On Wednesday, 26 February, the charity Gambling with Lives held a reception in Parliament, the charity was formed by the families of people (often young men) who have taken their own lives because of gambling addiction.

The event coincided with the climax of the Big Step Campaign’s 100-mile walk, a campaign seeking to persuade football clubs to reassess their relationships with gambling companies, and support people addicted to gambling. 

The charity’s message in Parliament was stark. Since their last parliamentary event, 15 months ago, still more lives had been lost due to gambling addiction. The charity’s co-founder Liz Ritchie called for urgent action to recognise the harm done by addictive gambling, including a rating system, similar to that of drugs, so that the most dangerously addictive forms of gambling could clearly be identified. 

It was good to see that such an important event was well-attended by MPs. And while many issues become the partisan property of one particular side, here concern was expressed by representatives of all parties. This widespread interest reminded me of events around freedom of religion or belief, and this widespread support bodes well for future attempts at gambling reform. 


The Evangelical Alliance has been raising concern about the proper regulation of gambling for some time. You can read a retrospective of our work in this area here.

Much recent coverage of the gambling industry focused on reducing the maximum stake on fixed-odds betting terminals from £100 to £2. However, the problems with the industry have always been wider than that, as recent events have shown. An online gambling firm, Mr Green, has just been fined £3m by the Gambling Commission for systemic failings around money laundering and protecting problem gamblers. Meanwhile, the commission has also banned the use of credit cards to place bets. A House of Lords Select Committee is now reviewing the social and economic impact of the gambling industry more broadly, including issues such as advertising, support for those at risk of harm from gambling, and online gambling. 

The Health Secretary Matt Hancock attended the Gambling with Lives event – fresh from briefing Parliament about the Government’s response to the coronavirus. His attendance, and the Government interest that this represents, is a testimony to persistent campaigning on this issue by many backbench MPs. Tracey Crouch, the Conservative MP who resigned on this issue in the last Parliament, was specifically thanked. 

On policy, the Health Secretary was clear that gambling should be treated as a health issue – not simply a leisure activity like any other. This was because of our increasing understanding of the harm of addiction. As was pointed out at the event, gambling currently lies between three departments: with Culture Media and Sport seeing gambling as a leisure activity, the Department of Health as a source of addiction, and increasingly the Department for Education covering it as part of building the resilience of young people. A more focused approach across government would be welcome. 

So what comes next?

Several policy issues will remain vitally important. There remains far too much gambling advertising, particularly in connection with sports – as the Big Step Campaign has highlighted. Research, education and treatment into problem gambling are still funded by voluntary contributions from the gambling industry, raising questions about the academic freedom of research, for example. A mandatory levy on all gambling companies is clearly preferable; it would generate appropriate funds and leave no doubt about independence. Gambling companies would of course be free to make additional voluntary contributions – once the mandatory levy was paid. 

But it seems that we need to have bigger conversations too. As Professor Jim Orford noted at the Gambling with Lives event, minor changes may be insufficient to prevent gambling-related suicide. Instead, we need to review how we see gambling as a whole. While some – including previous government figures – may view gambling as just another leisure activity, every new – and necessary – piece of legislation to mitigate addiction undermines this point, and puts gambling in its own category. 

There are also other reasons why it is time for fundamental reform. When the Gambling Act was passed in 2005, smartphones were no concern. Now online gambling on such devices is widespread. At the event in Parliament, the Health Secretary promised a wide-ranging review of the Gambling Act under this government. And as speakers at this event made clear, this would have to go deeper than this or that policy. It would need to redefine our relationship with gambling and addiction as a society for a technological age. 

When big changes like this are needed, it is important to hold the Government to account. Please do read more about Gambling with Lives, and other organisations working in this area. As this issue develops, we may recommend that you write to your MP, asking how they will deal with these concerns. If our leaders grasp the issues involved and seek to solve them, then deaths like those represented by the families of Gambling with Lives may be prevented.