The Problem of Problem Gambling

Northern Ireland has the worst levels of problem gambling in the UK. The most recent data in relation to gambling-related harm in Northern Ireland, is a 2016 study undertaken by the Department of Communities. That research found that 2.3% of adults in Northern Ireland were ‘high risk gamblers.   If scaled up to the population as a whole, the number of individuals experiencing gambling-related harm would equate to more than forty thousand adults. The level of gambling harm here is four and a half times higher than England. Shockingly, there are more people suffering gambling harm in the six counties that make up Northern Ireland, than there are people with addiction in the other twenty-six counties that comprise the Republic of Ireland. Clearly, we have a gambling problem in Northern Ireland, and this issue needs urgent attention.   

While Great Britain and Republic of Ireland are bringing forward measures to deal with gambling related harm and are in the process of updating their laws, Northern Ireland is still largely governed by legislation dating from the 1980s.

During the last mandate of the Assembly, a Bill was introduced aimed at beginning the process to modernise gambling here. Disappointingly this Bill did little to help gambling related harm and instead increased bookmakers opening hours and introduced a gambling levy, which mirrors the GB levy, which has been ineffective since it was introduced in 2005.

As the Bill passed through the Assembly, CARE was able to work with some MLAs to attempt to bring in modest protections, helping those addicted to gambling. Thanks to an amendment drafted by CARE, Northern Ireland is the first part of the UK to place a duty of care on gambling companies. As a result of this amendment, if a gambling company knowingly takes bets from a person who is addicted, a court may be able to recover those losses from the gambling company and hold the bookmaker to account.

This change is a drop in the ocean, much more is needed if we are to even start to address the problem. Northern Ireland needs modern gambling laws that deal with the internet, establish a regulator, help people opt out, deal with how gambling companies advertise, regulate fixed odds betting terminals and impose a levy on the industry to ensure they pay for the harm they cause.

Currently, Northern Ireland’s bookies pay about £25,000 per year to help those who have been harmed by gambling. It costs about £600 per person, per year, to alleviate gambling addiction and harm. If Northern Ireland has 40,000 people needing help, that means £25 million is needed to deal with the problem.  That is a far cry from the £25,000 that is currently paid by the industry. It is clear reform is desperately needed.

The laws on gambling are not fit for purpose. Our laws were enacted before the internet, people can now gamble 24 hours a day. Today sporting events have been rendered little more than adverts for gambling companies, even in the local game, Irish League football stadiums are named after gambling companies and adverts surround the pitch. These issues are not dealt with by our gambling laws. It is beyond time that gambling law was reformed. In the next Assembly we need politicians who will ensure help is given to those who need it, and that gambling harm can be brought under control. //Tim Cairns CARE Senior Policy


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