Councillors in Northern Island have, today, announced their intention to create dedicated services to help those suffering with gambling problems. Members of Ards and North Down Borough Council recently passed a motion, which calls on the Department of Health to ‘review support given to individuals suffering from gambling addiction.’
Along with this, the councillors also recommended the creation of a dedicated service (to address gambling addiction and many of its related harms), as well as forcing bookmakers to reduce the maximum stakes on so-called FOBTs.
DUP councillor Peter Martin was the one to bring the motion in, and it follows similar motions which were brought in last year, by Belfast City Council. Speaking about the motion, Councillor Martin said:
“I am delighted to have brought this motion forward at Ards and North Downs Borough Council. Problem gambling is sadly prevalent across our society, having a damaging impact on families, vulnerable adults and children.
“I hope this debate will profile this important issue and subsequent action will be taken to increase support for problem gamblers across Northern Ireland.”
Gambling addiction in Northern Ireland has become a ‘hot topic’, with recent data from the Department for Communities revealing that Northern Ireland has a problem gambling prevalence rate four times higher than England. A whopping 2/3rds of Northern Ireland residents had placed a bet in one form or another in the 12-months leading up to the study – and this has raised questions over the availability of gambling.
Speaking on the rise of problem gambling in Northern Ireland, Mark Baillie – the Policy Officer for CARE – a gambling help charity – said: Problem gambling is a big issue across Northern Ireland with proportionally four times as many problem gamblers as in England.
“However, the lack of support for problem gamblers is deeply concerning. It is simply not good enough that accessing support services is so dependent on how much money you earn.
“While the British Government has taken steps against highly addictive FOBTs, we have had to rely on bookmakers voluntarily reducing the stakes here in April as the new laws do not apply to Northern Ireland.
“We know that these debates have a wide-ranging impact. Following the debate at Belfast City Council several high-profile bookmakers committed to voluntarily reducing the stakes on FOBTs.
“Therefore, we hope this debate pushes all of the bookmakers that operate in Northern Ireland to follow in the steps of these betting shops and voluntarily reduce the stakes on FOBTs to £2 come April.
“Of course, there is a limit to what two councils can achieve and the real need is for a functioning Assembly. The social devastation caused by problem gambling is yet another reason why we need the Assembly back up and running as soon as possible.”
Some bookmakers have already agreed to slash their maximum stakes in Northern Ireland – in line with the law change in the UK – but it’s not yet mandatory for Northern Ireland bookmakers to follow-suit, so councillors are worried that some independent bookmakers and smaller firms may refuse to lower the maximum stakes until relevant law is brought in.
It’s clear that the kind of dedicated service councillors are calling for is needed – but when and how this will be implemented remains to be seen. As of now, it’s evident that something needs to be done, but whether the creation of these new dedicated services will be enough or not, remains to be seen.