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Hedging our bets in lockdown

Online gambling is a hit in the pandemic. David Doyle investigates Ireland's relationship with the bookies in lockdown
Who really has the upper hand? Pictured above: a roulette wheel by Naim Benejoullon via Pexels.com

A study by the Gambling Awareness Trust has concluded that online gambling in Ireland has increased “drastically” since the Covid-19 pandemic hit.

The findings conclude that up to 0.8% of the population (50,000 people) in Ireland are believed to have a serious gambling problem, with almost two-thirds of the population taking part in gambling in some capacity.

It says the most popular types of commercial gambling in Ireland include buying scratch cards, playing the lottery, betting at a horse or greyhound track and sports betting.

Co-author of the report, Gambling trends, harms and responses: Ireland in an international context, Professor John O’Brennan says the gambling industry is growing at a “worrying” rate since the lockdown restrictions have been put in place.

“It’s very clear that online gambling is one of the only industries that has actually thrived over the past year,” Professor O’Brennan tells The City.

“Gambling companies are doing better than ever before, even though sport betting came to a halt for a number of months in 2020,” he added. 

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In Ireland, 75.4% of sporting broadcasts show at least one gambling advertisement. They are the most common type of ad shown during any televised sporting event.

“Advertising has been central to developing gambling problems in specific cohorts of the population. You can particularly notice that young people ages 18 to 25 are targeted through advertisements, with betting companies using young sports stars to promote special offers,” says Professor O’Brennan.

Many countries throughout Europe such as Belgium and Italy have implemented a full-scale ban on gambling advertisements. However, Ireland is yet to apply any bans on gambling advertisements and they are the 7th most common form of ad shown on television.

“Online gambling is like having a casino in your back pocket’’

Professor John O’Brennan

Regulation

Professor O’Brennan says that Ireland is seriously “lagging behind” the UK in terms of handling problem gambling, as the Gambling Commission was set up over two decades ago. 

“Almost every other country in Europe has a gambling regulator to help deal with the issue, but for some strange reason, Ireland still hasn’t established one. Governments in the past have promised but failed to deliver on establishing a gambling regulator in Ireland,’’ said Professor O’Brennan.

Minister of State for Law Reform James Browne hopes to bring proposals for a gambling regulator to the government towards the end of 2021.

After releasing a statement following a Cabinet meeting , Minister Browne said legislation that may be introduced will check age verification for mobile gambling and monitor spending limits for people on gambling apps, and a prohibition on promotions aimed at luring customers back into gambling.

In a statement, the Department of Justice said work is underway on establishing legislation by developing “the necessary modern licensing and regulatory provisions for the gambling industry”.

Problem gambling

“It [online gambling] has increased exponentially during Covid-19 with so many people stuck at home on their mobile phones,” says Pam Bergin, the executive co-ordinator of The Gambling Awareness Trust.

The Gambling Awareness Trust is an Independent charitable fund that helps the prevention and treatment of problem gambling in Ireland. They work in partnership with numerous problem gambling organisations and agencies to help reduce gambling-related harm.

“This is an issue that will keep growing throughout lockdown. Online gambling is continuing to grow in terms of accessibility as people can place bets on any sporting event across the world, including 24-hour virtual events,’’ Bergin said.

All bookmakers across Ireland currently remain closed under the level five Covid-19 restrictions.

“That social outlet of being able to visit the bookies has been taken away for a lot of people, forcing people to move to online gambling instead.

“Online gambling is growing in terms of accessibility with 24-hour virtual events”

Pam Bergin

“We noticed that a lot of the people who contacted problem gambling websites were people who conducted online gambling for the first time,’’ Bergin says.

If you require more information regarding problem gambling, visit gamblingcare.ie

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