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Inaction on gambling addiction will bring more grief, says bereaved mother | UK News

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The mother of a young man who took his own life after becoming addicted to gambling says more parents will cry like her and her husband because the government is not doing enough to tackle the industry.

Jack Ritchie committed suicide at the age of 24, having become addicted to gambling in sixth grade.

The coroner, at his inquest in March, described the government’s treatment and warnings about gambling as “woefully inadequate” and ordered it to define how this would prevent future deaths.

Jack’s parents, Liz and Charles, say the government response they received last week is not enough to stop more people from suffering like their son.

“Our concern is that it seems to say more about the same system, which is the system that killed Jack,” Liz said.

The couple are concerned about the lack of hard-hitting public information plans about the risks posed by gambling.

They are also disappointed that there is no commitment to introduce a mandatory, independently managed levy on the gambling industry to fund addiction treatment and prevention.

The government’s response, seen by the Guardian, is meant to explain how it would prevent more deaths like Jack’s. However, many of the points mentioned are historic changes, such as the introduction of a £2 maximum bet on fixed odds betting terminals and the expansion of NHS clinics.

Jack Ritchie at his graduation with his parents, Charles and Liz. Photography: Playing With Lives / PA

Liz said a lack of public information when Jack first admitted as a teenager that he had lost money in betting shops meant they had no idea of ​​the danger .

“Right by the school there was something that appealed to him, that was more addictive than heroin, that was marketed as safe, that he had easy access to,” she said.

“We didn’t have the tools to help him and we didn’t know the risk of suicide. We were given false messages.

She added: “Unless that changes, it will happen tomorrow, and the day after and the day after. There will be more and more parents in our position.

Jack committed suicide in Hanoi after losing money on British gambling sites. Her parents started the charity Gambling with Lives to raise awareness of the connection to suicide.

At the inquest, Sheffield Coroner David Urpeth said it was “fairly clear” gambling contributed to Jack’s death when he issued the prevention of future death orders.

Although some changes in the prevention and treatment of gambling addiction have been introduced since Jack’s death in 2017, Urpeth said “much more needs to be done”.

Charles said: “Jack started playing on something he was told was normal and fun. But there’s nothing in it. [the government’s response] to approach the normalization of it and the misdescription of it as a bit of fun.

“Some of these products have a 48% addiction risk rate, so you have a one in two chance of being addicted. And that’s what happened to Jack.

Charles and Liz Ritchie arrive at Sheffield Town Hall for the start of the inquest into the death of their son Jack.
Charles and Liz Ritchie arrive at Sheffield Town Hall for the start of the inquest into the death of their son Jack. Photograph: Dave Higgens/PA

Industry-funded charity GambleAware is referenced 15 times in the government’s response, suggesting it sees it as part of the solution. The Ritchies fear that this indicates that the necessary changes are not coming.

According to the researchers, the academic formation of GambleAware and other industry-funded charities aligned with “broader industry interests”.

A paper published last week by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and the University of Cambridge said lessons from industry distracted “from the harmful nature of the products and services they market” and transferred “liability for damage to children, young people and their families”. ”.

During the inquest, the coroner suggested that having tobacco-style messages such as “gambling kills” might be a clearer way to signal its potential damage. The Ritchies said the GambleAware chief executive appeared to agree with the idea in court, but has made no commitments since.

The NHS announced earlier this year that it would no longer take money from GambleAware, due to concerns over its links to betting companies.

Commenting on the current setup in which gaming companies can choose which charity they fund, Liz said: “It’s the essence of the system that generated Jack’s death, that generated all these failures, because the industry can move their money wherever they want, and they can take it away from industry partner charities – and GambleAware is the main one – if the messaging isn’t industry-friendly.

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The government is reviewing gambling legislation and a white paper presenting its reform is expected in the coming weeks.

It is understood that several government departments support a legal tax on betting companies. However, the issue is still under review by the Treasury, which relies on tax revenue from gambling.

Zoë Osmond, CEO of GambleAware, said, “GambleAware has always been clear that gambling harm is a serious public health issue that requires action on all fronts. We work closely with the government, the NHS and other charities to help protect people from the harms of gambling.”

Osmond said his website highlights “the wide range of harms associated with gambling, including those related to mental health and suicide.” She added that her education programs are evidence-based and independently evaluated.

Most of GambleAware’s independent board members are from the public sector, Osmond said. She said that “a robust governance process ensures that the gaming industry has no authority or influence over our work”.

A government spokesperson said: “The tragic death of Jack Ritchie is a stark reminder of the devastating consequences harmful gambling can have on individuals, their families and friends.

“As outlined in our response to the Preventing Future Deaths report, we are committed to working with the NHS and stakeholders to ensure that those who experience harm related to gambling can access the quality treatment and support they need. need, when they need it.”