THERE have been calls for more funding to be allocated to helping young people deal with gambling addiction with one community worker describing the problem as a “silent danger” to our teenagers. Fra Stone, Development Worker with the Falls Community Council, was speaking to the Andersonstown News after a student from West Belfast spoke candidly about overcoming his own addiction and revealed that teenagers as young as 15 are now hooked on gambling in bookmakers.

“It’s the fastest-growing addiction in Ireland,” he said. “The addictions we deal with at the Falls Community Council are primarily alcohol and drugs, but we can refer people on to different agencies depending on the nature of addiction and how bad it is. You have the likes of Gamblers’ Anonymous and the Dunlewey Substance Advice Centre that can treat it, but there are still not enough facilities out there to cope with the growing amount of young people dealing with this problem. Unfortunately, these government cutbacks mean there’s not going to be more services made available – most likely there’s going to be less and less.”

Fra said the fact that a gambling addiction has no obvious physical manifestations in the way that alcohol or drug addiction has makes it a bigger threat to local young people

“If you see a young person walking down the street drunk or off their head on drugs you notice, but if someone’s got a gambling addiction they’re walking past you as normal and you haven’t got a clue,” Fra said. “It needs to be highlighted as it’s a silent danger amongst young people, particularly gambling machines. Pubs and clubs, taxi depots and some shops, they have all these machines that rarely pay out.  I know a lot of businesses will use them to cover wages and so on, but kids are going in and using them. You have a better chance of winning the lotto than you have winning on a poker machine.”

Peter Pallin, a counsellor and co-ordinator with the Gambling Service at the Dunlewey Substance Advice Centre on the Stewartstown Road, said resources for helping young people with gambling problems are scant.

“We are dealing with them via referrals from our helpline and local community centres,” Peter said. “However there are limited resources available to deal with this issue, which is the unfortunate thing. We could always do with more funding and we do not advertise much as we are almost at full capacity as it is.

“It certainly seems to be a growing problem, particularly with the availability of gambling between bookmakers, arcades and places where there are machines, but also with online gambling on smart phones and computers. Part of the problem with  young people that have such an addiction is that they think they’re invulnerable and that they can handle it, until they realise that they cannot.”

Peter has some sympathy for bookies who find it hard to enforce the mandatory over-18 age for customers.

“Bookmakers do try to do their best, but some kids do not look as young as they are,” he said.

“It would be a huge thing for bookmakers to do, to ask for ID from everyone who crosses their door.”

A spokesperson for the Northern Ireland Turf Guardians Association, which represents 300 betting shops in the North, said: “Each operator proceeds within the law and individually implements responsible gambling practices.”

If you are experiencing problems with gambling or  know somebody who is and would like some advice, call the Dunlewey Substance Advice Centre on 08000 8886 725. You can also call the Falls Community Council on 90202030.

‘There’s always a queue of schoolkids waiting to use those gaming machines’