In publishing its Gambling Disorder Position Paper, the College of Psychiatrists of Ireland (CPI) said there was overwhelming evidence for a connection between the high volume of betting advertisements and an increase in problem gambling.
It said measures including an “urgent, outright ban” on advertising and the introduction of dedicated treatment pathways are necessary to tackle what it considers to be a public health crisis.
The CPI said anecdotal information from Consultant Addiction Psychiatrists indicates a concerning rise in gambling disorders referrals amid Covid-19 lockdowns, due to isolation, more opportunity to gamble while working from home and higher levels of targeted online advertising.
Professor Colin O’Gara, the lead author of the paper, said: “We cannot continue to ignore the links between problem gambling and the current high volume of betting ads – be that in traditional TV ads or on team jerseys and side-line banners. Betting has become strongly linked with the enjoyment of sports. We are normalising gambling as a behaviour.
“Much like tobacco, in 10 years I think we will look back on the proliferation of gambling advertising in sport and entertainment and ask ourselves how we let it get so out of control. Currently gambling advertising in Ireland is much too common and, critically, occurs before the adult television watershed.”
The newly published paper developed by the Faculty of Addictions Psychiatry of the College, outlines the urgent need in Ireland to tackle gambling disorder through a range of methods including public education, legislation, advertising controls and treatment services.
Ireland is due to introduce a new gambling watchdog in 2021 which will have the powers to regulate advertising, gambling websites and apps.
The CPI said the launch of the paper comes on the back of concerning figures on adolescent gambling habits published recently by ESPAD (The European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs) for 2019, which show that when compared to their European counterparts, Irish 16-year-olds have significantly higher rates of gambling.
The study shows that 37% of 16-year-olds use slot machines compared to a European average of 21%, with 61% participating in sports betting compared to 45%.
Remarking on the current concerns, Dr William Flannery, CPI president, said: “The impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic have been felt harshly by those struggling with problem gambling. Key drivers in the development and relapse of an addiction include loneliness, isolation and boredom – all unfortunate side effects of the necessary social distancing restrictions put in place to stop the spread of the virus since last March.
“Even in the absence of live sports, people are finding it difficult to avoid triggers, with increased visibility of online gambling ads and the rollout of new betting platforms. We need to support people with tighter controls and responsible gambling measures inbuilt in the industry.”