'Lewis had it all, but the gambling killed him... it never gets any easier'
A heartbroken father has revealed how ferry trips abroad triggered a gambling addiction that left his son £50,000 in debt and leading a double life, and eventually drove him to suicide.
For three-and-a-half painful years since his youngest boy, Lewis, died aged 34, retired publisher Peter Keogh (69) and his grieving wife, Sadie, have been trying to work out when he became addicted.
The couple, from Co Fermanagh, concluded that Lewis developed a taste for gambling aged nine, when he played on arcade machines during ferry trips to Côte Sauvage, in France, and back home.
Peter said: "Looking back, from a fairly early age, and I am talking nine, 10 or 11, Lewis would ask, 'Is it okay if I go over and play the arcade machines?'
"I think then he got used to trying to beat machines. We remember he wanted to spend his money on the arcade machines.
"For many children, it is harmless fun and does not develop into anything, but for Lewis it was clearly quite serious."
Peter is speaking out after joining forces with the online pressure group 38 Degrees, determined to stop children and young people from being exposed to gambling advertising.
He said: "I want to take betting adverts out of the line of sight of young kids.
"I am a big sports fan and I can't watch a game of tennis without seeing a betting advert. They are in your face all the time. What does 'please remember to bet responsibly' mean? Dear God."
Peter, who feels terrible guilt over his son's death, said he and Sadie, his wife of 46 years, gave Lewis - who died on Halloween, 2013 - and his brothers, Justin (43) and Richard (41), a happy childhood.
But Justin and Richard also remember how, as a child, Lewis squandered his pocket money on arcade machines after school before catching the bus home.
Always successful, single Lewis, who had a degree in sports science from Teesside University in Middlesbrough, had a good job as a facilities manager in Leeds, where he had lived for nine years, also enjoying a great relationship with his parents, who he spoke to four or five times a week.
Yet, despite their closeness, Peter and retired special education teacher Sadie (70) had no idea that Lewis gambled.
Peter said: "I think Lewis was ashamed of being a gambler and letting people down. We were very close and spoke four or five times a week, but there were really no signs.
"Knowing my son as I did, he got to the stage where he couldn't kick the addiction, and that's probably why he killed himself in the end. There was a lot of shame involved, which is an awful way to be.
"Lewis was gambling on the internet, he was gambling on his own in bed and he was gambling at night.
"He was very normal. He did lots of normal things. He trained regularly with his football team, Headingley AFC, where he played and managed the second team.
"I will never forget when we went over there after his death - we had 20 to 30-year-olds crying their eyes out. We were comforting them. They just knew nothing about this hidden gambling addiction."
An inquest into Lewis's death nine months later returned a verdict of death as a result of a gambling addiction.
The coroner wrote: "The evidence discloses that the motivating factor for this action was Mr Keogh's addiction to gambling and the effect that it would have had on his mental health."
Lewis had £50,000 in debts on half a dozen credit cards when he committed suicide.
Peter, who pored over his sin's bank statements after his death, said of Lewis's gambling: "That was his alter ego. In his day-to-day life he had a company BMW, a good wage and a nice apartment - he had all the trappings of a guy who was quite well off."
Described as "one of the lads" by his father, Lewis was rarely without a girlfriend and had three long-term relationships throughout university and after he left. Sadie said: "He had one long-term girlfriend who had been planning to move in with Lewis, but he always seemed to make excuses for not committing.
"We realise now that the reason for this was because he did not want to involve them in his gambling. He was very handsome and had no problem with getting a girlfriend."
Peter revealed that, when he died, Lewis had paid off all his bills. He said: "Everything was in perfect working order. He used his credit cards for his gambling."
Now Peter wants to give talks to parents of children no older than 13, so he can make them aware of the danger of gambling while they are still young in the hope of preventing more tragic deaths like his son's.
"We live internally with guilt over Lewis's death," he confessed.
"Three-and-a-half years on, it never gets easier. There is not a day where I don't wake up and think about it.
"As a parent, you will always say, 'I should have known'.
"He had friends by the bucket load and was a 34-year-old with a decent career, but the gambling addiction was just something that got a hold of him. In the note he left us, he wrote in big letters, 'Addiction is cruel'. I think maybe that summed up the pain he was going through.
"Addiction can affect us all. There are four big addictions in our lives: alcohol, smoking, drug abuse and gambling. The thing with gambling is you cannot see the effects the addiction has.
"There are so many people who have been affected by gambling. If we don't do something soon, the NHS won't be capable of coping with it. The industry itself needs treatment."
A spokeswoman for the online pressure group 38 Degrees, which campaigns for change on various issues, praised the Keoghs for speaking out.
"A staggering 100,000 people have already signed the 38 Degrees petition calling for the gambling minister, Tracey Crouch, to crack down on irresponsible bookies," she said.
"And now Peter and Sadie are being brave by speaking out about what happened to their son, Lewis, to protect other families from the same fate.
"Their tragic experience is evidence enough that bookies are not acting responsibly, and it's time for the Government to step in."