Gambling with Lives co-founder Charles Ritchie has no doubt about the impact football had on his son’s life before he took his own life in November 2017.
Jack Ritchie was in Vietnam when he sent his parents, Charles and Liz, an email to say his gambling addiction was “happening again”. The 24-year-old added: “I’m not coming back from this one.”
He was dead within half an hour of sending the message.
Jack was a “big Sheffield United supporter” and “loved football”, according to his father.
Like many other young men who enjoy football and suffer with gambling problems, he was exposed to the type of advertising seen during matches, which the betting industry is set to curb.
Ritchie, who helped set up Gambling with Lives to support families of young men who have lost their lives after gambling addiction, told BBC Sport: “All of the young men who took their own lives due to gambling addiction were encouraged to gamble as part of their love of football.
“Although many of them started on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals or other arcade machines, almost all of them ended up betting online. Sports betting and in-play betting was an integral part of what they did.
“They all bought into the notion of it being a bit of fun and an added dimension to the game, and maybe things start like that. But it’s a deep and serious addiction, and in-game betting is one of the most dangerous forms of betting there is.”
William Hill CEO Philip Bowcock said: “I am concerned about the volume and tone of gambling advertising and its potential impact on a generation of young people who are being exposed.”
Why is it important?
Ritchie and many other campaigners are not aiming to ban gambling, but to make it much safer. They want more money for research and education about the harm it can do and considerably more for treatment and support for people affected.
A Gambling Commission report says there are 430,000 problem gamblers in the UK, with a further 2m people at risk.
And a more recent study said the number of children classed as having a gambling problem has quadrupled to more than 50,000 in just two years.
Gambling with Lives wants to ban betting adverts on TV, and has welcomed the news gambling firms plan to reduce their frequency.
But Ritchie wants sport, and football in particular, to go further by banning adverts on shirts and around pitch perimeters, much in the way smoking and alcohol products have been.
“There are a number of reasons why this issue is important, but the crucial one is the impact adverts have in terms of normalising gambling,” he said. “This notion that it’s part of sport and you can’t enjoy sport without being engaged in some sort of gambling.
“There is very clear evidence of the impact it has on young people in particular, and there are numerous studies which show how aware young people are of gambling companies, and the number of them who follow firms on social media.
“Research shows betting is a solitary activity, but it’s not portrayed that way on TV. It’s shown as a joyous communal activity, but that’s not true.”
What impact will it have?
While voluntary curbs by betting firms on advertising during live TV sports broadcasts has been welcomed in some parts, there are many who say that it’s only a start to tackle what the Labour party call the UK’s “gambling epidemic”.
TV advertising is only one part of a betting firms armoury.
Although more than 90 minutes of betting adverts were shown in the World Cup, research shows marketing spend online is five times the amount spent on television, which could in turn attract younger audiences.
Almost 60% of clubs in England’s top two divisions have gambling companies on their shirts. And of the 20 ranking events in snooker, 11 are sponsored by betting companies, while other invitational events are also financed by them.
Former gambler and Fairer Gambling spokesperson Matt Zarb-Cousins says: “If the whistle-to-whistle TV advertising ban is justified then the other things are as well.
“For it to be truly effective, it should also include shirt and league sponsorship and digital advertising around a pitch.”
The online impact may be the most difficult part to tackle, though.
Online gambling has enjoyed a boom in recent years, highlighted by the firm Bet365, which specialises in in-play advertising on TV and logged profits of £660m in its latest accounts.
More than £5.35bn was spent on online gambling last year, according to the Gambling Commission, compared to the £5.55bn spent in betting shops, casinos, arcades and bingo halls combined.
Chief executive of GambleAware Marc Etches says: “Gambling is being increasingly normalised for children and they are growing up in a very different world than their parents; one where technology and the internet are ever present.
“The fact it is reported that one in eight 11 to 16 year olds are following gambling companies on social media is very concerning.”
Why is this move happening now?
The support to limit gambling adverts in sports broadcasts is a rare thing in current politics in that it has cross-party support.
So there is a widely-held view that the betting industry is introducing a voluntary ban before the government intervenes with more draconian measures.
The Remote Gambling Association are yet to confirm the ban, but last month said it was reviewing its practices and was “very mindful of public concerns”.
The strength of public opinion on this issue even extends to some England footballers, who are understood to be dismayed by the amount of advertising on TV.
The Football Association is also keen to see less betting advertising in football. It changed its policy after it was criticised for introducing stronger rules for players betting on football while also having Ladbrokes as one of its sponsors.
That relationship ended in 2017.
Will sport’s relationship with betting change?
The relationship between sport and betting is deep-rooted.
In addition to football shirt advertising, Sky Bet is the title sponsor for the EFL’s Championship, League One and League Two divisions so the chances of changing those arrangements any time soon is unlikely.
‘Betting ambassadors’ in football are common, and extend to other sports including cricket, boxing and snooker.
Former world snooker champion Stuart Bingham summed up his sport’s relationship with gambling when he told BBC Sport: “It is in our faces, it is everywhere.”
But he added: “I don’t think you can stop it unless we get another load of companies which change the sponsorship.”
Football clubs and leagues appear to hold a similar view, while gambling companies say they are promoting responsible gambling.
For now, it is just too valuable but at least the gambling companies are showing they are willing to listen.
William Hill CEO Bowcock added: “We deeply supportive of industry efforts to collaborate to respond directly to public concerns on this issue.”