Smartphones linked to surge in gambling
A MASSIVE increase in gambling problems among young people is being linked to the rise of smartphones and tablets.
More than 100,000 Irish people are believed to suffer from a gambling addiction - yet less than 1pc ever receive treatment.
Experts warn that among under-25s, as many as 90pc start gambling on a handheld device.
Incredibly, people are now also seeking help for internet gaming addictions, with some playing online computer games for as much as eight hours a night.
The Catholic Marriage Care Service (CMCS) admitted that internet problems were now a rising factor in the number of couples seeking help for marital crises.
One CMCS counsellor said online gaming and gambling offered a form of "escapism" for people who may have financial, work or personal problems.
The CMCS estimates that more than 15pc of its cases now involve one spouse complaining about a partner bringing online work home or spending excessive amounts of time online with games and gambling.
Marriage counselling service Accord was so concerned about the impact of gambling on relationships that it sought special training for its counsellors.
Two of Ireland's largest addiction treatment centres, Aiseiri and Cuan Mhuire, confirmed that they have noted a steep rise in the number of people seeking help.
Ireland's foremost gambling addiction expert, Paul Mullins of Aiseiri, confirmed that treatment centres were now dealing with a 20pc-plus increase each year.
"It is very serious – the problem for most people with gambling addictions is that when they present for help they are already facing financial destruction, marital breakdown or even prison for crimes like fraud to feed their habit," he said.
"The youngest person we have had in treatment was 17. But from the experience of the UK, there are definitely 12- and 13-year-olds out there with gambling problems but who haven't presented yet."
Mr Mullins said Ireland still doesn't have a detailed breakdown on the scale of the gambling addiction problem, though a major UCD study by Dr Crystal Fulton will be published later this year.
"Online gambling is an escalating problem, though the majority of cases we deal with still involve high-street betting. The problem with online gambling is that you can access money from the very same laptop or smartphone that you gamble from.
"Often, by the time someone seeks helps for their gambling problem, they may have lost their job, their house, their family, their business and may even be facing jail."
The support group GambleAware now estimates that an astonishing €10,000 is gambled every minute in Ireland – a total of over €5bn each year.
From a standing start less than a decade ago, online gambling is now believed to account for more than €2bn in revenues.
Almost half of Ireland's 4.5 million population gambles in some form each year, most through playing the National Lottery, attending bingo or once-off betting on Cheltenham.
However, one in eight Irish people admitted to betting on a weekly basis.
The alarming aspect of online gambling is that it reverses the trend of normal gambling given that it is overwhelmingly dominated by those under 25.
The Institute of Public Health said its studies indicated that gambling among young people was thought to be three times more prevalent than those aged over 21 years – a trend entirely attributed to online sites.
The Gaming and Leisure Association of Ireland (GLAI) stressed that its members were fully committed to responsible gambling.
Under its strict code of practice, only those aged over 18 are allowed to gamble while staff are trained to spot and prevent problem gaming.
The GLAI also offers a self-exclusion facility where people with gambling problems can indicate this and prevent future service use. However, the GLAI also stressed that the regulatory uncertainty in Ireland over gambling has restricted potential job creation.
"The current legal and regulatory uncertainty prevents larger international operators from committing to setting up operations in Ireland," a GLAI official said.