Skip to main content

APG on Reducing Harm Related to Gambling launches report on public health approaches to tackling gambling-related harms

By July 2, 2024No Comments4 min read

On Monday (24 June), the Northern Ireland All-Party Group (APG) on Reducing Harm Related to Gambling launched its report on public health approaches to tackling gambling-related harm at a special event in Stormont. The event was attended by representatives of all the main parties, as well as Departmental officials, stakeholders in health, communities and education, and charities such as Gambling with Lives and Samaritans. Among the speakers were Minister for Communities Gordon Lyons MLA, Minister of Health, Mike Nesbitt MLA, Dr Matt Gaskell, a renowned expert on gambling harm, Professor Gerry Lynch, former Chair of the Royal College of Psychiatrists and Declan Cregan, a training officer for Gambling with Lives who has lived experience of gambling-related harm.

Chief among the report’s recommendations is that gambling should be officially recognised as a public health issue in NI. Policies should not just focus on individual-level gambling harms but should include population-based approaches that prioritises harm prevention, in line with the public health approach adopted for alcohol and tobacco.

Chair of the APG, Philip McGuigan MLA, said he hopes the report will be a call to action for policymakers, as there is “much urgent work to be done to protect our communities from gambling-related harms”. He noted that behind the official findings of the report were real lives lost, and families and communities negatively impacted.

Declan Cregan gave an account of his own experience of gambling harm. “At the age of 16 when I placed my first £1 on a roulette machine winning £7.20, I had no idea what was about to unfold,” he said. “Fast forward 12 years, I was 28 and full of despair and heartache, my mental health in ruins, suffering with depression and anxiety, low self esteem, suicidal thoughts to name a few.” Mr Cregan said his first bet quickly turned into £500 bets, and blowing his wages within hours, and sometimes minutes. He added that he supports the report’s findings, “especially to recognise gambling as a public health issue”.

Professor Gerry Lynch focused on the impact of gambling on mental health, and the lack of provision of treatment in NI. He noted the increased risk of suicide, with research suggesting that individuals with gambling disorders have a suicide rate 15 times higher than the general population. This is compounded in NI by the lack of statutory services for gambling-related harms here, compared to England, which now has 15 specialist gambling clinics.

Dr Matt Gaskell, who is Clinical Lead and Consultant Psychologist for the NHS Gambling Service, sought to provide a “reality check” to policymakers with his speech. He said in his experience it was not the “problem gambler” but rather “the problem industry”. He added: “We need to understand the deeply sophisticated strategies of the industry in order to ensnare as many individuals as possible”.

Minister Nesbitt called for increased collection of gambling-related data in NI and added: “I want to go forward based on evidence”. He said that he “recognised the importance of tackling gambling related harms” and that he would take time to consider the report and its recommendations, adding that there was “broad support” for a public health approach to gambling-related harms, which will require significant input from multiple departments. Citing the danger of NI being labelled as a gambling “Wild West” as it falls behind other jurisdictions he said: “I accept there is work to be done”, noting that he looks forward to further engagement with the APG.

Minister Lyons, whilst acknowledging that it would not be possible to proceed with legislation in this mandate, said “there are steps that can be taken”, and referenced the industry Codes of Practice to be brought forward as a result of 2022 legislation. He noted that his department is currently undertaking a large-scale survey of gambling prevalence in NI among those 16+.

In closing, the APG’s Vice-Chair, Robbie Butler MLA, reiterated the call for a public health approach and noted that the APG “has been as effective in my opinion as a statutory committee”, and that there is a “passion to see real systemic change here”.

The APG public health report launch was covered in the print editions of The Irish News, The News Letter and the Daily Mirror. Online, it was also covered in the following outlets:

The News Letter

RTÉ News

Belfast Live

Derry Now


Gambling News

Head Topics

EGR Global

InterGame News

To access the full report click here.