Bookies seek easier betting ... as gambling addicts 'soar'
A SHARP rise in those seeking help for gambling addiction is putting "unprecedented strain" on treatment centres, experts warn.
The Government is now facing a tug-of-war between addiction campaigners and gambling groups over its plans to deregulate the betting industry.
Introducing self-service betting machines as well allowing bookmakers to open for longer hours are among measures being considered by the Department of Finance.
Ministers have come under intensive lobbying by the betting industry to introduce measures that will allow bookmakers to open until 9.30pm six nights a week from September to April.
There have also been strong calls to amend the laws so that shops can install in-house iPad-style tablets which will allow punters to make self-service bets.
The Irish Bookmakers Association today predicted that the industry is facing into a "major crisis", with up to 1,000 jobs at risk unless the Government reforms its 80-year-old laws.
"We estimate that 150 shops will close this year, haemorrhaging at least 700 jobs. We could be looking at a situation where up to 1,000 jobs are lost," association chairperson Sharon Byrne told the Herald.
"We are talking about a crisis here. Particularly the small independent shops are struggling to survive, and increasing the opening hours and allowing for shops to introduce self-service betting could save hundreds of jobs."
Ms Byrne added that her members are "very concerned" about the effect internet gambling is having on revenue.
"One hundred and one shops closed last year. It was a record and yet it is going to get worse if the Government does not intervene."
However addiction campaigners issued their own stark warning, claiming gambling addiction is at "crisis point".
Willie Collins, director of the Aisieri Treatment Centres, said those seeking help for gambling addictions has reached an "unprecedented level".
He said half of the people availing of their outpatient services are suffering from gambling problems.
"They can be of all ages and the rise is definitely as a direct result of the internet. The accessibility to online sites is a major problem. People put €400-€500 into accounts and don't take it out as they believe they can turn it into €5,000.
"We're under serious strain at the moment and would certainly be concerned about any measure that would make it easier for people to gamble."
A spokesperson for Gamblers' Anonymous told the Herald that the organisation has seen a "significant rise" in numbers seeking help.
The country's largest bookmakers, Paddy Power, recorded online gross profits of €250m according to its latest report -- a massive 88pc increase on the year previous.
Hayley O'Connor, of Ladbrokes, said that extending trading hours could see an additional 500 full-time jobs.
"We are actually forced to close when events such as Champions League, Premier League, greyhound racing and UK horse racing are taking place.
"As these events are hugely popular with our customers, this archaic legislation dating back to 1931, is forcing them to use alternative platforms of betting.. most of which make no contribution to the Exchequer."