There have been urgent calls for Newry, Mourne and Down Council to adopt a robust strategy to help deal with growing concerns around gambling addiction.
Sinn Féin councillor Mickey Ruane has said that it is important the Council, as a matter of urgency, develop and introduce a policy on the granting of gaming licences.
The Sinn Féin Group leader for Council also said that there was also an onus on himself and all elected representatives to be alert to concerns about the growing numbers of people presenting with severe gambling problems .
“Recent discussions during a gaming licence application highlighted the fact that we as a licensing body had no policy on the granting of these licences,” highlighted councillor Ruane.
“Myself and my colleague councillor Charlie Casey proposed that our Council officers prepare a draft policy to take before the appropriate Committee as soon as practically possible; this has now begun.
“The existence of a clear and robust statement of policy provides greater scope for licensing authorities to work in partnership with operators, other local businesses, communities and responsible authorities to identify and to proactively mitigate local risks to the licensing objectives.”
The Councillor cautioned: “Whilst people over the age of 18 should be free to spend their recreation time and money as they deem fit, we as civic leaders should be very alert to the concerns about the growing numbers of people presenting with severe gambling problems.
“Whilst just as with a tipple of alcohol, for the majority there is no harm, there is an increasing minority now finding those flurries of fun lurching out of control.
“Most recent statistics report a doubling in the rate of people presenting with severe gambling problems, increasing to three-times for those aged 18-24.
“This can hardly be dismissed as merely coincidental with the surge in popularity of online gambling and smart-phone apps.
“I would expect our Council to support in an appropriate and practical way highlight the issue and support those working to ensure more education and support services to be put in place to help those struggling with the issue.”
Newry City councillor Charlie Casey echoing his colleagues sentiments stated: “Our Council cannot hide its head in the sand in relation to the regulation of the granting of gaming licences.
“There is a civic and moral duty to ensure that a balance between allowing licences for gambling purposes and the health, well being and protection of our communities and sustainability of our local economy.
“I share the deep concern of many local people and families about the growth in gambling and in particular with gaming machines there are now about 33,000 FOBTs (Fixed Odd Betting Terminals) in Britain and Ireland; a decade ago there were barely any.
“FOBTs have been dubbed by critics as the ‘crack cocaine of gambling’ because they allow stakes of £100 to be laid every 20 seconds on casino games”.
The Sinn Féin elected representative concluded by stating: “One key element of our gaming licence policy has to be that of protecting children and other vulnerable persons from being harmed or exploited by gambling.”