North has four times as many problem gamblers as England, charity warns
PROBLEM gambling is a much bigger issue in Northern Ireland than England, a charity has warned.
Christian Action Research and Education said the north has four times as many problem gamblers but little support for those struggling with the addiction.
The charity's Northern Ireland policy officer Mark Baillie said there needs to be a crackdown on controversial fixed odds betting terminals which allow gamblers to bet on virtual games.
Although the British government has announced that the maximum stake on the terminals will be cut from £100 to £2 in April, the change will not apply to the north.
Mr Baillie said the terminals operate in a "legal grey area" in the north and the charity is campaigning for the maximum stake to be reduced in line with Britain.
"Ladbrokes have set the pace with their decision to voluntarily reduce the stakes in their shops in Northern Ireland but so far no other bookie has publicly announced that they are doing the same," he said.
"Hopefully this debate will provide other betting companies with extra motivation to take action."
Belfast City Council is to hold a debate on problem gambling at a meeting on Monday.
A motion proposed by PUP councillor John Kyle, and seconded by SDLP councillor Donal Lyons, will call on the Department for Health and the Department for Communities to meet an all-party group of councillors to discuss improving support for problem gamblers.
Mr Baillie said the need to tackle problem gambling is "yet another reason why we need the assembly back up and running as soon as possible".
He said despite the issue there is little support for gamblers struggling with addiction.
"While for many, gambling is an enjoyable hobby, for a significant minority there's no fun involved at all and gambling addiction can be enormously damaging for individuals, families and communities," he said.
"Despite this, there is a shocking lack of adequate support for problem gamblers.
"This needs to change. It's not good enough that accessing support services is so dependent on how much money you earn."