Bereaved family welcomes Northern Ireland gambling law changes but say it doesn't go far enough

MLAs passed the Gambling Bill at Stormont on Tuesday but their votes in favour were matched with criticism that it doesn't go far enough. Credit: Lewis Keogh

Northern Ireland's gambling laws are about to change in what will be the first major shake-up of the rules regulating the industry in more than 40 years.

MLAs passed the Gambling Bill at Stormont on Tuesday but their votes in favour were matched with criticism that it doesn't go far enough.

The Keogh family were left devastated by the impact that gambling had on their son.

"I think it started when he was at school. We lived in the country at the time and he used to come in on a bus into town to get another bus out to the country," Sadie Keogh said.

"It was near an arcade and they used to go in there and go on the machines."

And it is those trips to amusement arcades that Pete and Sadie Keogh believe cost their son Lewis his life.

Originally from Enniskillen, the 34-year-old died by suicide in 2013 while living in Leeds.

It was the contents of a note he had written that laid bare details of a problem his family and close friends knew nothing about. "In the end his last words were I need some peace", says Pete Keogh.

"He was obviously suffering so dreadfully and he couldn't tell anybody", adds Sadie Keogh.

The couple have spent much of the last decade campaigning for a change to Northern Ireland's outdated gambling laws.

And the first significant steps towards that change where taken on Tuesday when MLAs voted through the Communities Minister's Gambling Bill.

Among the new measures- improved protection for children and young people, a levy to be imposed on the industry and a Code of Practice to be introduced.

Pete and Sadie welcome the changes as being a vital first step in the right direction. But they're concerned that the new laws don't go far enough. "To make any legislation in any civilised country effective you need enforcement and in this Bill we have got nothing," says Pete Keogh.

"And then we have the huge, huge problem of online because every young person in this country or anywhere in the world has access to a casino in their pocket."

The Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey has maintained that there was not enough time in this mandate to deal with online gambling and so her bill has a two-part approach leaving much more to be done in the next mandate

"The reality is that when this order was created in 1985, the internet was not a thing," Minister Hargey explains.

"It was not written into the order and to completely change the order will take nearly an entire mandate to do." No one knows how many deaths there are related to gambling each year. But charity Gambling with Lives believes that figure to be between 250 and 650 gambling-related suicides occur each year in the UK.

Pete and Sadie Keogh say changing that will be Lewis' legacy.