ESRI calls for improved research into gambling harm in Ireland

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Ireland’s Economic and Social Research Institute has called for improved research into gambling harm as the number of people suffering from gambling harm in the country may be “underestimated”, according to a new study from the institute’s Behavioural Research unit. 

Commissioned through the Department of Justice and the Implementation Team supporting the establishment of the new Gambling Regulatory Authority of Ireland, the ESRI review examined international and Irish evidence available on gambling harm.

The study found that approximately 12,000 adults in Ireland suffer from gambling harm, with 35,000 at moderate risk of gambling harm and 90,000 at low risk.

However, researchers noted that the methods used to measure gambling harm are likely to underestimate it due to “survey design and response biases”.

Anne Marie Caulfield, CEO Designate of the Gambling Regulatory Authority of Ireland, stated that the regulator’s key goal will be to create more awareness of gambling harm and the support systems that are in place to help those that need it most.

“If we are to successfully tackle problem gambling we need to know the extent of the issue and how it is impacting on people’s lives,” Caulfield said.

“We have commissioned the ESRI to conduct a second study focused on measuring the extent of problem gambling and we anticipate results later this year. This new research study will ensure that our policy decisions and measures are evidence-based and informed by research.”

ESRI’s review stated that gambling harm is more common among men, younger people, disadvantaged groups and those with addiction and mental health issues. 

Those suffering from gambling harm also tend to play “forms of gambling with a high frequency of rounds and short time intervals between wagers and potential payouts”, such as online casino.

The research noted that those that suffer from gambling harm can have “difficulty perceiving their own gambling problems and recalling their own gambling expenditures”, adding that gambling harm extends beyond the individual to families and communities.

The study also stated that gambling is “negatively perceived by the public and problem gambling tends to be highly stigmatised”. 

Gambling advertising was also criticised, while ‘responsible gambling’ messages were said to lack effectiveness, and complex bets can convince players to wager more.

The ESRI review did claim that operator interventions such as limit-setting tools have been effective in preventing and reducing gambling harm, as well as therapeutic interventions for treating gambling harm.

Yet, the study also claimed that the evidence in favour of educational interventions for combating gambling harm is “mixed”, while there is “insufficient evidence” that pharmacological interventions are an effective treatment.

On youth protection, the research stated certain online activities popular among young people and minors may act as a gateway to real gambling, such as social casino games and ‘loot box’ purchasing in video games, which mimic gambling but remain largely unregulated. 

Research gaps that need to be addressed to inform policy in Ireland were also highlighted, including the underestimation of gambling harm prevalence, limited survey evidence on public attitudes towards gambling, and lack of understanding of the effects of different marketing techniques.

The ESRI also called for more Irish context research on social casino games, loot boxes and several other issues relevant in particular for young people, as well as Irish context research into specific intervention effectiveness.

“There is an urgent need for better research to more accurately measure the number of problem gamblers and what can be done to reduce it,” added Professor Pete Lunn, Head of the ESRI’s Behavioural Research Unit.

“Based on current evidence, we are pretty sure that the true extent of the problem is hidden from public view, along with some of the forces behind it. We are currently planning research designed to change that.”