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VOICES

Opinion We don’t allow ads for smoking so why should gambling be any different?

As Labour brings legislation this week to tackle the issue, party senator Mark Wall says it’s time to fight back against gambling ads.

EVERY DAY WE experience a huge volume of ads that aim to convince us to carry out certain actions.

The gambling industry has worked particularly hard to create a strong link in our minds between major sports events and betting. Watching a match, we are bombarded with reminders to download gambling apps or put a few bob on the score.

You may not be actively noticing it, but 75.4% of sporting broadcasts show at least one gambling advertisement. In fact, gambling ads are the most common during sporting events televised in Ireland, and the 7th most common form of ad shown.

A wide variety of topics are pushed as potentials for a flutter – even politics is targeted by these companies. One betting company currently has odds for the year of the next general election, which party will get more seats in the next General Election and even the likelihood of a United Ireland before 2024.

A nation of gamblers?

While we have been socialised to believe that this behaviour is harmless by the betting industry, it’s not.

We need to stop linking betting with the enjoyment of sports and entertainment and acknowledge that this behaviour is harmful and we shouldn’t continue to allow betting companies to manipulate people in this way.

Gambling addiction is a silent scourge across the nation, which is why the Labour Party will tomorrow publish legislation to deal with this. We have a national problem with gambling in this country.

In 2019, Ireland had the 7th highest gambling spend in the world – €9.8 billion (€379.51 per head), according to a H2 Gambling Capital report. Our legislation will prevent unnecessary encouragement of gambling – banning all gambling ads across the media, on public transport, billboards and online outlets.

This legislation is more important now than ever. There have been big changes in recent years in the ease with which people can gamble due to our smartphones.

Whereas previously there was some limit to the damage that could be caused as a result of people having to go to betting shops, now any one can gamble any amount of money on their phone in an instant.

All it takes is one prompt while scrolling Twitter or a reminder at half time. This is obviously going to contribute to the problem and gives more of a reason why the advertising of gambling should be banned.

The Covid effect

The stresses of Covid-19 have challenged the resilience and coping strategies of us all, but particularly individuals with addictions who are finding it even harder to continue in their recovery and avoid relapse.

Studies in Canada show that those suffering from anxiety and depression are more likely to gamble online during the first six weeks of emergency measures and be classified as high-risk gamblers.

With people staying at home, cutting social contacts and having more time on their hands, it is almost inevitable that problem gambling will continue to rise, especially given current online gambling availability.

The College of Psychiatrists, who in the course of their work help people pick up the pieces of lives destroyed by gambling addiction, and they have noted anecdotal evidence of a concerning rise in gambling addiction referrals since the first lockdown here in Ireland.

They see the consequences of gambling addiction on a daily basis and they have called for an immediate ban on all gambling advertising.

That is what our legislation does. Informed by medical professionals who are at the coalface of this particular public health issue, we want to break the link between entertainment and the gambling industry. We don’t allow ads to encourage smoking – why should gambling be any different?

It should be possible to be interested in who’ll win the Championship, without people almost automatically thinking they should put a fiver on Kildare this year. Gambling is harmful and shouldn’t be encouraged. Ending the industry’s control and manipulation of us is one clear step in addressing this problem.

Senator Mark Wall is Labour Spokesperson on Sport, Defence and Tourism. More at https://www.labour.ie/gambling.

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