The Irish Examiner carried an alarming article at the weekend, reporting that the number of people attending Gamblers Anonymous (GA) meetings around the country has doubled and in some places trebled over the past six months as people can no longer afford their betting habits.
Unfortunately, much of the report was anecdotal and unsupported by hard numbers, other than some general land gambling details quoting provisional revenue figures for 2008 in excess of Euro 3.6 billion as gambled in betting shops - a slight increase from 2007 – despite the decline in the number of bookies by almost 500. The figure does not include bets taken on-course, online gambling or the National Lottery.
Nevertheless, a quote from a Gambler's Anonymous spokesperson that there has been a surge in people attending meetings as addicts who could no longer keep on top of gambling bills due to changed economic circumstances causes concern.
"Less than a year ago meetings around Dublin city had just five or six people – seven at most – but now some are catering for up to 30 people," the spokesman said, adding that there are several GA meetings every day in the capital.
"In the good times people could support the habit, they were on such good money they were still able to the pay the bills," he said. "Now they just can’t and need the support network of the meetings to try and stop."
"Gambling is something that is seen as attractive and acceptable – like the horses or the dogs – but no one realises how many people are in trouble with it."
Austin Prior, head of treatment services at The Rutland Centre, also confirmed his organisation was seeing a big increase in the number of calls and enquires about treatment in relation to gambling.
"While times were good most guys were able to keep a step ahead, but since the credit crunch is biting suddenly they have found they are in trouble."
He encouraged people with a family member with a problem to seek help and support as they often ended up feeling shame and guilt.
The article also quotes marriage counselling service Accord, which revealed that a growing number of couples experience problems around internet usage and time spent in "cyberspace" as a source of marital conflict.
John Farrelly, director of counselling with Accord, said one of the key areas causing conflict was internet gambling - but gave no supporting numbers.
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