Gambling is a pastime which many Irish people enjoy. It is deeply engrained in our culture. In fact, Ireland has the second highest spend, per person, on gambling – in the world. While for the majority of people who gamble, it is a relatively harmless bit of fun, there are many who experience harm from gambling. Problem Gambling (Gambling Addiction) is estimated to affect up to 40,000 people in Ireland. For every person with a gambling problem, there are estimated to be a further 5-10 people affected, meaning that there could be up to 400,000 people in Ireland feeling the negative impact of gambling-related harm.
Third-level students are a particularly at-risk group for potentially developing a gambling problem. The Irish Institute of Public Health found that adolescent gambling in Ireland is 2-3 times greater than that of adults. Anyone who has ever listened to the stories high-profile Irish problem gamblers in recovery (Oisin McConville, Niall McNamee, Davy Glennon), will have noticed that they all started out around the ages of 14 or 15. What began for them as a relatively harmless pastime had developed into an addiction by the time they had finished secondary school.
As a student at Third Level, you may find yourself in a new living situation, which can lend itself to developing a gambling problem:
• If you are living away from home for the first time, you no longer have people around you who know you really well and who can spot changes in your mood or behaviours.
• You may be managing your own finances for the first time.
• You are probably living on a tight budget.
• If you are in your late teens or early twenties, you are biologically predisposed towards more impulsive acts than older adults.
Some students may see gambling as a way to get out of financial difficulties, particularly if they have had a big win in the past. This is one of the most common tragic delusions of problem gamblers – that they can gamble their way out of trouble. Listen to the stories of any recovering gambling addict and you will hear a reoccurring thread: whenever they did win, they almost immediately lost it all again.
Since the advent of online gambling, in combination with the development smartphones, problem gambling worldwide has been increasing dramatically. 96% of Irish 15-35 year-olds own a smartphone. This means that they basically have the potential to carry a 24-hour bookmakers shop around in their pocket, all day, every day – simply by downloading one of the many gambling apps. For a generation of young people who have grown up online, this is probably the biggest risk of all. As well as the danger associated with the ‘always on’ accessibility, gambling companies can send ‘free bet’ incentives straight to your phone – particularly if they see that you haven’t been using the app for a while. For a student who is struggling financially, these types of incentives can be difficult to resist. They generally require you to make a deposit into your online account, meaning that if or when you lose the money that the bookmaker has ‘given’ you, you go on to chase your losses with your own money.
Here is some simple advice, if you are gambling:
- Only bet in a bricks-and-mortar ‘bookies’ shop. Steer clear of online gambling, which is open 24/7/365. At least the bookies will close at some point.
- Only bring the exact amount of money you are prepared to lose with you to the bookies.
- Never bet more than you can afford to lose. In other words - don’t put this week’s rent on a horse or a football team.
- Never “chase your losses”. Nobody has ever gambled their way out of their gambling problem.
- Try not to gamble when under the influence of alcohol or other drugs. Your impulse control is decreased and you could end up making rash choices.
- Don’t gamble when you’re feeling depressed or anxious. Gambling is most definitely not a cure for these issues and can often make things worse.
At Problem Gambling Ireland, we provide an online resource and email support service for problem gamblers, their families and other concerned persons. We have a wide range of self-help materials and links to all gambling addiction support services. We are also piloting an online support group for problem gamblers, which I will be facilitating. If you are interested in joining the support group, or if you have any questions relating to problem gambling, email “info [at] problemgambling.ie”. We plan to have a helpline and web-chat service available in the future. We are currently developing a lobbying campaign for regulation of the gambling industry in Ireland, along with the Union of Students in Ireland and the Rutland Centre. Regulation will mean that restrictions will be place on gambling advertising and that a levy will be placed on the income of the gambling industry, which will pay for treatment, prevention, education and research in the field of gambling addiction.
Barry Grant, Addiction Counsellor, Founder of Problem Gambling Ireland