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Dublin: 13°C Thursday 13 May 2021

Funding is needed 'before it's too late' - there's a surge in gambling addiction in Irish men (and women)

The numbers of people presenting with a gambling problem at Dublin’s Rutland Centre have trebled in just two years.

shutterstock_252655192 Source: Shutterstock/adike

IRELAND’S LARGEST ADDICTION rehabilitation centre is calling for the government to provide State funding for treating gambling addiction ‘before it’s too late’.

Gambling holds a soft spot in many Irish people’s hearts, but it remains an addiction that is all too easily hidden.

The consequences of a serious gambling problem can nevertheless be “truly devastating” according to Maebh Leahy, chief executive of the Rutland Centre.

A registered charity established in 1978, currently the Rutland Centre deals with around 400 people per year who present with differing forms of addiction, including alcohol, drugs, sex, food, and gambling.

At present the Rutland receives no government funding. And its figures for those presenting with a gambling problem are steadily increasing. They’ve gone from just 3% of clients in 2013 to just under 10% for 2015, a three-fold increase.

Gambling and women

While traditionally seen as the preserve of men, in recent years evidence has increased to suggest that gambling is becoming more of a problem for women. This is something Leahy sees as a major problem.

“Month on month, year on year, an increasing number of people are presenting to us with a gambling addiction,” she says.

They’re predominantly men, and that’s what’s worrying, because we know women are gambling too.

shutterstock_299107145 Source: Shutterstock/wavebreakmedia

There is no empirical evidence for this Leahy explains. It’s a case of the law of averages.

“Women are being targeted specifically. They’re prolific social media users,” she says.

It’s one of the problems here, we don’t have up-to-date information. The sector is regulated in the UK, it needs to be so here. We can’t have the industry targeting specific, vulnerable groups.

Regulation of the industry here and a call for State funding for gambling addiction services are the two things that preoccupy Leahy most.


Currently the industry here is worth billions of euro annually but it remains largely unregulated. A Gambling Control bill from 2013 has not, so far, made it into law. Meanwhile, the landscape is shifting seismically at a rate of knots with the evolution of internet and smartphone-gambling.

Just because a gambling problem is less physically evident than a similar issue with drink or drugs shouldn’t diminish its impact says Leahy.

“That’s the problem, it can go so long without detection. But the average gambling debt for someone with a problem in the UK is £150,000 (€197,000). That’s for an average person, not a millionaire,” she says.

That leads to a marriage breakdown rate of 54% in such situations. The damage is enormous. And the key thing to bear in mind is that a gambler is absolutely powerless in the face of his or her addiction.
Gambling is so stigmatised. People are afraid to come forward for help. A lot of Irish sports people have come forward in recent times with their own problems. Hopefully that can help kill the stigma.

A gambler’s lot is far from a lost cause however, in Leahy’s opinion.

“Everything is salvageable, providing you get help,” she says.

Rutland is an abstinence clinic. You need to be abstinent before you come in, and you need to stay that way for a year after you leave.

“It’s a long road but it’s a worthwhile one. There are organisations like MABS who can help with financial advice if you’ve gotten yourself in trouble,” says Leahy.

An absolutely fantastic life is possible if people get the help that they need,” she adds.

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