'Gambling kills' should be on every betting advert, bereaved mothers say as they lobby PM

Arabnews24.ca:Monday 5 December 2022 03:56 PM: "Gambling kills," said Kay Wadsworth in Downing Street after delivering a letter to the prime minister.

Kay's daughter Kimberley took her own life aged 32 after racking up huge debts.

Mrs Wadsworth, who sold her home to settle those debts, was among six mothers delivering the letter to Rishi Sunak, calling for stronger regulation of the industry.

It comes as the government makes the finishing touches to its long-awaited gambling white paper, due to be published in weeks, if not days.

"Gambling kills" should be at the bottom of every betting advert, Mrs Wadsworth told Sky News.

"You asked me the question - how much did Kimberley spend? How much was she in debt for? It doesn't matter whether it was one million pounds or one pound - she paid the ultimate price, which was her life."

The letter to the PM says "never, ever, were we, or our children, warned or educated about the risks of gambling, and how easy it is to become addicted".

They also pose questions to Mr Sunak: "Do you know that some forms of gambling have 45% addiction and at-risk rates - higher than heroin? Or that people suffering a gambling disorder have a 15 times higher risk of suicide than the general public?"

Campaigners from Gambling With Lives delivered the letter
Image: Campaigners from Gambling With Lives delivered the letter

The industry refutes the idea that any form of gambling is as addictive as heroin. A spokesperson for the Betting and Gaming Council told Sky News: "Any suicide is a terrible tragedy and we are not in any position, nor would it be right, for us to comment on any tragic individual case.

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"As the mental health charity MIND and others acknowledge, the reasons behind any suicide are 'complex and can have lots of different causes'.

"We are encouraged by the latest figures from the Gambling Commission which show the number of problem gamblers is 0.3% of the UK adult population - down from 0.4% the previous year."

While the gaming world has moved with dizzying pace into the technological era - with casinos moving to our smart phones - legislation has been glacial.

Since the government announced plans to reform gambling laws in 2019, there have been constant delays, in part due to the turmoil in government with five different ministers holding the gambling brief since the review started.

However, it seems the white paper is finally about to be published - if not before Christmas, then soon after.

Campaigners from Gambling With Lives, who delivered the letter, want the bill to include a statutory levy to raise money from the industry to pay for independent information, education and addiction treatment.

Liz Ritchie's son Jack took his own life
Image: Liz Ritchie's son Jack took his own life

There is already a voluntary system which the industry says works well, but the co-founder of Gambling With Lives, Liz Ritchie, who lost her son Jack after he developed an addiction, said it's not robust enough.

Mrs Ritchie told Sky News: "At the moment we have this crazy situation where we have a voluntary levy which means the gambling companies can put the money where they want, when they want, and the charities that receive it are only overseen by the charity commission.

"Why are the charity commission overseeing treatment for life-threatening health conditions?"

In March this year, at an inquest into Jack Ritchie's suicide, the coroner criticised "woefully inadequate" information and treatment for the 24-year-old after he developed an addiction.

Asked about anti-gambling adverts, Mrs Ritchie said: "Well, it's not really anti-gambling messaging, is it?

"It's sort of 'when it stops being fun just try and stop' or 'take time to think'.

"You cannot take time to think when you have the equivalent of a heroin addiction. That's the point - it doesn't take the addiction seriously, it doesn't take the risk of death seriously."

The industry says it gives £110m a year to GambleAware. The Betting and Gaming Council said: "GambleAware is responsible for independently distributing research, education and treatment funds to services and charities.

"British Gambling Council members have no formal or informal role with GambleAware and have no say on who receives donated money or how it is spent."

The white paper could include any number of new restrictions on the industry, including curbs on sponsorship and advertising, betting limits for online gaming and stringent affordability checks with punters having to provide bank statements at certain thresholds.

Both the industry and campaigners know that change is coming.

In Downing Street, Sir Iain Duncan Smith MP, former Conservative Party leader, said: "The key areas we need to see is to curtail the promotional levels that go on particularly to younger people and the second thing is to make sure that those who are already damaged can get treatment because it is being paid for by those who damaged them."

We will find out soon whether he and the mothers' letter have convinced the government of their argument.

A spokesperson for the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said: "We are determined to protect those most at risk of gambling-related harm, including young and vulnerable people, and are working to finalise details of our review.

"The white paper will strengthen our regulatory framework to ensure it is fit for the digital age."

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