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Long-awaited gambling bill can be a watershed moment



Online gambling is on the rise. Stock image

Online gambling is on the rise. Stock image

Online gambling is on the rise. Stock image

The true extent of problem gambling in Ireland is unknown. A reasonable estimate suggests up to 250,000 people are affected — 50,000 severely so. Some people continue to view problem gambling as a character flaw or personal weakness, and believe the consequences are an individual’s own responsibility. However, such views are not supported by empirical evidence.

In an article in the Sunday Independent last year, Professor Colin O’Gara, head of addiction services at St John of God in Stillorgan, Dublin explained how brain scanning studies, psychological testing and genetic data point towards the disordered function of dopamine in brain areas that control the ability to make decisions and measure risk.

In problem gambling, he said, the ability to make rational decisions is absent and the person goes on to chase losses in a highly disordered manner.

This happens against a backdrop of debt, relationship fallout and mental health problems, including suicidal thoughts and actions.

Last week, the Government approved publication of the Gambling Regulation Bill. This proposed legislation, long in the formation and long overdue, is to be welcomed.

It will establish the office of a gambling regulator, which will focus on the prevention of harm to people vulnerable to problem gambling, particularly children, and aim to enforce a modern regulatory framework for the gambling industry.

Operators who provide gambling activities without a gambling licence issued by the Gambling Regulatory Authority, or who do not operate in accordance with the provisions of their licence, could, if convicted, face up to eight years in prison and a fine. Strict regulation of gambling advertising will be a priority.

Under the legislation, advertising intended to appeal to children will be prohibited, as will advertising that promotes excessive or compulsive gambling. A watershed prohibiting advertising at certain times of the day will be introduced.

In this digital age, to address the proliferation of gambling advertising on social media, such advertising will be prohibited by default.

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The bill will establish a National Gambling Exclusion Register, prohibit the use of credit credits as a form of payment and allow the authority to prohibit the offer of inducements and promotions.

A Social Impact Fund is to be created, funded by the industry. It will be used to finance initiatives aimed at reducing problem gambling and support awareness and educational measures.

Columnists in the Sunday Independent, particularly Declan Lynch, have consistently highlighted the issue of problem gambling. In his column this week, Shane Ross today quotes former Paddy Power chief executive Stuart Kenny, who suggests the bill go further with the insertion of a statutory requirement forcing bookmakers to send online gamblers a monthly “reality check” showing how much they have won or lost.

Prof O’Gara also suggested the Government should prioritise problem gambling as a public health crisis and has said it should be viewed and prioritised “as an issue of basic social justice”.

The proof of the pudding will be the operation of the authority, whose powers the Government describes as “robust”. The bill intends to strike a responsible approach to balancing the freedom to gamble with the safeguards to prevent people falling prey to addiction.

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