Underplayed Irish Problem Gambling Causing 'Serious Harm'

June 21, 2023
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Irish problem gambling has probably been underestimated and causes “serious harm”, according to research set to inform the establishment of the new Gambling Regulatory Authority of Ireland.

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Irish problem gambling has probably been underestimated and causes “serious harm”, according to research set to inform the establishment of the new Gambling Regulatory Authority of Ireland.

The Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) undertook a review of research on a number of policy questions, such as problem gambling, as part of a report commissioned by the Department of Justice and the implementation team for the GRAI.

Comparing problem gambling evidence around the globe and in Ireland, the ESRI noted that previous estimates of 12,000 adult problem gamblers (0.3 percent of the population), and 35,000 more (0.9 percent of the population) classified as “at risk” are likely underestimated due to the survey design and response biases, according to the research.

The ESRI provides evidence-based research used to inform public policy debate and decision-making.

Anne Marie Caulfield, CEO Designate of the GRAI, which is set to be fully functional in Autumn this year, said a “critical function” of the new regulator will be to create greater awareness of problem gambling and the support available to those that need assistance.

“If we are to successfully tackle problem gambling we need to know the extent of the issue and how it is impacting on people’s lives. We have commissioned the ESRI to conduct a second study focused on measuring the extent of problem gambling and we anticipate results later this year. This new research study will ensure that our policy decisions and measures are evidence-based and informed by research,” Caulfield said.

The review also found “reasonably strong” evidence that gambling advertising increases gambling and that players can be nudged into spending money on complex bets based on unlikely combinations of outcomes.

Researchers also found that messages that encourage people to “gamble responsibly” are “unlikely” to be effective, based on current evidence.

Additionally, problem gambling was found to be more prevalent among young men, people in disadvantaged communities, and those with addiction issues and mental health problems.

A previous review by the ESRI published in January 2023, which based its conclusions on the longitudinal Growing Up in Ireland study, suggested that legislation could be introduced to restrict gambling advertising in sports as an effective method of protecting some of those who are especially vulnerable to gambling harm.

Professor Pete Lunn, head of the ESRI’s Behavioural Research Unit said the findings reflect an “urgent need for better research to more accurately measure the number of problem gamblers and what can be done to reduce it”.

“Based on current evidence, we are pretty sure that the true extent of the problem is hidden from public view, along with some of the forces behind it. We are currently planning research designed to change that,” Lunn said.

In December 2022, Ireland’s justice minister Helen McEntee published the country's long-awaited Gambling Regulation Bill 2022, which paved the way for the establishment of the GRAI, with the Department of Justice already pledging more than €1m to help with its creation.

The bill is currently before Dáil Éireann, the lower house of the Irish legislature, and is in its third stage, with the 11th stage being the stage when the bill is enacted.

On April 4, 2023, Ireland also notified the European Commission about the bill.

The notification's standstill period ends on July 5, 2023. This three-month standstill period will allow the European Commission and other member states to review the content of the regulation and submit appropriate responses if they wish.

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