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Gambling has caused problems for 10% of Irish adults — ESRI

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One in 10 adults are now either problem gamblers or report gambling has caused multiple problems in their lives, with stark new figures laying bare a new “public health emergency” in Ireland.

The landmark study by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) to be published on Thursday says that there are 10 times the number of problem gamblers in this country than previously thought, which it says has “serious implications for understanding the role that gambling plays in Irish life”.

The research, commissioned by the team establishing the country’s new gambling regulator, suggests that 3.3% of the population meets the threshold of problem gambling, where they experience multiple negative behaviours such as borrowing from others in order to fund gambling.

This means around one in 30 adults, or 130,000 people, are problem gamblers in Ireland.

Professor Colin O’Gara, consultant psychiatrist and head of addiction services at St John of God Hospital, said that the figures confirm that this is a “public health emergency”.

“These figures are really highlighting what we’ve been trying to highlight for years,” he said. “The reality is people are affected by gambling in a much more substantial way than we think.

“Hopefully these figures now will make people sit up and listen.” 

The new research from the ESRI’s Behavioral Research Unit also found:

  • In all, 279,000 adults show moderate evidence of problem gambling, meaning they suffer multiple negative experiences associated with their gambling but fall short of the threshold of problem gambling. Added to the number of problem gamblers, it means over 400,000 people suffer such issues in Ireland.
  • A further 590,000 report at least one negative experience or behaviour.
  • Problem gamblers reported spending more than €1,000 on average per month on gambling. This group accounted for 28% of the total gambling spend.
  • “When people who show moderate evidence of PG are included in the calculation, the implication is that nearly half of industry revenue arises from people experiencing multiple negative effects from gambling,” it said.
  • Two-thirds of people with problem gambling said they would like to gamble less than they currently do.
  • Problem gambling is less widespread among women than men and less common among those with higher levels of education. However, both of these differences are “smaller than previously thought”.
  • Three-quarters of the population (74%) reported engaging in any form of gambling over the last month with 35% reporting gambling online.
  • A majority of people say they believe that it should be discouraged, and large majorities believe that there are now too many opportunities to gamble, and that gambling is dangerous for family life.

Questions asked in the survey included the likes of “did you try win back the money you lost”, “have people ever criticised your betting” and “has your gambling caused any financial problems for you or your household”.

The ESRI noted that, while its estimates of how prevalent problem gambling is are much higher than previous ones, “we still may be underestimating the true prevalence” of problem gambling.

It found that even moderate gamblers, over 7% of the population, were spending €70 a week on average on gambling, or €3,640 a year.

“Although the gambling industry is a large employer, provides entertainment for many consumers and has strong links to sporting activity, the results presented here imply that a large minority of transactions undertaken by the industry involve customers who have PG or display moderate evidence of PG,” the ESRI said.

The ESRI said it could be the case that problem gambling levels will rise in the coming years unless “something substantive changes”.

All of this comes against the backdrop of Government’s proposed gambling reforms, which are set to introduce strict curbs on advertising and a social impact fund for industry to fund problem gambling initiatives.

It’s expected the Government’s gambling bill will pass all stages of the Oireachtas by the end of the year, with the new regulator to begin its work shortly after that.

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