Liz Ritchie’s speech from GwL’s annual parliamentary event

I’d like to thank the Secretary of State and Shadow Secretary of State for agreeing to speak today and our other speakers.  Thank you also to all the families bereaved by predatory gambling, your friendship and courage means more to me than I can say.

So we meet again and there have been more suicides.  This is the fifth time we have been here and yet again we are asking for action to stop preventable deaths.    

Every time I speak to one of our brilliant NHS clinicians I learn an essential nugget that would have helped me save my son’s life – had I known it in 2017.

This time it was that there is a switch point in the brain when engagement in gambling designed to cause addiction changes from voluntary interest to involuntary compulsion.  This kind of gambling hijacks our survival kit sharpened by evolution to make us eat, drink or fight when we have to.   Survival depends on not attending to anything else and the rest of life becomes grey, without interest.  This is a major psychiatric condition, no wonder people who are not told about what has been done to them feel suicidal.

Had I and Jack known that these forms of gambling are as bad or worse than Class A drugs I have no doubt he would have understood that the addiction had been inflicted on him while he was a child.  And that he’d been duped into thinking he was safe during his lunch hour at school when he and his friends played the machines.  I believe that this would have helped him understand that instead of being a bad person that had let us down, he had done a heroic job of surviving this abuse for 7 long years.

So how have we ended up with a regulatory regime where such dangerous products have become so widely available and are advertised as a safe bit of fun?   As London University researchers have said recently – we don’t usually do this – simply allow any product that poses a danger onto the market and request that the industry inflicting the damage simply monitors the public for signs of harm. 

Researchers ask why does the government devise regulations that enable consumers to use hazardous gambling products rather than preventing their release onto the market and why are they not being replaced with safer alternatives?  Today bereaved families are asking politicians this same question again. 

As an NHS clinician myself who has worked often with people who were sexually abused I know the importance of standing with those harmed to bear witness.  At Gambling with Lives we stand with families to bear witness to what happened to the person who has died.  We track the gambling that led to a death.  We shine a light on products that are designed to lay pathways in the brain that create addiction and the incentivising algorithms that exacerbate this abuse of the brain.  Together we stand to face the predatory mindset that functions without humanity to inflict dangerous products with one aim – the transfer of money.

At Gambling with Lives we are caricatured as campaigners but mostly we help families find a way to live with this knowledge and, if they wish, to speak to a coroner or MP or journalist.  We’re not stopping and I’m sorry to say that it is inevitable that we will be joined by many others.  To the abusers and their facilitators – we say we see you and what you are doing.  It is only a matter of time before it is more widely seen, the only question is how many will die in the meantime.

There will be at least another death today, there was one yesterday and will be one tomorrow.  This time next year we will be together again and I will ask the same question and I would like all the politicians in power to imagine that they will be facing the families of the people who are alive now but will be dead.  And I ask you to please let us know your answer – why are you making gambling an exception and failing to prioritise health over exploitation.  Why do you choose simply to struggle to manage the damage caused by dangerous products rather than insisting on a regime to make them safe?   As I said this is now the fifth year that we have been here asking this question.  When will there be action to stop these young deaths?

Read more about our parliamentary event here.