The Department of Justice and Equality has responsibility for gambling regulation. In March 2019, the Government published the Inter-Departmental Working Group Report on Future Licensing and Regulation of Gambling. This report refers to the introduction of a modern licensing approach to all gambling activities, including enhanced protection of consumers and vulnerable individuals.
The report addresses the social impact of gambling, including the issue of problem gambling. It notes the social and health impacts of problem gambling and acknowledges that problem gambling can lead to social breakdown, with devastating financial losses and alienation of family and friends. Problem gambling can be associated with a range of harms including higher risk of psychiatric disorders, alcohol and drug misuse, physical and mental health issues, separation and divorce, unemployment and insolvency.
The 2014/15 Drug Prevalence Survey provides the first comprehensive set of data on the extent of gambling in Ireland. The results indicate that 64.5% of the population report some form of gambling in the 12 months prior to the survey, with 41.4% gambling on a monthly basis, or more often. The survey further found that prevalence of problem gambling in the general population was 0.8%.
The survey is being repeated for 2018/2019 under the auspices of the Health Research Board (HRB) with initial findings expected to be published in 2020.
The Working Group recommended that:
- funding be made available for research, training, and community interventions into treatment of gambling addiction.
- funding of public education and awareness raising programmes and the production of relevant information materials be supported.
- assistance be given in the provision of additional services to treat gambling addiction.
In order to meet these objectives, the Group recommended that a Social Fund, managed by the gambling regulatory authority should be established.
The Health Service Executive has responsibility for the provision of addiction treatment services.
People who present to the HSE for addiction treatment for gambling are offered the same range of interventions as those who present with a drug and alcohol addiction, or a mental health concern, including an initial assessment, a comprehensive assessment, and individual counselling.
Figures produced by the HSE show that the number of cases where people presented with problem gambling were 208 in 2015, 195 in 2016 and 219 in 2017.
Although some cases of problematic gambling have been provided with treatment, services have not been funded to develop a programme or intervention for problematic gambling.
To provide additional services for gambling addiction would result in significant capacity issues and lengthening of existing waiting lists for people with drug and alcohol problems.
The HSE also provides funding to a number of voluntary sector providers who treat gambling addiction, along with drug and alcohol addictions.
I support the recommendations of the working group report to address the social impact of gambling and to establish a social fund, managed by the gambling regulatory authority.