A cross-party group of Northern Ireland Assembly lawmakers has launched an inquiry into gambling and its societal impact, seeking input from public health professionals.
The All Party Group (APG) on Reducing Harm Related to Gambling announced the probe yesterday, requesting written evidence from health professionals, advocacy group representatives, academics, departmental officials and people with lived experience.
A key objective of the inquiry is to assess how problem gambling is perceived and treated, with MLAs arguing that the current approach, focusing on individuals’ attitudes and behaviours and redirects patients to ‘generic’ mental health programmes such as Gamblers Anonymous or Addiction NI groups, is outdated.
Instead, the APG argues that this approach should be replaced with a public health narrative, a ‘well-recognised and understood method’ used to address alcoholism, smoking and obesity.
Chair of the APG Robbie Butler MLA, said: “A public health approach into gambling-related harm would move the focus from the individual problem gambler to a much broader consideration of the causes of gambling-related harm that can then be located within a wider framework of public health policies.
“This approach has been used for other addictions including food addiction, smoking and alcoholism. One of the key recommendations to emerge from the APG’s first inquiry on the future regulation of gambling was that gambling should be officially recognised as a public health issue.”
The inquiry comes amid potential regulatory change in both Great Britain and Northern Ireland, with the Gambling Act review White Paper slated for publication in the former.
In Northern Ireland, government officials and policymakers have been examining how to update its legislative framework on the industry for the first time since 1985.
Last year, the Betting, Gaming, Lotteries and Amusements (Amendment) Bill entered the first stage of Stormont approval.
The Bill was passed into law this year, initiating a phased approach to reform, first to retail/land-based betting and gaming, followed by online.
Overseen by communities Minister Deirdre Hargey the legislation will also adopt a statutory levy, similar to the GB betting levy, to financially support responsible gambling initiatives, gambling harm treatment and community programmes.
Calls for an overhaul of gambling harm treatment in Northern Ireland mirrors news on the other side of the Irish Sea, where charities such as GambleAware have repeatedly called for such a narrative to be taken on gambling harm.
Butler continued: “We are recommending that gambling be reflected in regulation that prioritises health, prevention of harm, and treatment.
“Gambling addiction should be fully integrated into all relevant strategies including mental health and suicide prevention.”
The APG has cited a recent Department for Communities consultation on regulation revealing a ‘disconnect between gambling regulation in NI and public health’, general concerns over a ‘lack of a public health strategy’ and no Department of Health-commissioned surveys on gambling.
“We call on health professionals, advocacy group representatives, academics, departmental officials and those with personal experience, among others, to take part in this inquiry,” Butler concluded.