Web of addiction

There has been an alarming increase in the number of young men seeking treatment for gambling addiction because of the popularity of online betting and ease of access to internet sites.

Tabor Lodge, one of the largest treatment centres in the South, has recorded a 50% increase in those aged between 18 and 35 seeking help in the past two years.

Mick Devine, clinical director at Tabor Lodge, said the ease with which people could gamble on the internet was a major factor in the overall increase in gambling.

“We used to see gambling addictions among older men, but gambling is now becoming more of a young man’s activity. Gambling on the internet is seductive for young men who are looking for excitement.

“Internet gambling has taken off in a big way. People can be home all day on the computer. It’s easy to conceal. It often doesn’t come out until a disaster hits and a person is in major debt or has been arrested for fraud and theft.”

He said the age profile of the gambling addict has changed in recent years.

“Now you have two types of problem gamblers. There is the ‘dyed-in-the-wool’ gambler, and then the other who might be young and have problems with alcohol, uppers, and that sort of thing and for them, gambling is more seductive. It started out as a Celtic Tiger kind of thing, but it’s getting worse.

“I assessed a dyed-in-the-wool gambler yesterday.

“He was just 22. Typically, men like him might start in their teens. It’s all about the adrenalin rush to the brain. They get a great buzz but their feet aren’t on the ground. I’ve had people come who said they were bored before getting into it.”

Stephen Rowan, director of the Toranfield House treatment centre in Co Wicklow, said the majority of those who gamble online were problem gamblers.

“The accessibility offered by online gambling is significant.

“I’d say about 75% of those who gamble online are problem gamblers, while about 20% of those who go to casinos would have a problem. One of the big differences online is frequency — how fast can it happen?

“Most of those with gambling problems suffer from poly addiction. Usually they have issues with drink, cocaine, or sex as well. The thing about gambling, and particularly online, is that it can mimic substance abuse in the rush to the brain. I’ve never come across a gambler who didn’t have other addictions.”

Gamblers Anonymous has also recorded a surge in demand for its services.

In Waterford City, there are now up to five meetings a week — up from just one a week three years ago.

In Limerick, the frequency has gone from one to three weekly. Even provincial towns such as Mitchelstown and Thurles have responded to demands for a weekly meeting. If you’re a compulsive gambler in Cork or Dublin, a meeting is available daily.

Online gambling is now a huge business, estimated to be worth €44bn globally. While figures for Ireland are not available, economic consultants have extrapolated that the market here is worth about 5% of that, or €2bn.

The country’s largest bookmakers, Paddy Power, has close to 1m active customers. The company’s share price has surged by 280% since 2008. At a time of falling discretionary spending, Paddy Power is still powering ahead. Last year, 62% of its €120m operating profit was attributable to its online operation.

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