The College of Psychiatrists of Ireland has called for an urgent ban on gambling advertising in sports next year and said tackling gambling addiction through laws and education was needed "now more than ever".
Launching its Gambling Disorder Position Paper, the professional body for psychiatrists said the Covid-19 lockdowns and restrictions had fed what was already a "hidden epidemic" around the country, adding it was now a "public health crisis".
It said coronavirus-related restrictions fuelled the problem through increased isolation, more opportunity to gamble while working from home and higher levels of targeted online advertising.
The position paper, developed by the Faculty of Addictions Psychiatry of the College, says gambling disorder is a behavioural addiction that shares certain features with substance addiction.
It outlines five key planks to target the problem: public education, new legislation, advertising controls, treatment services and research into problem gambling.
According to the paper, there are no national data reflecting the prevalence of gambling disorder in Ireland and no dedicated referral pathways for the treatment of gambling disorder within the Irish mental health or addiction services.
The college said gambling advertisements on television and radio should not be permitted to air before the watershed and that gambling advertising within sports in Ireland should not be permitted.
"All gambling advertising-related activity should be closely monitored by an independent regulator," it said. "The independent regulator should be aware of the influence social media advertising can have on children and adolescents" and "the independent regulator should also be aware of the use of micro-transactions and loot boxes in online gaming, described as 'virtual games of chance'."
We're extremely pleased to announce our partnership with the Extern Problem Gambling Project (formerly Problem Gambling Ireland). Working together, we aim to help bring awareness and support for those struggling with gambling addiction across Ireland.https://t.co/sS0VZ3wEXR pic.twitter.com/g3A5Vfnidr— Gamban (@gambanapp) November 18, 2020
It also calls for more robust age verification processes to hinder children accessing gambling websites and enhanced legislation, as well as public education about gambling disorder and greater treatment options.
Professor Colin O’Gara, a consultant addictions psychiatrist specialising in the area of gambling addiction and lead author of the paper, said: "We cannot continue to ignore the links between problem gambling and the current high volume of betting ads – be that in traditional TV ads or on team jerseys and side-line banners.
"Much like tobacco, in 10 years I think we will look back on the proliferation of gambling advertising in sport and entertainment and ask ourselves how we let it get so out of control. Currently, gambling advertising in Ireland is much too common and, critically, occurs before the adult television watershed."
President of the College of Psychiatrists of Ireland Dr William Flannery, said: "Even in the absence of live sports, people are finding it difficult to avoid triggers, with increased visibility of online gambling ads and the rollout of new betting platforms. We need to support people with tighter controls and responsible gambling measures inbuilt in the industry."