The law on underage gambling is very clear. The Betting Act, 1931, actually makes it an offence for a child under 18 to be in a bookmaker’s. You can’t buy a Lotto ticket until you pass the age of 18.
But with the advent of smartphones, online gaming and gambling, and more gambling outlets now promoted actively in traditional media and on the internet, there is little to stop teens and tweens from betting at any time of day or night.
On Today with Sean O’Rourke, legendary GAA footballer and pundit, Colm O’Rourke, who is also Principal of St Patrick’s Classical School in Navan, described the scale of the problem, as he sees it.
‘About 20% of people over 15 would be gambling regularly. And it would appear their parents don’t know about it.‘
Colm O’Rourke has discovered a sharp rise in the number of student gamblers and his experiences are, most likely, replicated across the country, as it is now not only easier to gamble, but the amount of things you can bet on is virtually unlimited. It’s far from putting a two-way bet on the winner of 3:30 in Leopardstown, said Colm, when you can bet on the amount of yellow cards in a game, the amount of wides, the margin of the scoreline.
Colm’s experience comes as no surprise to mental health experts, Dr Harry Barry GP, and Enda Murphy, psychotherapist, who also joined Sean O’Rourke. According to Enda Murphy:
‘Boys are now more likely to gamble than use drink and drugs…. One in eight of 15 to 16-year-olds is now at it.’
But apart from the ease with which betting can occur, Enda Murphy identified another reason behind the teenage upsurge. ‘There is a huge connection between online gaming and online gambling,’ he said, going on to describe one game, Counterstrike, where weapons and other accessories can be traded online using game money, which can be purchased using real money.
Dr Harry Barry, GP, spoke about how the availability of gambling options to teenagers poses additional problems, given their particular physiology and the nature of that stage of development.
‘We get a dopamine search between the ages of 13 and 18. When we have a dopamine surge, what actually happens is that it allows the young person, it gives them a buzz, a hit, it gets them to try new things.’
Evolution, according to Dr Harry Barry, pre-programs younger people to be risk-takers. But this risk-taking, particularly in group settings, can pose significant dangers. And when certain behaviours are promoted to young people during this dopamine surge, those dangers are exacerbated even further.
‘Any form of substance or addictive-type behaviour that is promoted or started, particularly under the age of 16, resets your dopamine system for the rest of your life.’
For more from Today with Sean O’Rourke, click here.
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