Teenage gambling has become a major issue in the county, with a “notable increase” in the numbers presenting for help at Bushypark Addiction Treatment Centre in Ennis.
Team leader at the centre, Gerry Murphy said the accessibility of gambling is now a major issue and the ramifications have led to a shift in the demographic of the typical person who is attending their treatment centre.
“I would say we’ve seen more people presenting with gambling, more young people coming in with a problem. Their families are getting involved much earlier now and trying to do interventions with them. We’ve had quite a few 18 and 19-year-olds presenting with difficulty,” he said.
“You could be gambling on your smartphone while you’re at work and it’s available 24/7, so it’s very accessible and it’s very well marketed. There’s a lot of advertisement on the television, even around the Rugby World Cup, you can back this or back that, just by pressing a button.”
Mr Murphy said 10 or 15 years ago, the average person attending the centre would have been 20 or 30 years older. “The only difference in the trend is the availability. It’s like alcohol as well. Alcohol is more available now. It’s in far more places now than it was 10 or 15 years ago. You used to have the pub and off-sales, now you can get it in the corner shop and the petrol station and it’s so cheap. They’re doing specials, four cans and six cans and a naggin of vodka for a tenner in some places. So it is availability and it’s the very same with gambling.”
Mr Murphy said even though more young people are now presenting with gambling difficulties, it is likely it will be a number of years before the impact of the current explosion of online gambling websites is fully realised.
“They may not be as yet what we call compulsive gamblers but it’s a bit like the hazardous drinking or the harmful drinking. Gambling habits are seriously putting them in jeopardy. It’s all about ‘the next big win is going to fix everything for me’. If they win, they celebrate their win by going back and gambling more.
“There’s higher suicide rates connected with gambling than there would with other addictions, so there’s a lot of hopelessness,” he added.
Margaret Nash, Bushypark Addiction Treatment Centre manager, said they have treated young people who had stolen from friends and family to feed their gambling addictions. She said the increased availability of gambling is obvious online but there has also been a big increase in bookie shops.
“If you look at it, any village now has a bookies, which it didn’t have in the past,” she said.Margaret Nash continued, “Their opening hours have been extended which is a huge development. They were closed at half five or six o’clock in the evening but now they’re open at half ten at night, so that’s a big difference.”
Ms Nash said young women are being targetted by big bookmaking companies in a way which was not the case five or 10 years ago.
“It’s becoming more attractive to women and everyone else because now you can bet on the likes of X-Factor. Strictly Come Dancing was one of their big hits in Paddy Power last year, it wasn’t the two o’clock race in Newmarket or Leapordstown.
“So, it is becoming more and more common. There’s a lot more gambling now and it takes a couple of years where the problem starts to escalate and people realise, my God this has gotten completely out of control. It takes a while for people to develop a problem.”
Ms Nash said gambling and behavioural addictions generally are on the increase.
“We noticed at our last meeting that there’s only one soccer club in England now sponsored by an alcohol company, the rest are all gambling, bar two insurance companies. So that’s where the trends are,” she said.
“They are looking at the ban of sponsorship on things but I suppose, in a lot of rural Ireland, the local soccer team would not survive without the local pub sponsorship. Whether that’s alcohol sponsorship or a pub, because pubs now are providing bigger support than alcohol sales. That’s where people go after funerals for their tea and coffee and sandwiches. And I suppose that needs to be protected in some way because they are the hub of Irish society.”
Both Mr Murphy and Ms Nash said they are actively lobbying for the introduction of minimum pricing legislation regarding alcohol sales. The Government is moving ahead with plans to implement a minimum price for alcohol, despite the fact that justice chiefs in Europe have warned it must prove that minimum pricing is a more effective option than simply increasing tax on alcohol.
Draft legislation on minimum pricing is due to be published in the coming weeks and a recent ruling in Luxembourg determined that minimum pricing would not be in contravention of EU law. The Government says the protection of young people is one of the primary reasons behind the legislation.
Ms Nash said, having seen the damage first-hand, they are very supportive of the proposed legislation. Mr Murphy said the impact advertising has on teenagers and young people is also a problem that needs to be addressed.
“I often tell the story about my own son; he’s 15 now. I think I asked him maybe two years ago, ‘Can you name two brands of cigarettes for me’ and he couldn’t because there’s no Carrolls or Major because they’re not advertised anymore,” he noted.
“Then I said, ‘Can you name two brands of alcohol or beer for me’ and he said Heineken and Carlsberg and I don’t know which one I’ll have first.”
Mr Murphy said he is in no doubt that the proliferation of alcohol advertising on television and in conjunction with major sporting events is inherently damaging.
“It’s in soccer, it’s in rugby, it’s everywhere. They’ll say that they’re trying to get people to change their brands but I reckon it’s geared at 14, 15 and 16-year-olds because they’re new into the market and they’re the ones that are making the choices, not people who are in their mid-20s and mid-30s,” he said.
“People don’t really change their drinking later on. It’s very subtle, it’s everywhere.”
Mr Murphy believes the relationship between alcohol companies and the people behind major events, like the Rugby World Cup, is a problem.
“We need €200 million in sponsorship and the drinks companies are there. So there’s collusion going on. Our legislators, if you look at what they did with the smoking ban, look what it did to smoking, how it changed things.”
The addiction treatment specialist said some people maintain that you “can’t change a culture” but he refutes this.
“Of course you can change a culture. We need a similar intervention around our alcohol because our relationship with alcohol is so dysfunctional; we accept unacceptable behaviour and unacceptable drinking. Christenings, weddings, funerals, birthdays, why does alcohol have to be involved in everything? You don’t have to have alcohol to enjoy yourself. Our children can’t wait then to become adults. As soon as I can have this I’m a big man or a big woman. It’s almost like a right of passage. Our whole lives seems to revolve around it,” he concluded.
By Trevor Quinn