On Monday during the debate on the reports required under the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019, a debate took place on a report on problem gambling in Northern Ireland. CARE had worked with Fiona Bruce MP to have an amendment tabled to this piece of legislation requiring a report on this subject and a debate. The report produced by the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) had highlighted the antiquated nature of Northern Ireland’s law on gambling and the paltry support currently provided to individuals suffering from gambling addiction in Northern Ireland.
Lord Browne of Belmont gave a well informed speech in the House raising the significant problem Northern Ireland has with regard to problem gambling. He pointed out that “Northern Ireland has a significantly higher problem gambling prevalence rate than the rest of the United Kingdom. At 2.3%, it is more than four times that of England, where the problem gambling prevalence figure at the time of the survey in Northern Ireland was 0.5%. It is three times that of Scotland and more than twice that of Wales. This means that there are in the region of 30,000 to 40,000 problem gamblers in Northern Ireland, which means that the current shortfalls in our law and funding arrangements really matter.”
He went on to point out the significant flaws in the law we have in Northern Ireland with regard to Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) and Online Gambling. In addition, he noted the lack of support for individuals suffering from gambling addiction and the desperate need we have for greater financial resources in this area.
During the debate Lord Duncan of Springbank announced the Department of Communities are conducting a “high-level strategic review of gambling policy, practice and law”. This is a welcome development and we at CARE hope to engage with this process.
At the end of the debate, Lord Duncan indicated on behalf of the NIO that: “we recognise… that gambling in Northern Ireland being four times the English rate, three times the Scottish rate and twice the Welsh rate is extraordinary.”
We agree with him. It is extraordinary and is something which requires urgent action to ameliorate. Real people suffering from gambling addiction today in NI are being let down with major damage being done to families and communities by the failure to reform the law and improve the level of support. We can and must do better. This is yet another reason why we need the Northern Ireland Executive to return.