Problem gambling is an issue for one in 30 adults in Ireland, new figures from the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) estimate.
The figure is 10 times higher than a previous measure from 2019.
Most of the difference is likely to be down to the survey method, the ESRI said. Previous estimates were based on face-to-face interviews, while the recent ESRI study was done anonymously online, using a representative sample of 2,850 adults.
People aged under 50 have higher rates of problem gambling, with those in their 30s estimated to have the highest rate.
Problem gambling is less widespread among women than men and less common among those with higher levels of education. However, both differences appear to be smaller than previously thought.
The most common forms of gambling were lotteries and scratch cards, followed by betting on horses, greyhounds, and other sports. Slot machines and casino gambling, particularly online, were more common among people with problem gambling.
The amounts that people reported spending on gambling products in the survey compare well with national figures for industry revenue, “suggesting that the study did not over-record gambling”, the ESRI said.
“It is hard to measure problem gambling precisely, but we are confident that one-in-30 adults more accurately reflects the true situation than previous estimates,” said Prof Pete Lunn, head of the ESRI’s behavioural research unit.
“This equates to 130,000 adults with problem gambling in Ireland and suggests that the problem is much more widespread than we thought,” he said.
The study estimates that a further 279,000 adults show moderate evidence of problem gambling. This means that they suffer several negative behaviours or experiences associated with their gambling (eg, borrowing to fund their gambling) but fall short of being classified as having problem gambling.
People with problem gambling spend, on average, more than €1,000 per month on gambling. This means that more than a quarter of all money spent on gambling in Ireland is spent by people with problem gambling.
Online gambling accounts for three-fifths of the total gambling spend of people with problem gambling, with in-person gambling accounting for the rest.
The public do not see people’s character or upbringing as the main reason for problem gambling. Instead, people tend to see the widespread availability of opportunities to gamble and exposure to gambling advertising as the main causes, the study found.
Anne Marie Caulfield, chief executive of the Gambling Regulatory Authority, said the true extent of problem gambling in Ireland is “hidden from public view” and “the importance of this ESRI study in shining a light on the extent of gambling harm in Ireland cannot be underestimated”.
“The insights from this and other studies into gambling in Ireland will be invaluable to the authority as we undertake our work in education, awareness and in introducing other measures, such as the exclusion register, to protect against gambling harm,” she said.
The Minister of State with responsibility for Law Reform, James Browne, said the research “underscores the necessity to recognise and meaningfully confront problem gambling and the harms it causes”.
“Reform of gambling legislation, licensing and regulation is a priority for the Government and my Department,” he said.
“The Gambling Regulation Bill 2022, is, at its core, a public health measure aimed at protecting citizens from gambling harm, including younger people and those more vulnerable in our communities. The ESRI’s most recent research and the Institute’s Literature Review on problem gambling, published in June 2023, serve to illustrate the timeliness of the Bill and its relevance to today’s society.”