The Samaritans suicide-prevention charity is condemning as “disgraceful” comments on suicide by the UK’s top gambling trade group chief, calling them an attempt to twist the agency’s guidance and “downplay the devastating impact gambling products can cause”.
The Samaritans are criticising Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) chief executive Michael Dugher’s response to questioning from a parliamentary committee on whether products with a high addiction rate should be available.
In response to Samaritans’ claims about distortion of its message, the BGC CEO said he simply quoted some of the charity’s guidance in calling causes of suicide “complex”, word for word.
Dugher, a former Labour member of parliament, had been testifying before the Culture, Media and Sport Committee and was questioned about Luke Ashton, a 40-year-old man whose death by suicide followed the development of a gambling addiction habit that left him with debts of up to £18,000.
In July, a coroner concluded that Flutter Entertainment’s Betfair “did not intervene or interact with Luke in any meaningful way” in the months before his death.
A BGC spokesperson denied to VIXIO GamblingCompliance that Dugher distorted the Samaritans’ guidance, calling the suggestion a “smear”.
“Neither Michael Dugher, nor the BGC, has ever sought to manipulate guidance supplied by the Samaritans while discussing the tragedy of suicide. To suggest otherwise is a smear,” the spokesperson said.
“Michael quoted directly — word-for-word — from the Samaritans own public guidance on the reporting of suicide. He did not interpret it or pass comment upon it”.
The spokeperson added: “Furthermore, Michael was clear in his evidence that whilst recognising suicide cases are complex, he understood and acknowledged the full findings of the coroner in the tragic case of Mr Ashton, including specifically that Mr Ashton was suffering with an undiagnosed Gambling Disorder, a recognised psychiatric condition, and that the coroner had highlighted a failure of the systems used by the operator at that time.”
Samaritans CEO Julie Bentley wrote to Dugher and committee chair Caroline Dinenage, saying she was “appalled that someone would attempt to twist Samaritans’ words in an effort to deflect from the devastating harm that gambling products can cause”.
“This kind of diversionary tactic is reminiscent of what we saw from the tobacco lobby and it would seem the gambling industry is now taking a similar approach,” Bentley said.
“Our position is that the reasons behind suicide are complex, but there is an established link between gambling-related harms and suicide risk, and it has more recently been recognised that gambling can be a dominant factor in a suicide, without which the death would not occur.
“Any attempt to deny this by mis-using the words of a suicide prevention charity is nothing short of disgraceful,” Bentley wrote.
Earlier this month, Gambling Commission CEO Andrew Rhodes complained that some organisations were misusing problem gambling data, especially those which may have been used to underplay the extent of gambling harm in the UK.
Dan Waugh of Regulus Partners, who has been outspoken on issues relating to gambling statistics, said: “It ought to be possible to accept as true two statements. First, that gambling disorder is associated with elevated risk of suicide. The second is that suicide is a complex issue and risk tends to be multifactorial.”
“The fact that it is complicated does not justify deflection or abrogation of responsibility. Instead, it demands that all parties engage with honesty, curiosity and intelligence,” he said.
The Samaritans said they are backed by Gambling with Lives, a charity set up by families grieving gambling-related suicides.
"Michael Dugher’s cynical manipulation of Samaritans’ position on suicide is a barefaced attempt to hide the gambling industry’s role in hundreds of deaths a year," said Will Prochaska, strategy director of Gambling with Lives.
News of the charity’s letters to Dugher and Dinenage first appeared in The Times.