A FORMER Fermanagh and Western footballer is hoping to drive home the message that gambling addiction can cost lives over the coming weeks, months and beyond.
Pete Keogh, whose son Lewis took his own life in 2013 because he had a gambling addiction, is the chairman of the charity Gambling With Lives which has been campaigning for a change in the archaic gambling addition laws in Northern Ireland.
Gambling addiction laws were last updated in1985 and the current campaign hopes to bring about a change in legislation some time next year.
Before that Gambling With Lives is hoping to appoint a full-time field officer to service all sporting clubs in Northern Ireland. Ex-Lisnarick footballer Keogh sees that as a significant step in spreading the word that there is help available for anyone with a gambling addiction.
“We are hoping to appoint someone in the next couple of months who will act as my right hand man and who will be available to clubs,” said Pete, a brother of the late Brendan Keogh, stalwart of Fermanagh and Western football and founder of the Brendan Keogh Youth League.
“We want to get the message out there that there is help and we’ll be looking at getting in contact with all the sporting associations.
“To be honest we’ll probably look at football first because it’s my sport and it’s what I know. We are growing the charity and it’ll be a case of touching base with the likes of Fermanagh and Western clubs and letting them know we are here, provide our contact details, distribute a few leaflets and so on.”
Lewis Keogh took his life after amassing gambling debts in the region
of £50, 000. He was living and working in Leeds at the time and regularly turned out for a local football team, Headingley FC.
Following his tragic passing his family and team-mates were stunned to discover the 34-year-old had been addicted to gambling and each year the club now stages an annual game in his memory.
Last March Lewis’s parents Pete and Sadie helped launch the Gambling With Lives charity in Northern Ireland at Stormont and have been firmly behind the campaign to change the gambling addiction laws in the North.
There is widespread cross-party support for updating legislation and Pete is hopeful that the campaign will come to fruition next year.
“I’m greatly pleased to see how parties are working together on the gambling bill,” he added.
“This is a devolved matter and the current law has been in place since 1985, pre-mobile phone, pre-internet, completely out of date.
“Northern Ireland has the highest rate of gambling addiction in the UK. We want to change the legislation so that it is mandatory for betting companies to pay a levy of 1% on their substantial turnover and that money can then be used to educate and for treatment.
“There isn’t one single place in Northern Ireland that you can go if you have a gambling addiction. There are a couple down South and an addiction centre in North Belfast but it’s more focused on drugs and alcohol. That’s shows how poor it is.
“Going forward we need to spread the word in schools and clubs and target the three main sports of football, gaelic and rugby first.”
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