Problem gambling poses risk to 130,000-plus people in State

Unregulated social casino games may act as gateway to problem gambling, ESRI study warns

More than 130,000 Irish people suffer from problem gambling or are at risk of it, according to a study that highlights the large and underestimated societal harm involved.

Unregulated social casino games – online games without real money – are associated with problem gambling and may act as a gateway to real gambling and problem gambling, the review by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) warns.

“The international evidence on problem gambling points to the need for greater action to address gambling-related harms,” it concludes.

Based on survey data, 0.3 per cent of the population (about 12,000 people) are estimated to suffer from problem gambling, it says. A further 0.9 per cent (35,000 people) are at moderate risk, and 2.3 per cent (90,000) are at low risk.


These figures are likely to be underestimates, according to the review of international and Irish evidence by the ESRI’s behavioural research unit, commissioned by the Gambling Regulatory Authority of Ireland.

Broadly targeted interventions and policies may be warranted, rather than those targeted only at those with those with the most severe problem gambling, the review suggests.

There is “reasonably strong evidence” that exposure to gambling advertising increases gambling behaviour, the report states.

At more than €2 billion, gambling revenues in Ireland last year were about the same as those from beef exports. The authority was set up late last year after new legislation was drawn up to tighten regulation of the sector.

The Gambling Regulation Bill, which bans gambling advertising on social media and provides for criminal sanctions for gambling companies which fail to protect children and vulnerable consumers, will become law by the end of the year, according to James Browne, Minister of State for Law Reform.

The ESRI research highlights why the issue needs to be taken seriously and also points to the requirement for effective measures to protect people from gambling-related harms, he told the launch of the review on Tuesday.

The review says supply-side interventions such as limit-setting tools or personalised feedback have been shown to be effective in reducing problem-gambling behaviour, as have therapeutic interventions such as cognitive behavioural therapy. The evidence for educational interventions is “mixed” and there is insufficient evidence for using drugs to treat the problem, it finds.

Men, younger people and disadvantaged groups are at greatest risk of problem gambling, it says, as are those with other addictive and mental health issues.

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is a former heath editor of The Irish Times.