Calls for gambling limits to be introduced during lockdown

A number of European countries have introduced spending and deposit limits

Countries such as Portugal, Sweden, Spain and Belgium have already brought in restrictions to allay fears of increases in problem gambling linked to isolation and boredom. File photograph: Getty Images

Countries such as Portugal, Sweden, Spain and Belgium have already brought in restrictions to allay fears of increases in problem gambling linked to isolation and boredom. File photograph: Getty Images

 

Finland has become the latest European country to implement loss limits on online gambling during the Covid-19 pandemic while there have been further calls for similar measures in Ireland.

Countries such as Portugal, Sweden, Spain and Belgium have already brought in restrictions to allay fears of increases in problem gambling linked to isolation and boredom.

From May 1st, the monthly loss limit on all online gambling games in Finland will be lowered from €2,000 to €500, while the daily limit will similarly be lowered from €1,000 to €500 meaning that once you gamble those amounts you will not be able to bet on the site anymore.

This will apply to all online games operated by state operator Veikkaus, including slots, online bingo and table games, but not poker. The reduced loss limits will remain in force until September 30th.

Veikkaus has confirmed it has already made the necessary technical changes to its existing sites in line with the new reduced limits. Betting shops in Finland have been closed since mid-March and its lottery operations will be suspended with effect from May 4th.

In the UK, betting companies last week agreed to cease advertising on TV and radio during lockdown, after MPs had called for a moratorium.

Companies there have until May 7th to remove their ads from TV and radio where they will be either replaced by safe gambling messages or discarded entirely. The moratorium will last until June 5th and betting sites can continue to advertise via the likes of social media, direct emails and test messages.

Since Covid-19 restrictions were introduced in Ireland there have been calls for action to be taken to curb potential problem gambling with fears around increases in betting on virtual markets and online games such as poker, roulette and slot machines. Indeed, online poker websites such as Poker Stars and 888 have seen significant uptake in customer sign-ups in recent weeks.

Last month, CEO of Problem Gambling Ireland, Barry Grant, told this newspaper that virtuals and online games account for a lot of the issues their clients face.

If any spending limits were to be introduced in Ireland it would likely have to be the gambling companies themselves who make the decision as there is no gambling regulator in the country.

With that in mind, Grant, former Armagh footballer and addiction counsellor Oisín McConville and Professor Colin O’Gara from St John of God Hospital have written an open letter to CEOs of gambling companies asking that they consider such measures.

The letter reads: “We are writing to ask that the CEOs of Paddy Power/Betfair, BoylesSports, Ladbrokes and other gambling operators, immediately implement mandatory deposit and spending limits on their online gambling platforms in Ireland, for the duration of the Covid-19 lockdown. A system of mandatory deposit limits already exists for the National Lottery’s online platform.

“Several European countries, including Latvia, Lithuania, Belgium, Spain, Sweden, Finland and Portugal have already implemented restrictions on online gambling and/or advertising of same, on the basis that people are more vulnerable to gambling problematically, during the lockdown. On April 21st, the UK’s culture minister wrote to the CEO’s of the five largest gambling operators to ask them “to take extra steps to protect players at this time of heightened risk.

“Live sport is extremely limited at the moment, so vulnerable people are turning to virtual sports, online slots and casino gambling. According to the Gambling Commission, 9.2 per cent who bet on casino games online had an addiction in contrast with 2.5 per cent of online sports gamblers.

“The UK’s gambling self-exclusion service, Gamstop, have experienced a large increase in people seeking to break their self-exclusion, since the lockdown began. In Australia, consumer spending on online gambling has increased by 67 per cent in recent weeks.

“The last thing that gambling industry CEOs would want to be accused of, is taking advantage, during a time of unprecedented crisis.”

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