Lack of advertising ban in gambling plans ‘a gaping space’, say bereaved parents

An absence of a proposal to ban gambling advertising is a “gaping space” in Government plans, two bereaved parents campaigning for change have said.

Liz and Charles Ritchie, who set up the charity Gambling with Lives following the death of their 24-year-old son Jack in 2017, have vowed to continue their fight for reforms to an industry they said has caused a “national shame” through harms to those who are drawn in and become addicted.

The pair, who were due to speak on Capitol Hill in the US on Thursday about their campaigning, spoke to Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer after the publication of Government plans for a major shake-up of the industry’s regulations.

The coroner at Jack Ritchie's inquest said his death is a “stark reminder of the terrible consequences that can flow from an addiction to gambling” (Family handout/PA)
The coroner at Jack Ritchie’s inquest said his death is a ‘stark reminder of the terrible consequences that can flow from an addiction to gambling’ (Family handout/PA)

Mr and Mrs Ritchie, from Sheffield, have worked to raise awareness of gambling-related suicide which they say is directly linked to addictive betting products and the industry’s ‘predatory’ marketing practices.

Mrs Ritchie told the PA news agency that they expressed their “warm appreciation” to Ms Frazer for the “political feat of plate spinning” achieved by the eventual publication of the long-awaited and delayed White Paper.

But Mrs Ritchie said they and other affected families have been left “upset” by the framing of the plans, saying they had presented “this idea that most people gamble safely”.

She told PA: “I mean, for a start it’s not true, but also it’s completely dependent on what products you’re gambling on.”

Mr Ritchie added: “We fully welcome the fact that it has been published after such an enormous number of delays, but equally we made it clear that we thought lots of the areas of it were inadequate, and the secretary of state acknowledged that we would feel like that, but I think you know, there was that element from her of, there needs to be compromise for her to be able to get it through the House.

“And I guess that’s the reality of campaigning.”

Gambling with Lives has campaigned for the regulation of certain types of betting products, especially online, and for a gambling advertising ban.

Advertising is not included in the White Paper, something Mr Ritchie said is a huge absence.

He said: “I think, and most campaigners would agree, that that is the biggest hole in the White Paper. It is a gaping space.”

He added that he does not feel there is “anything significant in the pipeline” on that subject either.

With reference to advertising, Mrs Ritchie also called on media organisations to “look themselves in the mirror and say ‘do we really want our brand associated with deaths of young people?’”

She said it is “only a matter of time” before this changes, adding that there will be more deaths and more inquests and that it is “just a question of how many people die along the way” before changes are made.

The couple’s teacher son Jack died in Vietnam in November 2017.

In March 2022, Sheffield coroner David Urpeth said that his death was a “stark reminder of the terrible consequences that can flow from an addiction to gambling”, adding that the information about the dangers of gambling available at the time “was woefully inadequate and failed to meet Jack’s needs”.

Speaking after the inquest, Mr and Mrs Ritchie said their son “was abused by parasites who inflict life-threatening illness for profit”.

Mr Ritchie, a former civil servant, collated worldwide research in 2018 to conclude that between 250 and 650 people in the UK take their lives each year because of gambling.

On Thursday Mrs Ritchie told PA that everything they do “is about saying ‘we seek justice for Jack’”.

She added: “And not just for him, but for all the others too. Today, actually, we’ve been invited to speak on Capitol Hill in America.

“So I meant what I said before, which is that I think that the way that this is being spread around the world is a national shame. We should be ashamed of ourselves that we have let this happen.

“These are British companies harming other countries’ children, too. It’s a privilege to be invited to speak but we wish we didn’t have to.”

Mr Ritchie said they still feel a long way from where they want to be in terms of the extent of reforms they feel are needed.

He said: “It just feels that this is one small step, but in all honesty, it doesn’t feel as if we’re even halfway to the changes that are needed. So you know, it’s just another day, ok it’s a little tick that some things are happening, but our lives carry on as they were yesterday, and they will be tomorrow. We’ll be campaigning, we’ll be fighting.”