Jack Ritchie was a bright, happy, outgoing young man who effortlessly made friends wherever he went. Jack was into football – he was a fanatical Sheffield United supporter and enjoyed frequent visits to Bramall Lane, where he was a season ticket holder.
He was 17 when he was pulled into gambling as a schoolboy on FOBTs (fixed-odds betting terminals) which have an addiction and at-risk rate of 46% (higher than heroin). Jack and his friends went into the bookies near school during their lunch hour thinking that they were engaging in a “fun activity”: that’s what the ads said. No one knew that lives were at risk. Jack had an early big win which is associated with increasing the development of addiction to gambling. Jack found it increasingly difficult to stop, asked his parents for help so his dad helped him exclude himself from all local bookies.
However, he was then pulled into gambling online. Again, he looked for help and they purchased and installed blocking software on his computer. Jack was able to stop gambling for long periods, often going for months without gambling. However, gambling marketing and availability surrounded him throughout his time at university and his first job and he found it difficult to stop completely. He had a crisis in 2016 and sought help from the NHS. The medical professionals who met him had no training in understanding gambling health harms and failed to diagnose or treat him appropriately. Despite that, he seemed to recover and turn his life around.
Jack always enjoyed going to different places and having new experiences, and it appeared as if he had beaten his addiction for good in 2017 when he went to Kenya for 3 months on a major volunteering project. Later that year, Jack moved to Vietnam to teach English as a foreign language.
He settled into life well in Hanoi, was enjoying his teaching and – as was customary for Jack – made plenty of friends. Everything seemed to be going well, but Jack was lured back into online gambling and relapsed for the final time. Jack took his own life in November 2017, aged just 24.
Prior to his death, Jack’s parents Charles and Liz had no idea just how dangerous and addictive some gambling products are, in particular the devastating link between gambling and suicide. There was very little information available – for the public or health and other professionals – and very little treatment. At Jack’s inquest, which found that gambling had led to Jack’s death, the coroner highlighted the inadequacy of gambling regulation and the ‘woeful’ state of information and treatment.
They started Gambling with Lives the year after Jack died because they wanted to warn other families and parents about the dangers of gambling and the high suicide risk.