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Study reveals rise in gambling among young people and women

Problem gamblers are getting younger because of the use and abundance of online betting, research has found.

Up to 40,000 people in Ireland have some level of gambling addiction and a new study has revealed the traditional age of people seeking help with the disease in their 30s was falling.

The University of College Dublin (UCD) report said the old image of a problem gambler being a middle-aged man going from the bookies to the pub was changing to younger men who also used drugs.

Gambling was now as likely to happen in the home as a betting shop.

Joan Burton, Tanaiste and Minister for Social Protection, said Ireland had a gambling culture.

"Gambling pervades many aspects of Irish life, particularly sporting events," she said.

"The negative effects on young people growing up in this gambling culture are a particular worry."

Under the Government's Gambling Control Bill, first published two years ago, a levy will be imposed on betting to create a social fund to be used to promote sensible gambling.

The fund will also be used to counteract the damage of problem gambling to families and society, fund treatment and support education, research and awareness.

The UCD study by Dr Crystal Fulton examined the experiences of 22 problem gamblers, mostly men, at different stages of recovery and their families, friends and addiction services.

It also sought information from seven betting firms.

It found gambling was a contentious political and social issue in Ireland and in particular for problem gambling. It could be a socially hidden and an isolating activity that was more secret for women than men because of social stigma.

The vast majority of people with an addiction bet alone, mostly in a bookies, and about 14% online and in casinos, the study found.

The characteristics of someone with a gambling problem differed from those of people with other addictions and were often easily disguised, which in part explained why people traditionally did not seek help until in later years.

Some of the effects of problem gambling were mood swings, irritability and short temper.

Some addicts regarded as highly manipulative, dishonest and disruptive, for example, starting arguments as an excuse to bet, and being secretive or evasive about finances.

The study found addiction service providers believed online gambling was the most likely form of gambling to grow because of ease of access, while some gamblers said technology worsened an addiction because of ease of access and fast feedback of results.

Dr Fulton said: "Technology has had a profound impact on gambling and is a gateway to secret, hidden, gambling activities.

"The increase of access to the internet and smartphone has seen a rise of gambling among young people and women.

"In fact, many problem gamblers often started gambling as teenagers."

The report - Playing Social Roulette: The Impact of Gambling on Individuals and Society in Ireland - found problematic gambling could affect significant areas of a gambler's life, including employment, finances, physical and mental health and family relations.

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