Coroner concludes Luke Ashton died as a result of gambling disorder and a lack of meaningful intervention from Betfair
The inquest into the death of Luke Ashton has concluded that a gambling disorder caused his death by suicide. It is believed that this is the first time that this has ever been recorded in an inquest. Area Coroner Ivan Cartwright added that he will be making a Prevention of Future Deaths report, which will include his concerns about a lack of meaningful interaction or intervention in Luke’s gambling by the gambling operator Betfair, owned by Flutter.
Posted on 29 June 2023
The coroner concluded that at the time of his death Luke was suffering from a gambling disorder which was longstanding since at least 2019. Luke was assessed as a low-risk gambler by Betfair, despite a significant increase in frequency and amounts he was betting in the 10 weeks before his death.
Luke’s widow, Annie Ashton welcomed the conclusion and the issuing of a report to protect future lives.
Luke, from Leicester, died on 22 April 2021, aged 40. He had suffered longstanding problems with gambling.
His death occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic, at a time when the Government and the Gambling Commission had issued statements and guidance to gambling companies, including Betfair, about the increased risks of gambling-related harm.
During the inquest, held at Leicester Coroner’s Court between 14 and 16 June, Annie told Coroner Ivan Cartwright that, before 2019, she had known Luke to gamble occasionally with friends, but it was her understanding that he had stopped because he would never win anything.
In around 2018, Luke told Annie that a friend had introduced him to exchange betting, where gamblers bet against each other rather than against a bookmaker. Sometime later, in around July 2019, Annie discovered that Luke had significant problems with gambling and had amassed substantial debts by taking out loans to fund his gambling. During the inquest, Annie told the court that Luke blamed himself for his gambling and that he hated doing it.
The couple worked together to repay Luke’s debts and, once they were paid off in early 2020, Annie believed that Luke had overcome his gambling problems. However, records provided by Betfair show that Luke’s gambling continued and began to increase again in the following months.
Luke worked as a print finisher but was furloughed in October 2020. He picked up some casual work as a delivery driver during this period. To Annie, and the rest of Luke’s family and friends, there were no signs that Luke had started gambling again.
The inquest heard expert evidence from Professor Dame Clare Gerada, President of the Royal College of GPs, that Luke had suffered from a longstanding and pervasive gambling disorder and that this caused his death.
In the weeks leading up to Luke’s death, was often spending almost entire days gambling and began showing signs of unusual behaviour. Professor Gerada told the inquest that Luke is likely to have felt guilt, fear and shame during this period and may have been unable to see a way out of his predicament.
In notes left to his family before he died, Luke referred directly to gambling. Professor Gerada explained the notes were reflective of known symptoms of a gambling disorder, including feelings of guilt and shame. In her view, these further illustrated the impact which gambling was having on Luke’s state of mind.
The inquest also heard from Professor David Forrest, an expert in interpreting gambling records, that Betfair failed to take adequate steps to intervene in Luke’s gambling when they should have done so in response to a large number of indicators that Luke was at high risk of gambling harm.
Professor Forrest explained that Luke’s gambling showed significant signs of potential gambling harm in 2019 and 2020, but that indicators of risk increased dramatically in early 2021, when the amounts of time and money which Luke spent gambling, and the intensity of his betting increased significantly.
He said that during this period, it was clear that Betfair should have identified Luke as being someone at high risk of harm and should have considered imposing measures to restrict Luke’s gambling, including potentially by closing his Betfair account. In fact, Betfair only sent Luke limited generic e-mails to make him aware of the ‘safer gambling tools’ available on Betfair’s website.
During the same period, Luke was rewarded by Betfair for his increased betting activity in that he was able to claim an increased free bet and enter a promotion that incentivised further gambling.
Richard Clarke, Flutter’s Managing Director for Customer Operations, accepted in his evidence that Flutter ‘should have done more’ in March 2021 to intervene in Luke’s gambling. He explained that Betfair’s algorithm identified Luke as being a ‘low risk’ gambler, which meant that he only received automated e-mails rather than any form of human interaction from the ‘Safer Gambling’ team.
Betfair, which is owned by Flutter UK & Ireland, was the betting platform which Luke is understood to have used almost exclusively between July 2019 and his death in April 2021. The company was named as an “Interested Person” in the inquest It is understood that this is the first time a gambling company has been formally involved in an inquest in this way.
Following the inquest Luke’s widow, Annie Ashton, said:
“The coroner’s conclusion confirms what I have always believed that gambling caused Luke’s death. The recording, for the first time ever, of gambling disorder as the cause of Luke’s death is very welcome and vindicates what I have argued all along, that gambling is destructive, destroys families and causes suicide.
“My hope is that all gambling companies will take note of today’s strong conclusion and will urgently adjust their practices to provide proper interactions or intervention so a larger number of people to prevent further harms and deaths caused by gambling. It is clear to me that Betfair’s categorisation of Luke as ‘low risk’ was not fit for purpose and that their assessment of risk does not have the safety of their customers in mind.
“For us it doesn’t change the fact that Luke is not with us but we are pleased that the coroner agrees that measures should be put in place to prevent other families going through what we have.
“Luke was a bright, happy and bubbly person, who easily made friends. At work, he was a highly respected colleague who had many admirers. He wanted nothing more than the simple things in life, to be a father and a husband. As a husband and a father, Luke was nothing short of supportive and proud. He was a real rock to us all, but in reality, he masked his own pain, to protect us from what he was going through.
“Our lives have been changed forever, and there are no tools in this universe that can fix the damage caused, but no matter how much pain and harm we are feeling, it cannot be as excruciating as what Luke was feeling before his death because ultimately for him, he felt that the only way to make it stop was by losing his place on earth with the people he truly loved.
“Luke was suffering from a gambling disorder and unfortunately this was an illness he did not understand or recognise. I believe Luke blamed himself, not knowing the facts about his illness and consequently was consumed by how it made him feel. Luke did not want to die, he had everything he wanted. The only thing he did not want was the pain and harm he was experiencing from gambling.”
Annie is represented by Merry Varney and Dan Webster at Leigh Day, with barrister Jesse Nicholls from Matrix Chambers.
Dan Webster, a solicitor at Leigh Day, said:
"Gambling causes gambling disorder and today the coroner concluded that this caused Luke’s death. The coroner, having heard detailed evidence, found that Luke’s gambling activity had increased significantly prior to his death, in particular during the last 10 weeks of his life. He found that there had been no meaningful interventions or interactions by Betfair. The operator had not recognised Luke as being at high risk of harm or done anything to curb his increasing gambling activity when it should have done so. The coroner found that this failing represented a missed opportunity to prevent the death of this much-loved family man.
The coroner’s findings raise wider issues for the gambling industry and the way it is regulated. They present an important opportunity for lesson learning and come at a significant time following the recent publication of the Government’s plans for reform of gambling regulation. It is vital that further steps are taken to ensure that individuals like Luke, who show clear signs of being at high risk of gambling harm, are not allowed to continue gambling without adequate intervention."
Merry Varney, a partner at Leigh Day, said:
“Inquests play a vital role not only in providing answers and accountability for bereaved families, but also in identifying risks to future lives and informing future policies and practices. The coroner’s thorough investigation and inquest into the death of much-loved Luke has rightly considered the factors which led to Luke’s mental deterioration and the welcome Conclusion records the direct causative role of gambling in Luke’s death.
“Many Coroners are often reluctant to look into similar issues, deeming it outside their remit when investigating how someone came by their death, and we hope the tireless campaigning by Annie, in the face of strong opposition from Betfair, will ensure not only that others are better aware and protected, but also that other Coroners conduct similar investigations and inquests into other deaths where the bereaved family feel gambling has played a role.”