“Gambling kills,” said Kay Wadsworth in Downing Street after delivering a letter to the Prime Minister.
Kay’s daughter Kimberley took her own life aged 32 after running up huge debts.
Mrs Wadsworth, who sold her home to settle this debt, was among six mothers who delivered the letter to Rishi Sunak, calling for stronger regulation of the industry.
It comes as the government puts the finishing touches to its long-awaited gambling white paper, due to be published in weeks, if not days.
“Gambling kills” should be at the bottom of every betting ad, Wadsworth told Sky News.
“You asked me the question – how much did Kimberley spend? How much was she in debt for? It doesn’t matter if it was one million pounds or one pound – she paid the ultimate price, which was her life.”
The letter to the prime minister says “never, ever, were we, or our children, warned or educated about the risks of gambling and how easy it is to become addicted”.
They also ask Sunak: “Did you know that some forms of gambling have a 45% addiction and risk level – higher than heroin? Or that people who suffer from a gambling disorder have a 15 times higher risk of suicide than the general public. ?”
The industry refutes the idea that any form of gambling is as addictive as heroin. A spokesperson for the Betting and Gaming Council told Sky News: “Any suicide is a terrible tragedy and we are in no position, nor would it be right for us, to comment on a single tragic case.
“As the charity MIND and others acknowledge, the reasons behind any suicide are ‘complex and can have many different causes’.
“We are encouraged by the latest figures from the Gambling Commission which show that the number of problem gamblers is 0.3% of the UK adult population – down from 0.4% the previous year.”
While the world of gaming has moved at breakneck speed into the technological era – with casinos moving to our smartphones – legislation has remained frosty.
Since the government announced plans to reform gambling laws in 2019, it has There have been constant delayspartly because of the turmoil in the government with five different ministers holding the gambling brief since the review began.
However, it looks like the White Paper is finally about to be published – if not before Christmas, then soon after.
Campaigners from Gambling With Lives, which submitted the letter, want the bill to include a statutory levy to raise money from the industry to pay for independent information, education and addiction treatment.
There is already a voluntary system which the industry says works well, but Gambling With Lives co-founder Liz Ritchie, who lost her son Jack after he developed an addiction, said it is not robust enough.
Mrs Ritchie told Sky News: “At the moment we have this crazy situation where we have a voluntary levy which means the gambling companies can put the money where they want, when they want, and the charities that receive it are only overseen by the charity commission.
“Why does the Charity Commission monitor treatment for life-threatening health conditions?”
In March this year, at an inquest into Jack Ritchie’s suicide, the coroner criticized the “woefully inadequate” information and treatment given to the 24-year-old after he developed an addiction.
Asked about anti-gambling ads, Mrs Ritchie said: “Well, they’re not really anti-gambling messages, are they?
“It’s kind of like ‘when it stops being fun, just try and stop’ or ‘take some time to think’.
“You can’t take the time to think when you have the same thing as a heroin addiction. That’s the point – it doesn’t take the addiction seriously, it doesn’t take the risk of death seriously.”
The industry says it gives £110m a year to GambleAware. The Betting and Gaming Council said: “GambleAware is responsible for the independent distribution of research, education and treatment funds to services and charities.
“British Gambling Council members have no formal or informal role in GambleAware and have no influence on who receives donated money or how it is spent.”
The white paper could include any number of new restrictions on the industry, including curbs on sponsorship and advertising, wagering limits on online games and strict fairness checks with players having to provide bank statements at certain thresholds.
Both the industry and activists know that change is coming.
In Downing Street, Sir Iain Duncan Smith MP, former leader of the Conservative Party, said: “The key areas we need to look at are limiting the levels of advertising that apply particularly to younger people, and the other thing is to make sure that those who are already harmed can get treatment because it is paid for by those who have harmed them.”
We will soon find out whether he and the mothers’ letter have convinced the government of their argument.
A Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport spokesperson said: “We are committed to protecting those most at risk of gambling-related harm, including young and vulnerable people, and are working to finalize the details of our review.
“The White Paper will strengthen our regulatory framework to ensure it is fit for the digital age.”