It has been estimated that the cost of problem gambling to the UK taxpayer is £1.2 billion per year (£18.17 per head of population). If similar figures were reflected in the Irish population, the cost to the Irish taxpayer, from problem gambling, would be in the region of €98 million (£87 million). Up until this year, the tax revenue from Betting Duty in Ireland was only in the region of €50 million. A doubling of the Betting Duty rate (to 2%) in Budget 2019, means that revenue should increase to roughly €100 million. You may be thinking that this balances the books. Unfortunately, in true Irish fashion, this is not the case. According to the Horse Racing and Greyhound Act, the Minister shall pay into the Horse Racing & Greyhound Fund, out of moneys provided by the Oireachtas, "an amount, determined by the Revenue Commissioners, equivalent to the revenue paid into the Exchequer in the year . . . from excise duty on off-course betting". This means, in practice, that the entire tax-take from Betting Duty is ring-fenced in favour of Horse Racing Ireland (80%) and The Greyhound Racing Board (20%). Horse Racing Ireland and The Greyhound Racing Board are, themselves, gambling operators, through Tote betting. (Just in case you're thinking that these entities 'only' receive a paltry €50 million every year, you'll be happy to know that in 2018 the Fund was topped up with an additional €30 million from general exchequer funding in 2018.) As the Horse Racing & Greyhound Act has not been amended, this means that the entire increase in revenue, obtained from the doubling of Betting Duty, is due to end up in the Horse Racing & Greyhound Fund.
Meanwhile, the accumulated government spend on reducing gambling-related harm in Ireland, since the inception of the State is zero.
In September 2018, Minister for Health, Simon Harris stated: “I don’t believe as a country we have made nearly enough progress in relation to how we tackle the issue of addiction in relation to gambling,” and that he would speak to Catherine Byrne, the junior health minster responsible for addiction services, about making more money available for gambling treatment.
In February of this year, after the release of prevalence data into gambling and problem gambling in Ireland, Minister of State, Catherine Byrne, stated: "For the small percentage of people for whom gambling is a problem, we need measures to reduce problem gambling and its impact on individuals and their families". Commenting on the same survey, Minister of State, David Stanton, stated: "This is especially important for the small percentage of people for whom gambling can negatively affect significant areas of their lives including their mental and physical health, employment, finances and relationships with others.”
In October 2018, Minister for Finance, Paschal Donohoe, stated that the social cost of problem gambling was one of the factors that caused him to raise betting tax. However, despite submissions by this organisation and the Rutland Centre, along with pressure from the Independent Alliance, no allocation of funding from Betting Duty or elsewhere has yet been made, for services which work to prevent and treat gambling addiction. In November 2018, Minister Donohoe also stated: "While problem gambling can result in the problem gambler, and their family, bearing the severest of economic and of course personal costs, the social costs of problem gambling can extend to their employers and to public institutions in the health, welfare and justice systems, such costs ultimately borne by taxpayers. This needs to be better reflected within the betting duty regime."
In July 2017, Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, stated that gambling "gives rise to people becoming addicted, impoverished and unwell as a consequence" and that "Legislation in this area is long overdue". I would put it to the Taoiseach, that funding for frontline services is also long, long overdue.
While it is gratifying to hear acknowledgements of the harm caused by problem gambling in Ireland and heartwarming to hear that government representatives would like to see funding being made available to help people affected by gambling related harm - no meaningful action has yet been taken by this government that would in any way help the tens of thousands of people currently suffering.
Enough talk. It's time for the Irish Government to put their money where their mouth is and begin funding prevention and treatment services.
CEO, Problem Gambling Ireland
Barry Grant, Addiction Counsellor, Founder.