Time to rein in online gambling for the sake of people’s financial well-being!

It’s never been so easy to lose money.

Armed with just a 16-digit account number and a working smart phone, it is now possible to tap one’s entire take-home pay from the seclusion of a kitchen table. And worse, when that take-home pay runs out, leverage debt from a myriad of sources to fuel an addiction that even close family members may have no knowledge of.

It’s happening every day across Ireland and it is pervasive. Blind to gender, age, or financial capacity, it destroys family finances, relationships and even careers.

Recently, when speaking at a secondary school, TY students expressed an intense interest in the topic. In particular, they wanted to know just how much of the gambling account details might show up on a monthly current account statement.

“Can they see if someone is gambling with such-and-such company” they asked. And they asked it over and over. It wasn’t just a passing interest, it was a pointed interest, they seemed to be admitting that gambling had touched their lives; either personally or through a family member, relative or friend.

In that TY class, we were discussing the impact gambling could have on key life decisions…like buying a home. It was a fairly high-level discussion at first but it was enough to get TY students thinking seriously about the wider implications of a gambling habit. It was poignant moment; rarely do money matters excite secondary school students but once the lessons are personalised, individualized and boiled down to the very issues that impact them personally it is possible to get them to sit up, listen and participate!

Across the Globe, Governments are slowly beginning to take action. Just this week, the Italian Government passed a series of new laws that restrict advertising for gambling on the internet; it’s early days but the Italians appear to be putting the financial well-being of Italians ahead of gambling firms.

Here in Ireland, what was once a referred to as a “little bit of an interest” is now being weaponized much as the US gun lobby has weaponized the 2nd Amendment Right to bear arms over there. Some argue that gambling is part of Irish culture but this is a myth created by an industry that needs broad acceptance. Previous Irish generations simply did not gamble in significant numbers. Today, gambling is at risk of becoming a financial blight across the entire Irish landscape.

To put this in more basic terms, Irish people have never been so exposed financially. An employee today could work for a single firm for 40 years and still end up with no private pension. If they were in employment 20 or 30 years ago and retiring today, they may well have either a final salary pension or some other form of financial nest egg; employees today are being left far more vulnerable than previous generations. This is why it is so important they create the financial capacity to build that nest egg; gambling is a significant threat that undermines that.

Reducing the seamless flow of contactless payments to gambling services would be one way to level the playing field. For example, restricting the automatic links between debit cards and gambling accounts and banning credit card debt being used to fund betting would have an immediate impact. Other measures should include increasing the taxation on sports bet winnings to 33% and increasing VAT on betting to 23%.  Case in point, if an Irish widow today decides to cash in her Glanbia shares and after years of patience and hard work, earns €3,000, she is liable for a 33% rate of capital gains tax on any of the profit. This is payable even where she may have no other source of income other than the State pension. How is this fair? Of course, we all know it is not!

The Irish pub used to be dressed up as the soul of Irishness with ketch hybrids exported across the globe. In reality, true Irishness is far richer and way too complex to be boiled down a single experience. Gambling is today’s Irish pub. For the sake of our collective financial well-being, it’s time to make them step up to the plate and pay their fair share.

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