Up to 42,000 people in Northern Ireland have been revealed to be “problem gamblers”, often racking up huge debts.
And for each individual player, six other people are negatively affected.
The province has the highest rate of problem gambling in the UK – four times higher than England, for example – amid heightened poverty and levels of poor mental health.
A case study shows a family member who paid off £ 15,000 of a parent’s gambling debt, leaving £ 19,000 still in arrears, £ 10,000 belonging to other relatives and friends and £ 9,000 in credit cards, payday loans and overdrafts.
The grim reality of gambling has been explained to an Assembly committee studying how the legislation controlling this practice can be modernized.
Maurice Meehan, of the Public Health Agency, said Northern Ireland has the highest estimated problem gambling rate of any region in the UK, essentially four times higher than England and one of the lowest rates highest in the world.
“Northern Ireland also has the highest prevalence of mental illness in the UK, which can make the population particularly vulnerable to problem gambling,” he told the committee overseeing the Department for Communities.
NI Councils, which is the umbrella organization for the independent council network, suggested central collection of statistics on the issue.
Policy Officer Kevin Higgins said: “If we had a compilation of real-time statistics it would give us a better idea of the current nature of the problem and, depending on the statistics provided, give us an idea of the areas or areas. types. of the game in which the problem lies.
Mr Meehan said that in the province, an estimated 9,000 to 42,000 people participate in “harmful” gambling, but only a small proportion receive any treatment at any time.
Dr Joanna Purdy, Institute of Public Health, said: “As Northern Ireland has the highest levels of deprivation and poor mental health in the UK, this makes nature particularly vulnerable in terms of concerns the harmful effects of gambling.
“For every person who has a gambling problem, six more are affected. This equates to about one in ten people living in the most disadvantaged areas suffering harm from their own gambling or from someone else’s gambling. “
NI Council had dealt with 11 cases of gambling-related debt, with a total of just under £ 217,000. Official Charlotte Ahmed said: “This illustrates how widespread gambling addiction is. It affects not only individuals but their families.”