There was a time, and a very good time, when you could only bet on a horse race. It gradually spread to team sports, to almost all team sports, before invading all areas of human life and activity.

Indeed, it’s almost impossible to think of anything you can’t bet on these days.

There was a time when gambling – at least in this country – was limited to horse racing in Ireland and the UK.
And the bookmakers’ offices closed at a decent hour.

But there are so many opportunities to gamble today that it’s no wonder it has become a major problem for society and young men in particular.

In Ireland, we love it more than most nations in the world.

We’re in third place (table shows Australia, Singapore, Ireland, Canada, Finland and Italy) in the amount of money lost in a year, at least according to one set of statistics.

Given the well-documented damage caused by gambling, action is finally being taken here to curb some of the activities of betting companies like Paddy Power to ensure our addiction continues to enrich them.

And already Paddy Power has started lobbying against some of the proposals to regulate the sector.

According to the Sunday Business Post, the entity that owns Paddy Power and Betfair has criticized several aspects of the new legislation, targeting plans to require them to issue warnings about the dangers of betting as well as other restrictions on where they can advertise.

He challenged several aspects of the new gambling regulation bill in a submission filed with the Oireachtas Justice Committee.

As Cheltenham approached, it was remarkable how often the advertisement featuring Colm Meaney appeared on screen.
There he spoke of the rivalry between Ireland and England – as if that had influenced the thinking of most players – in a bid to drum up excitement for the game at the Cheltenham Festival.

Millionaire ex-footballers Peter Crouch and Steven Gerrard who also allowed themselves to be associated with efforts to get people to bet more often, by advertising gambling.

The Punchestown Festival, like Cheltenham, is an important event on the social and sporting calendar. It draws thousands and thousands of people to the Naas area for much of the week, and what’s more, it brings together some of horse racing’s best trainers, jockeys and horses.

For the big betting companies, the festival is nothing more than an opportunity to increase their profits at the expense of you and me.

And the game has become much more important than that. The prevalence of online gambling, often in the form of virtual casinos, means you can gamble 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Less than a year ago, Gambling Awareness Trust said there were around 55,000 problem gamblers in Ireland.

In recent years, according to The Journal, there has been a dearth of substantial data in this area in this country and psychiatrists and counselors have always said that it would be important to fully understand the extent of the problem in Ireland before that they can be approached in a global way.

Some estimates indicate that the number of problem gamblers in Ireland could be much higher. However, one area that was also highlighted in the GAT report is Ireland’s lagging behind in terms of treating people with serious gambling problems compared to other countries.

And, when the government finally passes landmark gambling legislation, addressing problem gambling should be at the forefront of its efforts campaigners say.

The GAT report states: “HSE service delivery is not specialist but part of a general ‘toolbox’ for drug and alcohol management.

Regional disparities characterize the public system and make it difficult for players in difficulty to access services in their region. Private services exist but are expensive. Screening for gambling addiction is virtually non-existent and makes it difficult to ban those at risk of developing significant harmful gambling problems.

All the evidence indicates that we are well on the way to a serious gambling problem in Ireland.

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