Constantly evolving social media platforms are “blurring the lines” between gambling and online games, researchers have warned.
The issue has been linked to children and underage gamblers, particularly through exposure to social media based advertising and promotions.
In a presentation to the Oireachtas Justice Committee, which is considering gambling controls, Dr Crystal Fulton of University College Dublin said research participants had suggested education on the risks of gambling should be introduced from primary school age.
She said much of the evolving problem had to do with the mutation of gambling into the online world and its ability to reach a wider and potentially younger customer base.
“Because social media have developed rapidly and continuously, gambling operators can make sophisticated use of these technologies to interact with current and potential customers in new and evolving ways,” she told the committee on Wednesday. “Significantly, there is a blurring of lines between online gambling and social media games which simulate gambling.”
She said there were both technical and legal problems with age verification methods currently used for online access to platforms.
As part of her research work, which was completed in 2015 and updated the following year, participants raised the need for greater education and awareness - possibly along the lines of “life skills” on the curriculum from primary through to third level education.
“Underage gambling was a common theme among recovering gamblers in our research,” she said.
However, the nature of technological change dominated proceedings - Dr Fulton said recovering gamblers had flagged technology "as accelerating and deepening the effects of gambling" because it had the capacity to keep it "secret".
Although a 2013 gambling control bill did not progress, its content has been reviewed and earlier this year, the Government approved the establishment of a regulator.
At the same hearing, however, Minister of State at the Department of Justice David Stanton said forthcoming legislation was challenging.
“I am very anxious...to have a regulator, I really am,” he said. “It’s proving to be far, far more difficult and technical than I envisaged.”
There was a general frustration expressed at the lack of progress among committee members. Fianna Fáil TD Jack Chambers said while technology has advanced since 2013 it was not an excuse.
“It’s not like we had a new invention in the last five years and I think we should have had progress,” he said.
In his submission to the committee, Mr Stanton said gambling turnover, in the absence of hard data, was estimated to be worth up to €8 billion annually.
“Increasingly, gambling is an activity that is moving to an on-line environment and traditional gaming arcades and other places are diminishing in importance,” he said, adding that while modern legislation was now a Government priority, it would take time to develop.
However, he said while restrictions on advertising and promotion must be considered, such steps could have a detrimental effect on the sports industry which relied on sponsorship.
Fianna Fáil justice spokesman Jim O’Callaghan said the slow pace of strengthening gambling regulation was “astonishing” and in spite of what Mr Stanton said, it was clearly not a Government priority.
“We know what priorities for the Government look like and how they operate,” he said, citing Minister for Transport Shane Ross’s controversial Judicial Appointments Bill.
“The Government decided that was a priority and three years later in Government it’s still meandering its way through the Oireachtas eating up huge amounts of resources.”