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Bereaved families call for gambling addiction screening

A consultation on reform is under way and closes on Friday. Credit: PA

Bereaved parents whose children took their own lives as a result of gambling addiction have gone to Stormont calling for effective regulation of addictive gambling products and an end to predatory marketing practices.

Laws made "obsolete" by the growth of online betting must be "radically" toughened, according to the Gambling with Lives charity.

Research shows there are between 250 and 650 suicides across the UK every year linked to gambling disorder - and addicts are 15 times more likely to take their own lives than the general population.

Sadie and Peter Keogh are appealing for a radical change to gambling law Credit: Presseye

Sadie and Peter's 34 year-old son Lewis was addicted to gambling.

"He was physically fit, had a great social life and worked every day. From the outside there was no appearance that he had a gambling problem.

"We had no idea until we got his suicide note.

"It said addiction it cruel, and he just needed some peace.

"We had to pick up the pieces afterwards and just try to figure out the problem. It probabaly started when he was a kid, he would go to gambling arcades on the way home from school."

Their son Lewis had racked up a debt of more than £50,000.

"We want radical change.

I want Stormont to realise they can rid of our society of one of the major problems.

It is always the people who are the most vulnerable who are affected.

We want to change our education system so our young people know

– Peter Keogh
Liz and Charles Ritchie want education to be made available to young people on the dangers of gambling Credit: UTV

Liz Ritchie's son Jack 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?"

She added: "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 power-sharing means politicians have the opportunity to reform the Betting, Gaming, Lotteries and Amusements (NI) Order of 1985.

Campaigners believe it has been completely superseded by the explosion of online gambling, which now means addictive casino-style games and relentless high-speed sports gambling are available 24/7 via a mobile phone.

Families are campaigning for the equivalent of a Gambling Commission for Northern Ireland with strong regulatory powers. Credit: PA

Gambling with Lives wants Assembly members 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.

The charity is 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.

Ms Ritchie's husband Charles joined 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."

He added: "Gambling with Lives wants to see health bodies proactively treating gambling addiction, introducing screening for gambling problems by GPs, training up treatment specialists and setting up a gambling clinic for Northern Ireland."

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.

– Charles Ritchie

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