Enacting a gambling law is risk-free

WHILE most Irish families will sit down to a hearty meal tomorrow to celebrate Christmas, some will have bare cupboards and empty tables.

Poverty, social deprivation, and homelessnes all take their toll, but so too do addictions to alcohol, drugs and, as our report today indicates, gambling.

Ironically, the misery of gambling addiction is often associated with the joy and pleasure of sport. They tend to go hand in hand. While the once-a-year flutter on a horse running in the Grand National is unlikely to cause problems, some unfortunate people get caught up in a vicious cycle of winning and losing, and end up with an uncontrollable urge to gamble.

While addiction to alcohol or drugs can cause huge heartache for the person involved, as well as for their families and loved-ones, the worst effects do not become manifest for years. But gambling has the unique capacity to bring about financial ruin overnight. Gambling addiction can also cause great emotional distress. Although not mind-altering in the way that alcohol and drugs are, it can lead to huge mental health problems, with some gambling addicts contemplating suicide.

Athletes appear to be particularly vulnerable to gambling, with some ending up in great distress, with huge debts. The GAA, in particular, has identified a gambling culture within its organisation. The former Minister of State, Noel Treacy, outgoing Galway county chairman, put it well recently, when he described gambling as “a bottomless pit that causes personal, business, family, financial, mental and other unforeseen problems, which cannot be understated.”

Sports Minister Patrick O’Donovan echoes Mr Treacy’s concerns, pointing out that athletes in other sports are also prone to gambling addiction.

Mr O’Donovan wants Ireland’s major sporting organisations to meet and to make a concerted effort to end this scourge, but, as a member of government, he should also be insisting that his parliamentary colleagues complete the work begun by former justice minister, Alan Shatter, and enact the long-awaited Gambling Control Bill.

It is five years since the Government said it was to “immediately” start modernising the country’s 50-year-old gambling laws, but legislation has still not been implemented. In July, 2013, Shatter published the heads of the Gambling Control Bill, two years after the Government had said it would immediately modernise the sector.

Among its provisions is a system that seeks to protect vulnerable adults and young people who are prone to gambling addiction.

Asked about the delay, Taoiseach Enda Kenny told the Dáil recently that the issue is “very complicated”, pointing to difficulties arising from online gampling and the digitisation of the industry.

So why not do the simple stuff, like assisting sporting organisations to protect vulnerable people from their worst instincts? There’s nothing complicated about that.


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