Pressing need to uncover true extent and causes of problem gambling in Ireland

Problem gambling in Ireland causes serious harms and has probably been underestimated, according to new ESRI research. These are among the findings of a review of available international and Irish evidence undertaken by the ESRI’s Behavioural Research Unit.

The review, commissioned through the Department of Justice and the Implementation Team supporting the establishment of the new Gambling Regulatory Authority of Ireland, notes that approximately 12,000 adults in Ireland have been recorded as problem gamblers, with tens of thousands more recorded as being at risk from problem gambling. However, the researchers conclude that the methods used to measure problem gambling are likely to underestimate it, perhaps substantially.

The study found that problem gambling is more prevalent among young men, people in disadvantaged communities and those with addiction issues and mental health problems. Many have difficulty perceiving their own gambling problems and recalling how much they have spent gambling.

International research finds that the societal harms caused by problem gambling extend beyond the individual to families and communities. The public, on average, views gambling negatively. Problem gambling is highly stigmatised.

The review found “reasonably strong” evidence that gambling advertising increases gambling. Evidence also shows that gamblers can be lulled into spending money on complex bets based on unlikely combinations of outcomes. Messages that encourage people to “gamble responsibly” are unlikely to be effective, based on current evidence.

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: “A critical function of the new Gambling Regulatory Authority will be to create greater awareness of problem gambling and the supports available to those that need assistance. If we are to successfully tackle problem gambling we need to know the extent of the issue and how it is impacting on people’s lives. We have commissioned the ESRI to conduct a second study focused on measuring the extent of problem gambling and we anticipate results later this year. This new research study will ensure that our policy decisions and measures are evidence-based and informed by research.”

“There is an urgent need for better research to more accurately measure the number of problem gamblers and what can be done to reduce it,” said Professor Pete Lunn, head of the ESRI’s Behavioural Research Unit. “Based on current evidence, we are pretty sure that the true extent of the problem is hidden from public view, along with some of the forces behind it. We are currently planning research designed to change that.”