Public want stricter laws over gambling according to survey

The poll found that 60% of those surveyed would like to see a complete ban on gambling advertising here. Credit: UTV

The public want to see strict new laws to protect people from gambling addictions, according to a survey.

The poll found that 60% of those surveyed would like to see a complete ban on gambling advertising in Northern Ireland.

Meanwhile, 80% favoured limits on how much customers can deposit in online gambling accounts and 80% wanted online gambling to be subject to the same controls as land-based gambling.

Just 20% of respondents believe that current gambling regulations do a good job protecting customers, and 75% backed the creation of an independent gambling regulator.

The research by Survation was unveiled at the launch of a Stormont inquiry by the All Party Group on Reducing Harm Related to Gambling on Tuesday.

It is examining how best to reform Northern Ireland's gambling legislation, which predates the internet.

The region has the highest incidence of problem gambling on these islands.

In 2016, a Department for Communities survey identified 2.3% of the population as having a gambling problem.

This is more than four times higher than that recorded in Britain and almost three times higher than in the Republic of Ireland. International studies suggest that the suicide rate among people with a gambling disorder is 15 times that of the general population.

The survey findings have been backed by the group's vice chair Sinn Fein MLA Philip McGuigan, who himself battled with a gambling addiction.

He lost more than £100,000 through online gambling over eight years, and said it had had a huge impact on his family life.

The North Antrim representative described legislation as at least 30 years out of date.

"The Betting, Gaming, Lotteries and Amusements Order predates both fixed-odds betting terminals and the internet," he said.

"Reform is well overdue."

Mr McGuigan said as an avid sports fan he is "bombarded" with adverts for online gambling, and expressed concern at it being to some extent a "hidden" problem, with online gambling allowing people to get their fix without even leaving their homes.

"Unfortunately, there are a huge number of people on this island battling gambling additions across all sectors of society," he said.

"It is a growing problem with females, playing bingo and roulette. People nowadays can gamble 24/7 without leaving their homes, at work."

Mr McGuigan admitted he thought long and hard before speaking publicly about his experiences for the first time earlier this year, but said scores of people contacted him and he was able to direct them to help.

He also urged the need for healthcare provision for gambling addictions.

"Across the world gambling related harm is increasingly being recognised as a serious public health problem," he said.

"We need to treat it as such here. That means putting measures in place which help prevent gambling-related harm arising in the first place."

The group's chairman UUP's Robbie Butler said over the coming weeks members will examine what needs to be done to reduce gambling-related harms and invite organisations and individuals to make submissions.

Oral evidence will be heard from November.

"Once our report is completed, we will send our recommendations to the Northern Ireland Executive," he said.

"What is already clear is that new regulations should be focused on protecting vulnerable people and their families, putting the consumer first."

The call for written evidence for the inquiry will close on Friday 6 November.