Pandemic and online betting led to unprecedented demand for gambling addiction services

Pandemic and online betting led to unprecedented demand for gambling addiction services

The country’s only dedicated residential treatment centre for gambling addicts has seen unprecedented numbers seeking admission.

uan Mhuire, which runs a residential programme exclusively catering for gambling addicts, said the Covid epidemic and online gambling have combined to create a toxic phenomenon sweeping through the country.

Michael Guerin, a senior addiction counsellor with Cuan Mhuire said: “What we are witnessing is an unprecedented level of online gambling addiction. It is a perfect storm, destroying the lives of countless addicts and their families.”

He said the Covid epidemic created a whole new environment in which betting shop customers who did not have a problem, were rapidly lured into a serious addiction.

Mr Guerin said: “We have been staggered by the numbers coming forward looking for professional help from our three-month residential treatment. A number of factors arose which have led to the massive gambling problem right across the county.

“People were isolated and worried about the disease. Many who a few times a week might go out and have small bets found the betting shops closed.

“This regular and social outlet for them was not available as they were closed all of a sudden. To fill the void, many started to go online to have their few bets. It helped lift the worries of Covid a little.

“These are people who would never have presented as
having a gambling problem. But quite rapidly what was a social outlet, grew at a frightening and unstoppable level online.

“With alcohol and drugs, the body will at some stage cry stop. This is the scary thing: gambling can shoot from zero to 100 in no time. The body sets a limit in what it can take with regard to substances such as alcohol and drugs; gamblers have no such saturation mechanism.

What we are now seeing is a lot of people in their 20s who have been using cocaine. And this is a kind of engine driving a growing addiction to gambling. Mad stuff, that’s the only way I can describe it.”

Mr Guerin said racing festivals such as Galway, which starts today, Cheltenham, Aintree and Punchestown are now longer ‘spikes’ in gambling-spend graphs.

While the appointment of a gaming regulator as planned by the government, is welcome, he said, it will not have a major impact on addiction.

He explained: “Many gamblers deal with gambling organisations all over the world, outside the Irish jurisdiction.

“We have found that betting companies operating here do not engage in the ruthless tactics of betting companies based in Asia and elsewhere, who devise algorithms which enable them to profile individual customers.

“They know how much the person bets, when they bet what they like to bet on.

“Armed with this information they know the triggers which can set off an urge in that person either to have a bet or continue on a betting spree.”

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