Unemployed men in poor areas most likely to be ‘problem gamblers’, says report

Calls for greater funding for health services to treat gambling addiction

‘Greater access to treatment will also increase awareness of the harmful consequences of problem gambling’. Photograph: iStock

Unemployed men living in the poorest areas and who drink and smoke are most likely to be among the 12,000 “problem gamblers”, a report published on Wednesday finds.

The report, from the Health Research Board (HRB), says knowledge on problem gambling remains "limited" and it calls on authorities to consider the links between "socio-economic deprivation" and "problem gambling" when making "planning decisions around the density of gambling outlets".

It also calls for greater funding for health services to treat gambling addiction, which it says is not give the same weight by the HSE as drug and alcohol addiction.

Drawing on from the 2019-20 National Drug and Alcohol Survey (NDAS), the HRB finds almost half (49 per cent) of people aged 15 and over – 1.9 million – had gambled in the previous 12 months.


“The most commonly reported gambling activity was buying a lottery ticket or scratch card in person (42 per cent), followed by gambling in a bookmaker’s shop (9 per cent),” says the report.

Males (51 per cent) were more likely than females (47 per cent) to have gambled, though females (43 .2 per cent) were more likely to have bought a lottery ticket or a scratch card than males (41.6 per cent).

The survey shows that in Ireland about 90,000 adults are low-risk gamblers, 35,000 are moderate-risk gamblers and 12,000 adults are problem gamblers."

It finds those in the most deprived fifth of the population were most likely to have gambled (55 per cent) compared with the 50.2 per cent in the most wealthy cohort.

Though those in employment (54.1 per cent) were more likely to have gambled in the last year than the unemployed (49.5 per cent), unemployed people were more likely to meet the criteria of “problem gambling”, says the report.

“Similarly, while those who had completed third-level education were most likely to gamble, it was those respondents who had attained primary or lower second-level education only that were most likely to be at-risk or problem gamblers.”

It finds a “marked correlation between problem gambling and substance use (drug use, alcohol use disorder and/or smoking), with 13 per cent of those with an alcohol use disorder classified as an at-risk or problem gambler compared with 2 per cent of low-risk drinkers”.

Dr Deirdre Mongan, research officer at the HRB and lead author of the report, said men were "five times more likely than women to be at-risk gamblers. In terms of the profile of at-risk or problem gamblers, commonly, it is men aged 25-34 who are living in a deprived area, are unemployed and experience substance use problems such as drug use, an alcohol use disorder or smoking."

While the overall prevalence of at-risk and problem gambling is relatively low, the data presented indicates “there is a need for treatment provision in Ireland for those with gambling problems,” says the report.

"The Health Service Executive (HSE) addiction services have traditionally focused on problematic drug and alcohol use and do not provide specific gambling services. Although some cases of problematic gambling have received treatment in general mental health services or in alcohol or drug addiction services, the HSE has not been funded to develop a programme or intervention for problematic gambling," it notes.

It says the “true extent” of problem gambling is not being captured in addiction figures and there are “limited data on gambling treatment”.

“The link between problem gambling and socioeconomic deprivation should also be a factor informing planning decisions around the density of gambling outlets,” it warns.

It continues: “While a broad public health approach to gambling would be welcome, knowledge of the risk factors associated with problem gambling in Ireland is limited. There is a need for a greater understanding of the social and psychological mechanisms that lead to difficulties.

“Greater access to treatment will also increase awareness of the harmful consequences of problem gambling and provide detailed information on the patterns of behaviours associated with it.”

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland is Social Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times