Gambling and its Social Impact in Ireland

(PIs: Dr. Aphra Kerr and Prof. John O’Brennan)

Gambling is increasingly prevalent in Ireland. The global and national gambling industry is growing in revenue every year and expanding from traditional forms like horse racing and dog tracks into less visible types, including casinos and online gambling. One factor that has contributed to the growth of the industry has been online gambling, especially on smartphones. There is increasing evidence that repeated Covid lockdowns have led to a further exponential rise in some forms of gambling. 

The impacts of gambling are both visible and invisible. Gambling activities may have adverse health, social and financial repercussions, and it impacts individuals, families, communities and Irish society more generally. The figures released by the Department of Health in 2019 show that many people in Ireland engage in various forms of gambling and highlights the need for regulation and protective measures. Work is currently underway to implement The Gaming and Lotteries Amendment Bill 2019 and to establish an Irish gambling regulatory authority.
 
In late 2019 Prof. Aphra Kerr, Prof. John O’Brennan and Dr Lucia Vazquez-Mendoza began work on a one-year project to examine the knowledge base and evidence on the nature and extent of gambling and gambling impacts in Ireland and how Ireland compares to international peer countries. The research was commissioned by the Gambling Awareness Trust in Ireland.  

The final report has just been published and it is the first major sociological report on gambling in Ireland, and the most comprehensive examination of the topic to date. ‘Gambling Trends, Harms and Responses: Ireland in an International Context’ can be downloaded from MU’s open repository MURAL at http://mural.maynoothuniversity.ie/14258/   

During 2020 the team conducted a state-of-the-art literature review on gambling internationally and conducted 20 qualitative online interviews with a range of gambling stakeholders in Ireland. 
The core focus of the project was on 1) international and national trends in the gambling industry and gambling behaviour 2) understanding the conceptual approaches to, and empirical evidence on, harmful gambling, and 3) reviewing public responses to gambling harms and emerging best practice globally.  

This report maps the gambling ecosystem in Ireland and the range of gambling industries, types and activities that are available. It also begins to trace the acceleration of online gambling during COVID.  
The authors update available research to capture the mediatisation of gambling across television and social media, especially through advertising and promotion activities by gambling companies, and traces the emergence of digital and online platforms associated with gambling and e-sports. It also dissects the ongoing and associated phenomenon of the  ‘gamblification’ of sport, and the emergence of corporate social responsibility responses in parts of the industry.  

Finally, the report identifies a patchwork of public, private and charity services and initiatives which are responding to the individual and social harms caused by gambling in communities and society more generally. The report calls for more urgent action in five areas including: public health, education and awareness, legislation and regulation, advertising and marketing and the introduction of self-exclusion schemes. 

This report is timely as the Government is developing an updated legislative and regulatory framework for gambling in Ireland. This legislation has long been delayed and the report argues that Ireland ‘s legislative framework on gambling is an analogue model unsuited to the new age of digital gambling. Ireland thus lags a long way behind peer jurisdictions in Europe and the UK. The report calls for a wider government response that includes adequate training and funding for public health services targeted specifically at problem gamblers, curbs on gambling advertising and promotion, and a wider public education initiative to raise awareness about the significant individual and societal harms caused by gambling.  

Kerr and O’ Brennan recently received some new funding from the Maynooth Social Sciences Institute to explore further aspects of gambling harm in Ireland and that work will commence in May 2021. 
 
The report is discussed in a number of recent to media pieces: 

BreakingNews.ie, 25 March 2021, https://www.breakingnews.ie/ireland/over-e6b-raised-in-betting-taxes-while-55000-impacted-by-serious-gambling-disorder-report-1101702.html 
The Irish Times, 25 March 2021, https://www.irishtimes.com/news/social-affairs/numbers-seeking-help-for-gambling-problems-rises-during-pandemic-1.4520358
Pat Kenny Show, Newstalk FM, Interview with John O Brennan, 26 March 2021, https://www.newstalk.com/podcasts/highlights-from-the-pat-kenny-show/at-least-55000-people-in-ireland-now-have-a-serious-gambling-problem 
The Irish Examiner, 28 March 2021, https://www.irishexaminer.com/sport/gaa/arid-40253072.html 
The Journal, https://www.thejournal.ie/gambling-supports-ireland-5395526-Apr2021/?utm_source=twitter_short 
Focus Gaming News, https://focusgn.com/report-blasts-irish-problem-gambling-services-as-not-fit-for-purpose  

This project has received research funding from the Gambling Awareness Trust, an independent charity based in Ireland.

Contact Aphra.kerr@mu.ie or John.obrennan@mu.ie