The problem gambling rate in Ireland is "far higher" than previously estimated, according to a new study that will form part of the Gambling Regulatory Authority of Ireland’s (GRAI) growing “invaluable” evidence base.
The Economic and Social Research Institute’s (ESRI) latest study, which collected its data in August, estimates that one in 30 adults in Ireland suffers from problem gambling, ten times the previous measure from 2019.
It also found that “three-quarters of adults spent money on at least one form of gambling in the month prior to the survey, with a third doing so online”.
The ESRI says the difference in its estimates is likely due to a change in methodology, with previous estimates based on face-to-face interviews and the new study done anonymously online, using a representative sample of 2,850 adults.
Pete Lunn, the head of the ESRI’s behavioural research unit, admits that “it is hard to measure problem gambling precisely” but he is “confident that 1-in-30 adults more accurately reflects the true situation than previous estimates”.
“This equates to 130,000 adults with problem gambling in Ireland and suggests that the problem is much more widespread than we thought,” Lunn said.
Anne Marie Caulfield, CEO designate of the GRAI, said: “The true extent of problem gambling in Ireland is hidden from public view and the importance of this ESRI study in shining a light on the extent of gambling harm in Ireland cannot be underestimated.
“The insights from this and other studies into gambling in Ireland will be invaluable to the [GRAI] as we undertake our work in education, awareness and in introducing other measures, such as the exclusion register, to protect against gambling harm.”
Problem gambling research has become more prevalent in Ireland since December 2022, when the country's long-awaited Gambling Regulation Bill 2022 was published, paving the way for the establishment of the GRAI.
The bill is expected to complete its journey through the Oireachtas early next year, according to the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) latest update.
In June 2023, the ESRI undertook a review of research on a number of policy questions, such as problem gambling, as part of a report commissioned by the DOJ 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.
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.
More recently, in September 2023, the Irish government minister in charge of gambling policy called the findings of a report on children and gambling “deeply troubling”.
Key findings from the Institute of Public Health (IPH) and TobaccoFree Research Institute Ireland (TFRI) survey responses from Irish 16 year-olds who were asked about their gambling activities in 2019 include that 22.9 percent of 16 year-olds in Ireland gambled for money in the last 12 months, with 23.1 percent of those gambling online.