Gambling laws in the North of Ireland don’t take the issue of problem gambling seriously enough, which has “serious consequences” for individuals and families, a charity and former addict have said in the wake of new findings.
A report examining the issue was required under the recently passed Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Act, which found huge pitfalls in services for gambling addicts.
Oisin McConville, a one-time Armagh GAA star who struggled with gambling addiction and who has since become a counsellor, said: “If you’re looking for statistics on alcohol you’ll find them, you’ll find some sort of correlation of what’s happening on the ground and what the report says.
“When you looking at gambling you don’t get any figures because people aren’t collating these figures.”
According to the report’s findings, “there are no gambling specific services commissioned by the Northern Ireland Health and Social Care Board and therefore the Board does not hold data regarding the number of people who are seeking treatment for problem gambling”.
It also found that there are no statutory codes of practice in place, “nor is there any statutory or voluntary arrangement with the gambling industry requiring any contribution to funding support services for gambling…”
Pointing to the new gambling regulatory authority in the south, Mr McConville said there are now up to 100 people fulfilling a role that was once taken on by one person.
“That gives you an idea of just how much regulation, how much legislation needs to happen to bring it in line. There’s not a lot of that been done in the North,” he said.
“I just think that, and I’m not on my own in thinking this, first of all we think about alcohol because it’s been the number one addiction in this country for a long time. Then we think of drugs because we think of the killings and how prevalent it is but we don’t think about gambling because we don’t take it seriously enough.
“Yet of all the addictions it has the highest rate of suicide.”
CARE NI Policy Officer, Mark Baillie said: “This report once again highlights the fact that law and policy around gambling in Northern Ireland is completely inadequate.
“The law we have in this area is no longer fit for purpose and is in desperate need of root and branch reform.
“NI is failing individuals who suffer from gambling addiction with serious consequences for individuals, families and communities here.”
CARE NI previously released research which showed 80% of health trusts in NI do not have any data on the number of problem gamblers in their respective areas.
The 2016 Northern Ireland Gambling Prevalence Survey identified 2.3% of people as being problem gamblers. That number is four times the figure for England.