Blog: Gambling among children on the island of Ireland – What we know and need to know
Gambling

In this blog, IPH Public Health Development Officer, Dr Ciara Reynolds, shares her insights on what we know about gambling patterns and harms among children on the island of Ireland. 

This blog considers the available data and evidence central to:

  • informing policy priorities for regulating gambling products; 

  • informing parents and education, health and social service providers on protecting children from harm; 

  • and offer a baseline to monitor and track future patterns of gambling harms. 

 

A public health approach to gambling 

IPH is continuing to work on evidence to support a public health approach to gambling on the island of Ireland. 

A public health approach would involve adopting a population-based approach to preventing gambling harms. This means reducing the risk of harm by reducing harmful exposures – system change - rather than seeking change at an individual level. A public health approach also recognises that additional protections are needed for vulnerable subgroups of the population, including children, people living in poverty, and adults living with co-existing mental health issues and/or other addictions.

 

What do we know about gambling among children in Ireland?

In September 2023, the Institute of Public Health and the TobaccoFree Research Institute Ireland published a joint report titled ‘Children and gambling – evidence to inform regulation and responses in Ireland’. The report presents an analysis of the 2019 European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs (ESPAD) - a cross-sectional, nationally representative survey conducted in students aged 15-16 years every four years. 

Our report found that among 16-year-olds in Ireland: 

  • Between 1 in 4 and 1 in 5 said they had gambled for money in the last 12 months
  • Gambling for money was more common among boys than girls
  • Betting on sports or animals was the most common form of gambling 
  • Ireland has the 4th highest rate of sports or animal betting, alongside Kosovo, of all 33 ESPAD countries with data on gambling.

     

 

This report also found that: 

  • Almost a quarter of 16-year-olds who gambled in the last 12 months gambled online
  • Among those who gambled in the last 12 months, around 1 in 10 engaged in excessive gambling
  • Among those who said they gambled for money in the last 12 months, around 1 in 18 experienced problem gambling
  • Online gambling was associated with both excessive gambling and problem gambling
  • Of those who gambled in the last 12 months and were experiencing excessive or problem gambling, 80% were boys.

     

 

What do we know about gambling among children in Northern Ireland?

In December 2023, the key findings from the 2022 Young Persons’ Behaviour and Attitudes Survey (YPBAS) were published. This school-based survey was carried out among 11-16-year-olds and 3,690 children answered questions on gambling.

The Department of Health and Department for Communities have since published reports based on the YPBAS findings. 

These reports showed that among 11-16-year-olds in Northern Ireland: 

  • Overall, 3 in 10 had gambled in some form in the last 12 months
  • Boys were more likely to have gambled than girls
  • Of those who had gambled in the last 12 months, the most common types of gambling were playing fruit or slot machines, followed by playing cards for money, and buying a Lotto ticket or National Lottery scratch cards
  • Of those who had gambled in the last 12 months, almost a fifth had done so online
  • Boys were more than twice as likely to gamble online than girls
  • Over two-thirds used in-game currency or items. Again, boys were more likely than girls to have done so
  • Of those who had used in-game currency or items, just under 1 in 3 had spent money on loot boxes
  • Of those who had gambled within the past 12 months, more than 1 in 7 had been encouraged to do so because of a gambling advertisement
  • The most common reason for gambling in the last 12 months was ‘to try to win money’.

 

Source of figure: Experience of gambling by young people in Northern Ireland in 2022 (nisra.gov.uk)

 

 

Informing and shaping policy 

In Northern Ireland, our data analysis and evidence synthesis work has been presented to the Northern Ireland All Party Group on Reducing Harm Related to Gambling, to the Committee for Communities on the Betting, Gaming, Lotteries and Amusements (Amendment) Act (Northern Ireland) 2022. 

In Ireland we have provided input into the Oireachtas Committee on Justice on the Gambling Regulation Bill in Ireland. Minister Brown also issued a statement on the findings of our report. IPH currently sits on the new Gambling Regulatory Authority of Ireland’s Research Steering Group.

 

Where are the evidence gaps?

The available data provides a baseline to monitor and track gambling activity and patterns among children but gaps in evidence remain. 

We need better evidence on:

  • access pathways for teens to gambling products including age verification processes, affordability checks, online portals, and test purchasing schemes
  • the nature of marketing of gambling products to children on the island of Ireland, including through sports, celebrity endorsements and merchandise
  • gambling pathways and causal relationships for escalation of gambling use and harms through longitudinal surveys like the Growing Up in Ireland survey
  • appropriate indicators of gambling use and harms within government monitoring of child wellbeing
  • the use of loot boxes and in-game gambling like products by children and young people
  • what is happening when children present to services with gambling issues in schools, child protection and health service contexts. 

     

Future regulation and policy change

In Ireland, the Gambling Regulation Bill is expected to be passed by the Dáil in the coming months through the Justice Committee. This Bill allows for the formal establishment of the Gambling Regulatory Authority of Ireland (GRAI) and provides various powers to regulate gambling operators. The CEO designate of the GRAI has clearly stated that protecting children is a priority in the work of the authority. In parallel, Coimisiún na Meán recently launched a public consultation on the regulation of online video streaming platforms, with gambling formally recognised as an area of focus within the Online Media and Safety Bill. The specifics of the regulatory approach to online video streaming platforms, however, remain unclear at this time. 

In Northern Ireland, the All Party Group (APG) on Gambling is expected to publish a report following an Inquiry into a Public Health Approach to Gambling Harm which will certainly include recommendations in respect of protecting children. Given the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Committee on Communities has only recently returned, it is not yet clear whether gambling laws will be prioritised for attention in this Assembly term. However, given the clear evidence of the extent of gambling activity and harms among children in Northern Ireland it could reasonably be considered a priority. 

 


 

Help and support

Ireland: The following supports and services are available to anyone affected by gambling:

Northern Ireland: The following supports and services are available to anyone affected by gambling:

 


 

Notes

Data from Ireland and Northern Ireland are not directly comparable due to differences in:

  1. the years in which the data were collected 
  2. the methodologies employed 
  3. the age groups sampled
  4. the definitions of gambling and types of gambling. 

 

Further Information and Resources 

  1. H McAvoy, CME Reynolds, S Sunday, J Hanafin, L Clancy (2023). Children and gambling – evidence to inform regulation and responses in Ireland. Based on a secondary analysis of the European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs (ESPAD). Dublin. Institute of Public Health. https://www.publichealth.ie/news/new-report-suggests-odds-gambling-stacked-against-16-year-old-boys-ireland 
  2. Department of Health, Northern Ireland. Young Persons’ Behaviour and Attitudes Survey 2022 Gambling – a health perspective. Available at: Young Persons Behaviour and Attitudes Survey 2022 Gambling – a health perspective Infographic Report (health-ni.gov.uk)
  3. Department for Communities, Northern Ireland. Experience of gambling by young people in Northern Ireland Findings from the Young Persons’ Behaviour and Attitudes Survey 2022. Available at: Experience of gambling by young people in Northern Ireland in 2022 (nisra.gov.uk)

 

 

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