An addiction expert is warning that children as young as 15-years-old are losing “vast amounts of money” through online gambling in Ireland.
Professor Colin O’Gara from St John Of Gods Hospital is warning that the coronavirus pandemic has seen a surge in young people seeking support for gambling addiction.
On Newstalk Breakfast this morning, the addiction psychiatrist said online gambling is now a “significant” problem for the young people that present at the hospital.
“It is a significant problem and we are seeing young people – 15 and probably even younger – that are accessing online sites in this country without any problem and losing vast amounts of money,” he said.
“These are the cases that have presented with us unfortunately and these people are also subject to a lot of mental health difficulties such as depression, anxiety and, in some cases, self-harm.
“We are seeing at the moment in the UK, there is a lot of progress being made in regard to regulation and in Ireland we are waiting for the past ten years in essence.”
Professor O’Gara noted that then-Justice Minister Alan Shatter drafted a proposed Control of Gambling Bill in 2013; however, the issue has not been progressed since.
He said there has been “effectively no regulation” in Ireland in the years since and warned that there is now a “very strong and compelling argument” to bring forward the legislation urgently.
“You have young people who can go online and lose vast amounts of money,” he said.
“There are no responsible gambling initiatives at all being brought in in Ireland – such as mandatory deposit limits, age verification or a credit card ban like there was in the UK.
“So, there is a lot of stuff there that could be brought in and needs to be brought in and I think the most tangible way of doing that would be to bring in an office for gambling control.”
Professor O’Gara said we need to be far more open about gambling addiction as a society and encourage people who are struggling to ask for help.
“Very few people come forward for gambling treatment,” he said. “The international literature would suggest that only one-in-ten people who suffers a severe gambling disorder will come for treatment.
“The reasons for that are quite diverse but I think the main one would be stigma – nobody wants to be associated with a gambling problem because it has huge issues financially and for employment.”
"Very powerful industry"
He said the legislative delays are likely the result of lobbying from a “very powerful industry with a lot of money behind it.”
“But also, what we have heard over the last few years is that this is a complex task and we have to get it right before we enact legislation,” he said.
“At this point in time, I would say let’s put that aside. Let’s get the bill that was drafted many years ago – and there were tweaks made to it in 2018 – let’s just get that in as a starting point and then we can start to break the task down into smaller pieces.”
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