One in four 16-year-olds in Ireland have gambled for money, report finds

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Almost one in four 16-year-olds in Ireland told researchers that they had gambled for money in the previous year, according to a new report.

The European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs (ESPAD), which is carried out every four years, found that 22.9 per cent of 16-year-olds in Ireland said they had gambled for money in the previous year, with boys (28.2 per cent) far more likely to report doing so than girls (17.9 per cent). The survey was carried out in 2019 before the Covid-19 pandemic.

The report, published by the Institute of Public Health (IPH) and Tobacco Free Research Institute Ireland (TFRI), analysed 1,949 survey responses from 16-year-olds in Ireland. It examined whether teens used slot machines, played cards or dice, entered lotteries (including scratch cards and bingo) or bet on sports or animals. It also asked whether the respondents gambled online and whether they had experienced problem or excessive gambling.

The survey considered factors such as demographic and family characteristics, social media use, gaming behaviours, substance use, relationships and self-harm.

Minister of State at the Department of Justice, James Browne, said the findings of the report were “deeply troubling and serve to highlight why we, as a society, must protect children and vulnerable citizens from the harms associated with gambling”.

He said reforming gambling legislation and regulation was “a key commitment” in the Programme for Government and that the Gambling Regulation Bill, which he described as “a public health measure”, was expected to pass through the Oireachtas early next year.

Of the Irish teens who reported gambling for money in the previous year, 10.3 per cent experienced excessive gambling, while 5.6 per cent met the criteria for problem gambling.

Of those who gambled in the previous year, 23.1 per cent said they did so online, which was associated with betting on horse and greyhound racing. The report found that 16-year-olds who gambled online had a significantly higher chance of gambling excessively.

The analysis estimated that about 21.3 per cent of 16-year-olds who gambled in the previous year were getting into difficulty when it came to controlling their gambling, with 19 per cent feeling a need to bet more money and 8.1 per cent saying they had lied to important people about how much money they had gambled.

The findings highlight the need to protect children from direct and indirect gambling harms, as well as the need to collect and monitor data on gambling behaviours among children, the researchers said.

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