The issue of problem gambling in Ireland is moving into the limelight just as the country prepares to unveil its new gambling market in 2023. The government is bracing for an issue that, according to the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI), could surpass original estimates and demand immediate action.
A Rising Epidemic: Understanding the Scope
The ESRI has released research indicating a potentially larger problem than initially estimated. Previous data suggested 0.3% of the population (around 12,000 individuals) grappled with problem gambling. Another 0.9% (about 35,000 people) were deemed ‘at risk.’ However, ESRI warns these figures likely undervalue the reality due to inherent biases in survey design and response.
As Anne Marie Caulfield, CEO Designate of the forthcoming Gambling Regulatory Authority of Ireland (GRAI), stresses, “We need to know the extent of the issue and how it is impacting people’s lives.”
Identifying Risk Factors and Areas for Improvement
The ESRI review identified several factors associated with problem gambling. Notably, it is not only the most severe cases that contribute to the societal burden of problem gambling. Less severe cases, simply due to their larger numbers, add significantly to the overall harm.
Men and younger individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds were found to be at most risk, along with those struggling with addiction and other mental health issues. High-frequency gambling activities, such as interactive online gambling and electronic gaming machines, proved to be hotspots for problem gambling.
The study also spotlighted concerns surrounding the aggressive marketing of gambling and its efficacy in boosting gambling behaviour. “Policy would benefit from behavioural audits of marketing techniques used in Ireland,” the report recommended, emphasising the need for better data access and deeper industry understanding.
Future Challenges: The Youth and Unregulated Gambling
Among future challenges, the report cautioned against certain online activities popular among young people. These include social casino games and ‘loot box’ purchasing in video games. These unregulated features could serve as gateways to real gambling, posing risks particularly for minors.
With the GRAI set to be fully operational by Autumn 2023, these findings will undoubtedly inform its efforts and contribute to significant changes in the industry landscape. As Ireland’s gambling industry continues to grow, a better understanding and tackling of problem gambling will be crucial.