“He always loved life. He was such a kind, funny person,” is how Niki remembers her younger brother, Del, who died by gambling suicide in 2019.
Del was one of four children and grew up in Somerset, near the Quantock Hills. There were two years between Del and Niki, but they were very close as children and adults, almost like twins.
“Smiler” was Del’s nickname at school, and he had an infectious laugh that would often get him – and Niki – into trouble. Niki describes Del as a kind, sensitive person but who was also outwardly a confident, sociable “loveable rogue” who never had any bad intentions towards people.
Del dedicated his adult life to helping others: during the early 90s he served for three years in the Royal Corps of Transport during the Yugoslav Wars, before retraining as a mental health nurse. He raised money for charity by running several marathons, wing-walking, and skydiving.
He loved sport, especially football – Liverpool was his team, but he’d also go and watch Yeovil Town matches with his stepdad, Terry. Del was a brown belt in karate and a keen runner.
Del was exposed to fruit machines and horse racing as a child and started gambling at an early age. In the beginning, Del would go into the bookies and bet on horses but that all changed in the mid-2000s.
Following the explosion of online gambling bought about by the 2005 Gambling Act, and the rise in accessibility of gambling, Del began playing online slot machines after receiving “free spin” offers, and he would also bet on football matches online. It was around this time that Del’s gambling really began to control his life.
Over the following years, Del’s mental health deteriorated sharply. He went through several break-ups, and financial difficulties caused by gambling which caused his relationship with his family to become increasingly strained.
He tried to get help on many occasions – he went to see his GP, who didn’t make the connection between gambling and his symptoms, and the mental health team also didn’t recognize the part gambling played. Del attended Gamblers’ Anonymous (GA) meetings, where most of the conversations were about financial losses, not the mental health harm. The meetings were also not in his local area, so were difficult to attend.
Following several unsuccessful attempts to get help, Del ended his life in 2019, aged 46. He was buried in his karate robe and brown belt.
Despite mentioning gambling in his suicide note, and it being included in his psychiatric report, the coroner at Del’s inquest did not consider gambling as a contributing factor towards his death.
Following her brother’s death, Niki doesn’t want this to happen to any other families and supports the need for gambling to be made less harmful, including restrictions on both advertising and celebrity endorsements, which normalise gambling while not showing a true picture of the risks.