All Party Group launches inquiry in bid to tackle gambling related harm in NI
The All Party Group (APG) on Reducing Harm Related to Gambling has launched an inquiry into public health approaches to gambling-related harms in Northern Ireland.
The APG is initiating the inquiry into a public health approach, which is a well-recognised and understood method for tackling obesity, smoking and alcohol consumption. The Group says that the current approach to gambling addiction is focused on the attitudes and behaviours of individuals, and cites research suggesting that this fails to recognise the wider impact on public health.
It also says that the typical problem gambler can affect around six other people, according to research from the International Gambling Studies journal, adding that in 2016, a Department for Communities survey identified 2.3% of the population here as having a gambling problem. This is more than four times higher than that recorded in Britain and almost three times higher than in the Republic of Ireland.
The APG is calling on health professionals, advocacy group representatives, academics, departmental officials and those with personal experience, among others, to participate in the inquiry by supplying written evidence of their experiences.
Responses to a recent Department for Communities consultation on regulation of gambling in NI revealed concerns over a lack of a public health strategy for gambling-related harms in NI. Respondents said there is a disconnect between gambling regulation in NI and public health with no gambling-specific services commissioned by the Department of Health.
Currently, patients who need care are directed towards generic addiction and mental health services, or to community services, such as Gamblers Anonymous and Addiction NI.
Chair of the APG Robbie Butler MLA, said:
“A public health approach into gambling-related harm would move the focus from the individual problem gambler to a much broader consideration of the causes of gambling-related harm that can then be located within a wider framework of public health policies.
“This approach has been used for other addictions including food addiction, smoking and alcoholism. One of the key recommendations to emerge from the APG’s first inquiry on the future regulation of gambling was that gambling should be officially recognised as a public health issue.
“We are recommending that gambling be reflected in regulation that prioritises health, prevention of harm, and treatment. Gambling addiction should be fully integrated into all relevant strategies including mental health and suicide prevention. We call on health professionals, advocacy group representatives, academics, departmental officials and those with personal experience, among others, to take part in this inquiry.”
The APG was established in March 2020 to address issues associated with gambling harm in our community. Since its inception, the APG has held two inquiries: one on the future regulation of gambling and one on the issue of gaming machines. The reports on these inquiries have helped to inform the approach of the Department for Communities (which is responsible for gambling legislation) in developing new gambling laws here.
Gambling regulation is a devolved matter in NI, and falls under The Betting, Gambling, Lotteries and Amusements (NI) Order 1985. In April 2022, the first phase of a two-phase approach to reforming NI’s gambling laws was completed with the Betting, Gaming, Lotteries and Amusements (Amendment) Act 2022 becoming law. This includes a number of provisions, including an industry levy to provide assistance for projects related to addiction to gambling, or other forms of harm or exploitation associated with gambling.
But unlike GB, we do not have an independent gambling regulator which can enforce gambling regulation via fines, license revocation or prosecution. In its first inquiry, the APG heard “overwhelming support” for the introduction of such a regulator, from both expert witnesses and gambling industry bodies.
The next phase of gambling regulation involves a more comprehensive overhaul of NI’s gambling laws. This legislation will among many other things deal with online gambling, which is unregulated at present. It is anticipated that it will take the duration of an Assembly mandate to bring forward and enact the necessary legislation.
A call for written evidence for the public health inquiry into gambling-related harms is open until Friday, 3 February 2023.