entirely theoretical at this point, as Belfast’s laws currently prohibit the development of any real money gambling establishment. Nelson McCausland, the Social Development Minister, reportedly has no plans to reverse his stance on live casinos, let alone allow the £18 million complex that Rank wants to establish. However, there may just be enough momentum for gambling entertainment in modern society for McCausland to lose the battle in the end.
To begin with, there’s an argument to be made that where online gaming thrives, live casinos will logically follow. And the online gaming scene throughout the UK is a busy one indeed. Many hear the term “online gaming” and think only of arcade poker rooms and traditional card games. However, online gaming now encompasses more or less the entire casino experience in a digital format. The Betfair Casino (visit the site) even goes so far as to host “live” games that are effectively virtual reality versions of the roulette, blackjack, jackpots, and other table games that consumers enjoy at live casinos. These gaming options certainly aren’t going anywhere online, and for some this fact inspires the mentality that there’s really no point in holding back the casino industry.
In addition to this industry trend, there is also some political pressure on the City Council and McCausland to allow the Rank Group’s proposal to progress. Just last year, Olswang wrote a brief article suggesting that Northern Ireland officials were well aware of the need to update archaic gambling policies. More recently, Sir Richard Needham, who is the former Undersecretary of State in Northern Ireland, has urged the current government to invite Rank in. Needham views the Rank proposal as a potential economic boost for Belfast. Given his track record in boosting economies—detailed in another Belfast Telegraph article you can read here—his voice
may carry weight with McCausland.
It will likely be some time before we know the result of all this. But with the suggested revisions to Northern Ireland gaming policy, the rampant popularity of online casinos in the region already, and the potential boost to the economy, it is starting to look like a matter of when, and not if, Belfast gets a live casino.