Ireland’s Hidden Gambling Problem‘When you see people suffering so much you want the government to take responsibility.’

As heard on The Ray D'Arcy Show

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Are you an at risk gambler? Internationally accepted statistics state that 5-7% of us are. That figure equates to 250,000 Irish people. That’s a lot of people; your neighbours, your friends, your families.

Dr Colin O’Gara, Consultant Addiction Psychiatrist in St John of God Hospital, joined Ray D’Arcy to ask why more hasn’t been done about it, and it’s not his first time posing that question on radio. He joined Ray two years ago when the Control of Gambling Bill of (2013) finally looked set to introduce an Office for Gambling Control. Amongst the promises contained in that bill was the proposal to charge a turnover-based levy to the gambling industry, with that money going towards treatment facilities for those struggling with severe gambling addictions. This was a ray of hope for those affected, their families, medical professionals and society in general, but it proved a false dawn.

Four years on from the drafting of the bill, it is no closer to being passed. Now, Dr O’Gara joined Ray to engage in essentially the exact same conversation as before, albeit with more frustration and urgency in his tone.

“Gambling is very, very much available and there are no treatment services on the ground. Worst of all, there’s absolutely no real appreciation. There are no awareness campaigns. There’s nothing happening. It just beggars belief.”

Dr O’Gara explains that Ireland is operating on laws that were put in place in the 30s and 50s, which seems absurd when you consider how the climate for the modern gambler has changed. Needless to say, the internet has opened up endless opportunities and has rendered regulating the industry something of a ‘Mission Impossible’.

When asked why Dr O’Gara thinks the brakes have been put on the bill, he believes it comes down to the very nature of the addiction itself.

“Because gambling is so hidden, it gets pushed down the priority list and it’s the real poor cousin with regards to all the other addictions.”

A phenomenon that Dr O’Gara sees in his clinical practice is that of young elite sportsmen and women presenting with very severe and highly progressed gambling problems, although the ratio of men to women he treats is ten to one. As high performance athletes don’t consume alcohol or recreational drugs as a rule, Dr O’Gara says that this is their way of letting off steam in a highly pressurized environment. A number of sports stars have recently opened up about their secret battles with gambling which has helped publicize the problem, and Dr O’Gara is hopeful that lending his voice to it yet again will raise a significant level of awareness for the bill to be pushed through.

With 1% of gamblers responsible for 20-30% of profit, Dr O’Gara says the gambling industry is slow to embrace the model proposed in the bill, but he’s confident that there would still be enough money to be made, while the levy proposed in the legislation would put Ireland into a leading positional in terms of service provision and medical research.

Click here for the full interview.

© The Listener 2017

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