A CALL has gone out from a council meeting in Ballymena for an “urgent review” of regulations in an attempt to reduce problem gambling in Northern Ireland.
Alderman Paul Reid said he was speaking to a parent recently whose “child ran up a debt of over £2,000 on gaming machines”.
Up to 40,000 people in Northern Ireland may have a gambling problem, according to a submission by Mid and East Antrim Borough Council to a public consultation on the regulation of gambling in Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland is said to have the highest incidence of problem gambling in the United Kingdom, the Mayor, Councillor Peter Johnston, told a council meeting in Ballymena this week.
It is reportedly four times higher than any other region in the United Kingdom and three times higher than the Republic of Ireland.
A council submission to a Stormont consultation on ‘reducing harm relating to gambling’ has described current legislation as “outdated, deeply flawed and needs urgent review”.
The Gambling Commission, a UK body, has reported that children as young as 11 years have ‘problems’ with gambling.
The council submission says it ‘supports the view that there is a link between gambling and gaming’.
The Council has also expressed concern at the growth of online gambling in recent years and wants to see greater controls introduced.
In 2016, the Department for Communities found that 15.8 per cent of those who gambled in Northern Ireland did so online compared to 6.7 per cent in 2010.
The Council submission says it would be ‘keen to see a significant increase’ in financial support from the gambling industry for services tackling problem gambling in Northern Ireland and a statutory levy should be imposed through legislation.
Speaking at the meeting of Mid and East Antrim Borough Council, Councillor Keith Turner said online gambling is of great concern to many people and is “driving people into poverty and harming their mental well-being”.
He said the figures regarding gambling were “absolutely astounding”.
He said there should be “rigid age checks and also they should only be allowed an account in line with a credit check”.
He said was “very worried” about problem gambling.
Alderman Paul Reid, who is a church minister, said “urgent reform” was needed.
He said reading the report “it actually scares you”.
He said he was “fed up” with adverts for bingo sites and the like.
Alderman Reid said: “Reading the report actually scares you. Forty thousand people have a gambling problem in Northern Ireland,” he said.
“We need to do something to protect the vulnerable in our society especially the young people who are running up debts.”
He went on to say gambling affects “every walk of life”.
Alderman Reid added: “We can’t be like ostriches. This will not go away. We need to do something and do it fast. I know, as a Minister, the devastation that gambling can bring to homes, families and especially children.”