Oisín McConville told a conference on Thursday that he now delivered talks to children as young as 12 as part of his advocacy work in the area of gambling.
The former Armagh footballer, who went public with his gambling addiction in 2007, said another demographic has been introduced to gambling and because of that "it's more important now than ever that we regulate it because there are so many more people who are having that initial bet".
Also speaking at "Ireland: We need to talk about Gambling" at a hotel in Dublin, Independent Senator Frances Black called for the swift enactment of the Gambling Control Bill to curb the appeal of betting firms.
“I cannot believe the power of the gambling industry and how they have come down so hard on this legislation, and I believe that it is going to save lives,” said the singer and founder of the RISE foundation, which supports family members of those suffering from addiction issues.
Ms Black said there was a higher suicide rate among compulsive gamblers internationally compared to those with drug and alcohol addictions, and she maligned the “insidious” influence of online gambling and ubiquitous advertising around the area.
First introduced in 2013, the Gambling Control Bill contains measures to tighten regulation of the industry, and to restrict access to certain forms of betting. However, it has been hit by a succession of setbacks over the intervening years.
Future generations will liken the current permissive attitude around betting adverts to the days of unrestricted tobacco advertising, according to Declan Lynch, an author who has penned a number of books dealing with problem gambling.
He described modern methods of advertising gambling products as being “dangerous” and “kind of evil”, and said compulsive betting behaviour was at the very top of the “hierarchy of addictions”.
The conference also heard from Samantha Thomas, associate professor of public health at Deakin University in Australia, who said complaints from the gambling industry about enhanced regulations representing a "nanny state" were misguided.
“Really, we need a much stronger consumer protection framework around these products...Don’t forget the nanny state has helped prevent thousands of deaths with tobacco control; it’s about seatbelts in cars, it’s about compulsory vaccinations.”
Australia has been to the forefront of regulating online betting with its prohibition on introductory free bets as well as some forms of gambling advertising.
Sinn Féin MEP Lynn Boylan – who organised Thursday's conference – advocated for a similar banning of inducements in Ireland, as well as a watershed for broadcast betting advertisements and greater funding for support groups helping those with addictions as well as their families.
"There is nothing stopping the Irish Government in being a leader in terms of online gambling and how it's advertised and controlled," she said.
A FORMER POSTMASTER’S TALE OF PROBLEM GAMBLING
Tony O’Reilly’s story is perhaps one of the most well-known cautionary tales about problem gambling in Ireland at this stage, but the former postmaster’s prolific spending began in unsettlingly familiar circumstances.
In 2012, O’Reilly was sentenced to three years in jail after he stole €1.75 million from his employer to fuel an all-encompassing gambling addiction. His online betting account had a turnover of €10.5 million over less than a decade, and it all started with a modest wager on a World Cup match in 1998.
That £1 bet yielded a £45 return, and so began a dangerous streak of behaviour that truly accelerated following a successful double-backer on CSKA Moscow and West Ham matches in May 2005.
“I won €5,000 off a €50 bet, and from there my betting began to get more serious. I started thinking ‘if I can do it once I can do it again’.”
A series of €50 bets on a daily basis soon morphed into five-figure sums being wagered on sporting events as disparate as a Norwegian women's football match and Azerbaijani under-17 basketball games, until eventually not even the final instalment for his 2007 wedding in Cyprus was safe.
“When I got to the hotel I discovered that they had a computer downstairs, so I spent the wedding – meant to be the happiest time of your life – down at the computer gambling away the money that was supposed to pay for it.”
Matters eventually caught up with O'Reilly when auditors for An Post began noticing irregular activity at the branch he was managing in Gorey, Co Wexford.
He turned to a familiar distraction, fleeing up North and embarking on a betting bender until he was eventually apprehended by PSNI officers which ultimately led to his imprisonment in 2012.
O’Reilly began the path to becoming an addiction counsellor while on community leave in 2014.
Although his destructive gambling led to the loss of his livelihood, his marriage and his liberty, O’Reilly says he is now on a quest to change his legacy from that of “the postmaster who stole €1.75 million” to someone who helped those in a similar situation.
“I have great peace of mind. I wake up in the morning not in a cold sweat but wondering what the day is going to hold. I can honestly sit here and say it’s the happiest I’ve ever been, but I’ve gone through hell to get here.”