The number of gamblers in Ireland has fallen, according to a health survey, but high rates among the vulnerable have prompted fresh calls for a dedicated regulator.
A bulletin published by the Health Research Board (HRB) presented the findings from the 2019–20 National Drug and Alcohol Survey (NDAS) on the prevalence of gambling and problem gambling in the general population in Ireland, which showed a “notable decrease” in the number of people gambling since the previous survey from 2014-15.
However, respondents deemed to be those living in the most deprived quintile were most likely to report gambling (55 percent) and this remained the case when lottery activities were excluded (26 percent).
There is a “need for treatment provision in Ireland for those with gambling problems”, as well as “a greater understanding of the social and psychological mechanisms that lead to difficulties”, according to the HRB.
Politician Jim O'Callaghan TD said the report “confirms that we need a gambling regulator as soon as possible. Online bookies must be required to protect problem gamblers from the devastation this addiction can cause.”
Ireland finally published its long-awaited General Scheme of Gambling Regulation Bill in October 2021, after it was approved by the government.
The scheme includes a commitment to establish the Gambling Regulatory Authority of Ireland and give it powers to regulate advertising, gambling websites and apps.
The country’s 2022 budget allocated €500,000, primarily to appoint a CEO of the new regulator.
However, the authority will not be fully functional until 2023, according to the bill.
Additionally, there is a proposed ban on credit cards, free bets, VIPs and “preferential treatment”, as well as introducing spending limits.
Gambling addiction prevention and treatment group Extern Problem Gambling Project (formerly Problem Gambling Ireland) also said the report reflects the urgent need for “regulation and funding for services”.
“More than 1 in 10 men, who have gambled in the last year, are either at-risk or problem gamblers. For every person with a gambling problem, an additional 8-10 people are impacted,” according to Extern.
The main findings of the survey included that 49 percent of respondents participated in any gambling activity in the last year (20 percent when lottery is excluded), representing a decrease in gambling prevalence from 65 percent in 2014–15 to 49 percent in 2019–20.
An estimated 2.3 percent of the adult population met the criteria for low-risk gambling, 0.9 percent were moderate-risk gamblers and 0.3 percent were problem gamblers, using the Problem Gambling Severity Index (PGSI).
The most commonly reported gambling activity was buying a lottery ticket or scratchcard in person (42 percent), followed by gambling in a bookmaker’s shop (9 percent), and placing a bet at a horse or dog race (7.8 percent).
Consumers who bought a lottery ticket or scratchcard in person were highly likely to have spent €25 or less in the last month (93 percent) on gambling.
However, the percentage of consumers spending less than €25 betting at a horse or dog racing meeting is 31 percent. It was also 31 percent of those who gambled online or by telephone and only 29 percent of people who gambled in a bookmaker’s shop.
Cash was the most common way to pay for gambling (94 percent), with only 13 percent of people using a credit/debit card to gamble.