The UK Gambling Commission and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) are expected to give evidence in an ongoing inquest into the suicide of a person suspected of having an undiagnosed gambling disorder.
The inquest held by Sheffield City Council into the suicide of Jack Ritchie began on February 21 and is scheduled to continue until at least March 3.
The coroner overseeing the inquest said evidence will be given during the hearing on the public health warnings and the information regarding the risk of products used by Ritchie, as well as the treatment options available to him.
Ultimately, the inquest will look into whether or not gambling “caused or contributed to his death”, the coroner said.
Ritchie’s parents, Liz and Charles, helped establish the charity Gambling With Lives, alongside other families and friends of young people who took their own lives “as a direct result of gambling”, according to the charity.
During the opening of the inquest, Ritchie’s parents claimed he was never diagnosed with a gambling disorder or referred to for treatment by anyone.
The inquest comes as the UK government said it is “very close” to releasing the Gambling Act review white paper.
The Gambling Commission is also under scrutiny following the collapse of Football Index, which triggered a government-led inquiry.
On Wednesday (February 23), it released a series of documents detailing the due diligence it undertook when it awarded Football Index operator BetIndex its licence, as part of a freedom of information request.
Pressure on the Gambling Commission has also ramped up after the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Betting and Gaming (APPG) investigation concluded that the regulator is in “urgent need of change”, which if left unchallenged will allow an “explosion” of black market activity.
Adding to the potential importance of the inquiry is the highly debated number and impact of gambling-related suicides in the UK over recent years.
Gambling With Lives said research indicates there are between 250 and 650 gambling-related suicides every year in the UK.
The figure of 250 people is derived from a University of Manchester study of suicides among young people, while the figure of 650 is derived from a University of Hong Kong study that looked into 150 suicides, according to an article written in 2018 by Dan Waugh of UK-based consultancy and research firm Regulus Partners.
Waugh argued that more data is needed to know the number of suicides annually in the UK as a result of gambling.
More recently, gambling-related suicides have made it into parliamentary and public health debates.
In January 2022, Chris Philp, the DCMS minister in charge of UK gambling issues, said online gambling has some “extremely troubling issues”, including leading “people down a path to a very dark place that sometimes leads to suicide”.
Months earlier in October 2021, a Department of Health report urging the government to treat harmful gambling as a public health issue included the first estimate of the economic cost of suicides (£619.2m) to English society.
The Department of Health report estimated there are 409 suicides associated with problem gambling each year.
In January 2021, an academic study reported a strong association in Great Britain between suicide attempts and problem gambling.
“Young people with problem-gambling behaviours should be considered at risk for suicidality,” according to the study’s authors, health researcher Sally McManus and youth gambling behaviour expert Heather Wardle.
Separately, charity group the Samaritans published a series of guidelines for gambling operators to help prevent gambling-related suicides.
The charity's guidelines include recommendations covering how to use data to help prevent suicide and how to communicate sensitively with players in distress.