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Betfair criticised by coroner over gambler Luke Ashton death

A coroner has found Betfair should have done more to help a gambling addict before he killed himself.

Luke Ashton, 40, from Leicester, died in April 2021 after building up huge debts betting online.

An inquest heard he staked larger sums chasing his losses in the weeks before his death.

Coroner Ivan Cartwright said he was concerned Betfair did not meaningfully interact or intervene when Mr Ashton's gambling activity spiked.

He concluded gambling disorder was a cause of Mr Ashton's death.

Missed opportunities

The inquest, at Leicester Town Hall, heard before he died, Mr Ashton had been betting more than 100 times a day, including early in the morning and late at night when his wife was asleep.

He placed 1,229 bets in March 2021 and on one day of that month alone he deposited £2,500.

Mr Cartwright said: "He was assessed as being a low-risk gambler although his activity was more intensive in the 10 weeks prior to his death.

"The operator did not intervene or interact with Mr Ashton in any meaningful way.

"Betfair could have done more in the relevant period and should have done more in what I find was a crucial period between late January and April 2021.

"Opportunities were missed that could possibly have changed the outcome for Luke."

Mr Ashton's body was found in a rented flat near Mexborough, South Yorkshire, after his wife reported him missing and his phone was tracked using an app.

Betfair was called to give evidence to the inquest as Mr Cartwright sought to establish whether the firm's actions contributed to Mr Ashton's death.

Lawyers for Mr Ashton's family said the company should have identified him as a problem gambler and taken "more and stronger steps" to keep him from harm.

Betfair told the inquest it used a computer algorithm to monitor customer betting and that Mr Ashton was deemed "low risk".

The company said its algorithm found nothing in his betting patterns that would trigger human intervention that might have restricted his gambling.

Instead Mr Ashton was sent eight automated and generic "awareness" emails by the company.

Tragic outcome

Mr Cartwright said he was "perplexed" the algorithm did not flag Mr Ashton as a problem gambler.

He said had that happened there were opportunities to get help for Mr Ashton who had had confessed his gambling problem to his wife in 2019 but later concealed the fact he had started betting again.

Richard Clarke, the managing director of customer relations for Flutter UKI - Betfair's parent company - gave evidence to the hearing and was asked by the the family's lawyers if he felt the company should have done more.

Mr Clarke said: "We have looked very carefully at the actions we took and we are confident we met the regulatory standard at the time.

"As a company, obviously looking at the tragic outcome here, I would love to have done more."

He said Betfair had introduced further safeguards since 2021, including deposit limits from customers returning from self-exclusion periods and financial vulnerability checks, but they came in before the firm was made aware of Mr Ashton's death.

Mr Cartwright came to a narrative conclusion that Luke died as a result of his own actions.

He said he would prepare a Prevention of Future Deaths Report with recommendations based on the "complex and unusual case".

After the hearing, Annie Ashton said: "The coroner's conclusion confirms what I have always believed that gambling caused Luke's death.

"It vindicates what I have argued all along that gambling is destructive, destroys families and causes suicide."

She said she hoped the inquest's findings would urgently prompt gambling firms to better interact with customers.

She said Betfair's assessment of her husband as "low risk" was not fit for purpose.

Mrs Ashton described her husband as a "bright happy and bubbly person" who made friends easily.

"As a husband and a father, Luke was nothing short of supportive and proud," she added.

"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."

Ian Brown, chief executive of Flutter UKI, said: "We wish to reiterate our sincere condolences to Mrs Ashton and her family. We are truly sorry for their loss.

"Flutter UKI is committed to doing the right thing and creating an environment for customers to enjoy our products in a safe and sustainable way.

"Over the past three years we have made significant changes to our controls, including mandatory deposit limits for customers who return to our sites after a period of self-exclusion.

"We hold ourselves to the absolute highest standards in the industry and we will, of course, incorporate additional learnings from this tragic case into our systems and processes."

Source: BBC
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