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Gambling a problem for up to 42,000 in Northern Ireland


WARNING: Kevin Higgins

WARNING: Kevin Higgins

WARNING: Kevin Higgins

Up to 42,000 people in Northern Ireland are 'problem' gamblers, often running up huge debts, it has been revealed.

And for every individual gambler, a further six people are affected adversely.

The province has the highest rate of problem gambling in the UK - four times higher than England, for example - against a backdrop of increased poverty and levels of poor mental health.

One case study shows a family member who paid off £15,000 of a relatives' gambling debt, leaving £19,000 still outstanding, £10,000 of it owned to other relations and friends and £9,000 on credit cards, payday loans and overdrafts.

The grim reality of gambling was spelt out to an Assembly committee which is investigation how legislation controlling the practice can be modernised.

Maurice Meehan, of the Public Health Agency, said Northern Ireland has the highest estimated rate of problem gambling of the UK regions, essentially four times higher than England and one of the highest rates internationally.

"Northern Ireland also has the highest prevalance of mental illness in the UK which may make the population particularly vulnerable to problem gambling," he told the committee which monitors the Department of Communities.

Advice NI, which is the umbrella organisation for the independent advice network, has suggested a central collation of statistics on the issue.

Head of Policy Kevin Higgins said: "If we had a real-time collation of stats, it would give us a better idea of the ongoing nature of the problem and, depending on the stats provided, give us an idea of the areas or types of gambling in which the problem lies."

Mr Meehan said in the province it is estimated that between 9,000 and 42,000 people take part in "harmful" gambling but only a small proportion are receiving any kind of treatment at any time.

Dr Joanna Purdy, of the Institute of Public Health, said: "As Northern Ireland has the highest levels of deprivation and mental ill health in the UK, that makes a particularly vulnerable nature in respect of gambling harms.

"For every one person experiencing problem gambling, six others are adversely affected. That equates to around one in ten people living in the most deprived areas experiencing harm from either their own gambling or someone else's gambling."

Advice NI had dealt with 11 cases of indebtedness caused by gambling, with a total amounting to just below £217,000. Official Charlotte Ahmed said: "That illustrates how widespread gambling addiction is. It affects not only individuals but their families."

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