‘My son was shaking, trying not to go online’: how the gambling industry got its claws into children
In Jack Ritchie's first term of sixth form, when he was 17, he started to spend his lunch breaks at the bookies down the road from his school in Sheffield, staking his dinner money at the fixed-odds betting terminals. It became a regular thing. No one ever asked for any proof of age.
Early on, Jack had a big win. It was too much money to fit in his pocket; he had to ask the bookies to hold it for him until he could pick it up after school. "He came home with £1,000 in cash," his mother, Liz, tells me, blinking in astonishment.
Jack only told his parents he'd been gambling a year later, when the £1,000 was long gone, along with the £5,000 his grandmother had left him, and every other spare penny he'd scraped together from bits and pieces of work and birthday presents. "He knew what he'd done was ridiculous and stupid," says Charles, Jack's father. "At that stage, we were naive. We're not a gambling family. We thought, this is a young man growing up, doing stupid things, experimenting. We thought he'd grow out of it."
Charles took Jack into every betting shop in Sheffield, where Jack left a photograph and signed a form that would exclude him from placing bets there. "There he was, a good-looking, ambitious 18-year-old, with his dad, going into these deeply depressing places." Charles shakes his head. "He'd come out of them and say: 'That's not me. This isn't what I am.'