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Dad calls for crackdown on online betting ads after son takes his own life

Tom Belger
Finance and policy reporter
Ryan Myers took his own life. Photo: Myers family

A dad whose son hanged himself over his gambling debts has called for tougher rules on online betting adverts.

The call comes after top betting firms pledged £60m to tackle gambling addiction and a parliamentary committee launched a probe into the harms caused by gambling this week.

Campaigner John Myers said a simple change to regulation could help save the lives of gamblers like his son Ryan, a carpenter from Huyton in north-west England who took his own life five years ago.

Speaking just a few days after what would have been his son’s 33rd birthday, he accused gambling firms of “grooming people into gambling addiction” by advertising how much customers had won, but not how much they had spent.

Myers said firms should be forced to reveal how much had been gambled whenever they advertised winnings, to show “the real odds” of beating the bookmakers.

He also urged the government to begin recording the number of suicides linked to gambling, saying his son’s death certificate did not mention his gambling addiction.

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He said Ryan had spent £500 ($631) on fixed-odds betting machines the day that he killed himself, and was still receiving free bet offers online after his death.

A House of Lords select committee announced a call for evidence on issues including a “lack of accurate estimates” of the scale of problem gambling and what should be done to understand possible links to suicides on Monday.

Firms ‘only care about profits’

Ryan Myers, centre, with his dad John, left, and brother Michael, right. Photo: Myers family

Myers told Yahoo Finance UK: “Cigarette packets have to show the effects of smoking, but some ads only show the good side of gambling. I saw one that said £35,000 had been won in the past week. If someone who is desperate sees that, they are going to give it a go.

“But it didn’t say how much had been spent. What if £1m has been gambled?”

He claimed gambling firms “only care about profits, not ordinary people” as he hit out at the slow pace of new reforms proposed on Tuesday by the industry itself.

William Hill, Coral Ladbroke and other leading firms also announced today they will increase the voluntary levy they pay to tackle problem gambling from 0.1% to 1% of their profits.

Peter Jackson, chief executive officer of Flutter, representing all five gambling companies, said it marked a “step change in how” gambling harm was dealt with.

He said: “This is an unprecedented level of commitment and collaboration by the leading companies in the British betting and gaming sector to address gambling-related harm and promote safer gambling.”

But the increase, seen as a pre-emptive measure to avoid further government intervention, will only happen gradually over the next five years.

The levy currently raises £10m for gambling charities, according to the BBC, but the increase could see it increase to £60m.

£2 limit on fixed-odds machines

Slot machines in the UK. Photo: Arterra/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

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Outgoing prime minister Theresa May’s government has introduced a series of measures curbing the sector, from a £2 limit per spin on fixed-odds betting machines in April to new rules verifying users’ identities online in May.

Myers, 59, a production supervisor at a car factory, said the £2 limit was a “good victory” for campaigners, and said he had not been sure such reforms would ever happen when he first launched a petition for more regulation after his son’s death.

But he echoed a recent call by the chair of the Gambling Commission for firms not to find ways to “get round” the measures, amid fears gamblers will simply move online or machines will spin faster.

He also questioned how much evidence there was of the reforms forcing betting shops out of business.

Betfred slipped further into the red in June after a large write-down of its retail business linked to the new curbs on fixed-odds machines.

But the company, one of several to warn the clampdown could spark hundreds of branch closures, said the full impact would not be known for several years.

‘Hidden nature’ of problem gambling

Myers said he would write to the select committee highlighting the “hidden nature” of problem gambling, as people can be “gambling like mad” on their phones without anyone else realising.

He said many otherwise healthy and successful people like Ryan were affected, with official estimates suggesting hundreds of thousands of people in the UK are problem gamblers.

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“A lot of people don’t realise people have died from it. There are vast numbers of men in their 20s living normal lives in any other way, and one day they go and kill themselves,” he said.

“My son’s death certificate says he took his own life. The statistics don’t show any deaths, and that’s why the companies get away with it.”

Lord Grade of Yarmouth, chair of the Lords select committee on gambling, said: “We know that the effects of gambling on individuals and families can be devastating. This committee seeks further to understand the issues, in an area where concrete evidence is lacking.”