The recent fine by the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC), of Paddy Power Betfair, for failures to protect customers with gambling problems, highlights the pressing need for gambling regulation in Ireland. In the last year, the UKGC has handed out just over £15.5 million in fines to gambling companies, licensed to operate there, for similar breaches. Many of these companies are also licensed to operate in Ireland - where we have no regulator. I shudder to think what types of breaches are occurring in Ireland, in the absence of any regulation. If the allegations, made by heartbroken family members, who regularly contact our helpline service, are anything to go by - sharp practices by gambling operators are prevalent in the Irish market.
The Government have failed to progress Fine Gael's 2013 Gambling Control Bill, even to the First Stage (of 11). They have also failed to honour their commitment under the National Policy Framework for Children & Young People (2014 - 2020), which states that "the Government commits to take appropriate measures to protect young people from gambling-related risks".
The recent increase in Betting Duty was an ideal opportunity for the Government to allocate funding to the treatment and prevention of problem gambling in Ireland, for the first time - and, yet, no funding allocation was announced by the Minister for Finance. In fact, the only beneficiary of the increase will be the Horse Racing and Greyhound Fund, which, to date, has received €1.2 billion (since 2001). Meanwhile, a recent study by Professor Colin O'Gara, found that only one of the HSE's nine CHO regions provided adequate supports to people affected by problem gambling. The HSE, in fact, don't even mention the word 'gambling' in their Service Plan.
There is an urgent need for interim funding for the prevention and treatment of problem gambling in Ireland. The Gambling Control Bill outlines a Social Fund, which will fulfil this role, but, based on the lack of progress of the Bill, to date, and the snail's pace with which the Public Health Alcohol Bill progressed, I will not be holding my breath for that Fund to come online. Our Government must acknowledge the harm that is caused by problem gambling; to the individual, family, community and at a societal level. The tens of thousands of people in Ireland experiencing gambling-related harm need - and deserve - immediate action.
CEO Problem Gambling Ireland
Barry Grant, Addiction Counsellor, Founder.