ESRI estimates 1-in-30 adults in Ireland now suffers from problem gambling

New figures from the ESRI indicate that there is far more problem gambling in Ireland than previously believed. Given that problem gambling is hard to measure and often hidden, the researchers used a range of techniques to try to get an honest, accurate picture. The best estimate from the study is that 1-in-30 adults in Ireland suffers from problem gambling – ten times higher than a previous measure from 2019.

Most of this difference is likely to be down to the survey method. Previous estimates were based on face-to-face interviews, while the ESRI study was done anonymously online, using a representative sample of 2,850 adults.

The researchers carried out multiple checks of the validity of the measure. The 1-in-30 figure closely matches the rate of problem gambling that people see among their friends and family. Moreover, the amounts that people reported spending on gambling products in the survey compare well with national figures for industry revenue, suggesting that the study did not over-record gambling.

“It is hard to measure problem gambling precisely, but we are confident that 1-in-30 adults more accurately reflects the true situation than previous estimates,” said Professor Pete Lunn, Head of the ESRI’s Behavioural Research Unit. “This equates to 130,000 adults with problem gambling in Ireland and suggests that the problem is much more widespread than we thought.”  

The study was commissioned through the Implementation Team supporting the establishment of the new Gambling Regulatory Authority of Ireland and the Department of Justice.

The study estimates that a further 279,000 adults show moderate evidence of problem gambling. This means that they suffer several negative behaviours or experiences associated with their gambling (e.g., borrowing to fund their gambling) but fall short of being classified as having problem gambling.

People with problem gambling spend, on average, more than €1,000 per month on gambling. This means that more than a quarter of all money spent on gambling in Ireland is spent by people with problem gambling, rising to almost a half when those who show moderate evidence of problem gambling are included. Online gambling accounts for three fifths of the total gambling spend of people with problem gambling, with in-person gambling accounting for the rest.

People aged under 50 have higher rates of problem gambling, with those in their 30s estimated to have the highest rate. Problem gambling is less widespread among women than men and less common among those with higher levels of education. However, both differences appear to be smaller than previously thought.

The data, collected in August 2023, record that three-quarters of adults spent money on at least one form of gambling in the month prior to the survey, with a third doing so online. The most common forms of gambling were lotteries and scratch cards, followed by betting on horses, greyhounds, and other sports. Slot machines and casino gambling, particularly online, were more common among people with problem gambling.

The public does not see people’s character or upbringing as the main reason for problem gambling. Instead, people tend to see the widespread availability of opportunities to gamble and exposure to gambling advertising as the main causes.  

The Gambling Regulation Bill 2022 which is currently before the Oireachtas, sets out the framework and legislative basis for the establishment of a new, independent statutory body called Údarás Rialála Cearrbhachais na hÉireann (the Gambling Regulatory Authority of Ireland).  Subject to the support of both Houses of the Oireachtas, the aim is for the Bill to complete its journey through the Oireachtas this year.

Anne Marie Caulfield, CEO Designate of the Gambling Regulatory Authority said: “The true extent of problem gambling in Ireland is hidden from public view and the importance of this ESRI study in shining a light on the extent of gambling harm in Ireland cannot be underestimated.  Problem gambling impacts not just on the individual involved but on their family and friends.  The insights from this and other studies into gambling in Ireland will be invaluable to the Authority as we undertake our work in education, awareness and in introducing other measures, such as the exclusion register, to protect against gambling harm.”