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Sat, 30 May 2020

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Gambling: the hidden killer – bereaved parents demand changes to Northern Ireland Law on Gambling

Gambling With Lives

4 min read

The charity Gambling with Lives was set up by the families and friends of young people who have taken their own lives because they had been addicted by toxic forms of industrialised gambling.

Bereaved parents whose children took their own lives as a result of gambling addiction will be at Stormont tomorrow (Tues) calling for effective regulation of addictive gambling products and an end to predatory marketing practices.

They are also calling for a clear health warning of the risk to life from gambling disorder and specialist evidence based treatment from health trusts for this life-threatening psychiatric illness. 

The charity Gambling with Lives was set up by the families and friends of young people who have taken their own lives because they had been addicted by toxic forms of industrialised gambling. It supports bereaved families and campaigns to warn other families about the well documented link between suicide and gambling.  Research shows that there are between 250 and 650 suicides across the UK every year linked to gambling disorder – and that gambling addicts are fifteen times more likely to take their own lives than the general population. 

Liz Ritchie’s son Jack was one of them. He died in 2017, aged 24 having been addicted while playing with his friends on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals while at school. 

She said:  “When young people are enticed into gambling they do not know that they are being given the equivalent of hard drugs – the electronic machines and online games are highly addictive.  They and their families think they are safe because there is no warning.  A six year old knows that smoking kills, who knows that gambling kills?  Everyone thinks it’s about the money that kills you – it’s not – gambling affects your mental health.  Even the UK government has written that gambling causes anxiety and depression”. 

The return of Stormont means that politicians finally have the opportunity to reform the obsolete Betting, Gaming, Lotteries and Amusements (NI) Order of 1985 which has been completely superseded by the explosion of online gambling which now means that addictive casino style games and relentless high speed sports gambling are available 24/7 via your mobile phone.

A consultation on reform is underway and closes on Friday (21 February). Gambling with Lives wants MLAs to take the opportunity to radically toughen the law to protect the public, especially the young and vulnerable from aggressive marketing, and unsafe harmful products.   

Liz’s husband Charles will be joining her at Stormont to lobby for change. He said: “We want to see the equivalent of a Gambling Commission for Northern Ireland with strong regulatory powers. We want to ban aggressive marketing VIP schemes, free bets and sign-up offers.  We want to see safety checks on gambling products before they are put onto the market.”

On health Gambling with Lives wants to see health bodies pro-actively treating gambling addiction, introducing screening for gambling problems by GPs, training up treatment specialists and setting up a gambling clinic for Northern Ireland.  On public health and the role of educators Gambling with Lives wants to see the introduction of a strong public health warning campaign as well as warnings for our school children about the risk to mental health and the risk to life from gambling. A study by the Gambling Commission found that an estimated 48% of those aged 11-16 had spent money on gambling at some point and 11% had gambled in the past week, more than had smoked a cigarette or taken illegal drugs.”

Charles and Liz Ritchie have recently gained Article 2 status under the Human Rights Act for the inquest hearing into their son’s death.  This means that the UK government may be seen to be responsible for the failure of warning information for them and their son and the lack of treatment for him.

The key to all this is that new legislation needs to be focused on a protective public health principle - minimising harm from gambling rather than focusing on growing the industry to generate tax. Studies have shown that gambling does not generate wealth across the wider community and that there are significant costs to the public purse. Gambling with Lives campaigns for a mandatory levy to pay for independent research education and treatment.

Gambling with Lives argues that there is no point in legislators in NI simply cutting and pasting inadequate laws from England and Wales which are due for review in the coming year to bring legislation into the digital age. 

They will be joined at Stormont by Peter and Sadie Keogh from Fermanagh whose son Lewis also died by suicide after developing a gambling addiction and Joseph McCall from West Belfast, a young man who has battled gambling addiction.

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