Northern Ireland has highest rate of problem gamblers in UK
A leading charity has called for government action after Northern Ireland was revealed as having the highest proportion of problem gamblers in the UK.
The newly published 2016 report - which examines trends and attitudes towards gambling in Northern Ireland - also reveals that over two thirds of people who responded to survey admitted they had gambled in the last 12 months.
CARE for Northern Ireland Policy Officer Mark Baillie has expressed concern over the prevalence of gambling.
"This report shows an urgent need for the government authorities, whatever form it may take in the future, to take policy action to alleviate problem gambling," he said.
"Problem gambling impacts not just the gambler, but also their family and friends. Crippling debt, divorce, mental health issues, job loss and suicide are just some of the effects this addiction can have."
The Department for Communities data shows that despite a reduction of nearly 13% in the amount of people gambling here compared to 2010, the level of participation is still higher than in England and Wales, and comparable to the figure in Scotland.
The majority of respondents were considered to be 'non-problem gamblers', but one in 14 fell into the 'moderate risk gambler' or a 'problem gambler' category.
The proportion of 'problem gamblers' in the province (2.3%) is more than double that of Wales, three times than of Scotland and nearly five times higher than in England.
Mr Baillie warned that the internet means it has never been easier to gamble and called for greater protections for those betting online.
The Northern Ireland Gambling Prevalence Survey suggests the amount of people gambling online has more than doubled since 2010, despite 75% of participants saying they believe the activity to be dangerous to family life.
"Online gambling can be particularly devastating to those who struggle with addiction because it is so readily accessible," added Mr Baillie.
He said there needs to be a one-stop self-exclusion tool to stop people from having to individually contact each provider.
"This would go a long way to help those who are desperately trying to turn their lives around and manage their addictions."
The research suggests that a third of people now hold favourable views - up almost 7% from 2010 - on gambling, with the National Lottery emerging as the most popular means for people seeking the thrill of easy money.
Gambling case study: 'I had to hit rock bottom to quit', says taxi driver
A Belfast taxi driver who lied, cheated and stole just to have a bet says he is now the person he wants to be, thanks to Gamblers Anonymous (GA).
The 58-year-old, who does not wish to be identified, said the gambling started when he was a child playing pitch-and-toss. It eventually led him to the bookies where he would queue as early as 6.30am and by the time he was in his 30s it was out of control.
"Some of the stuff I have done is horrendous. I would have took out a log-book loan on my car behind my wife's back. I'd have done credit union money in, I'd have done bank money in," he said.
"I borrowed money from people I hadn't seen in 30 or 40 years, spinning them all the lies of the day just to have a bet."
He even stole £600 from his daughter's credit card at one point. "It turns you into someone you don't want to be.
"It's the worst addiction because with drink and drugs there is only so much you take, but gambling is in your face 365 days a year," he said.
The first time he went to a GA meeting he lasted a week. The second time he lasted 10 months. "I thought I was ready to recover but I wasn't. I needed to have more pain and more hurt," he explained. He didn't return again until January 2014 and now, three years and three months into recovery, he says they have been the best years of his life.
"This time I hit rock bottom and was ready to admit that I had a problem. I realised that I was a liar, a thief and a cheat."
His daughter is getting married soon and he said it feels wonderful to be able to pay for her wedding with money he has worked for.
"You can't make amends with everyone, but thank God my wife and family have stood by me."