Report questions crime and problem gambling understanding

1 June 2020

A dearth of knowledge about the links between crime and problem gambling is putting more people at risk of harm, according to a new report from the Howard League for Penal Reform.

The UK charitable organisation, which works towards reducing crime, building safer communities and lowering the number of people in prison, said that its Commission on Crime and Problem Gambling identified a number of issues in a recent study.

A Commission-led literature review found while millions of people around the world are affected by gambling, there were less than 50 peer-reviewed papers in the last 25 years that specifically addressed the links between problem gambling and crime.

The review covered a number of key jurisdictions including the UK, US, Canada, Germany, Scandinavia, Germany and Australasia, with researchers identifying a high prevalence rates of people committing crimes to fund their gambling.

One of the major areas of concern, according to the Commission, was that this crime was not only classed ‘white collar’ such as theft and fraud, but also offences that occur in in public spaces such as street robberies, as well as domestic abuse and child neglect linked to problem and pathological gambling.

The Commission said though there was a growing understanding that gambling addiction is a behavioural disorder, only parts of this had been recorded. It also said problem gambling has not been considered a mitigating factor in sentencing in the same way mental health problems or drug and alcohol addiction are.

The review also suggested there was a lack of support for prisoners in terms of treating their problem gambling, with evidence to suggest a level of resistance to undertake such treatment among prisoners.

Some of the reports reviewed also suggested that a custodial sentence was not a cost-effective way of avoiding further harm to the individual or society once completed.

In addition, the Commission acknowledged that a small number of specialised gambling courts had been established in the US to help people with gambling addictions access the appropriate treatment. However, there was limited data on the success of these initiatives.

As such, the Commission concluded that further research its required in order to establish the potential effect of gambling addiction treatment on the rate of recidivism. It urged further research on how best to help vulnerable populations avoid the criminal justice system.

Looking ahead, the Howard League now plans to conduct its own research, in three strands. The first project will look at the prevalence of gambling-related crime, while the second will focus on consider the experience of people caught up in the system, and the third sentencers’ awareness of the issue

Lord Goldsmith QC will oversee this new research as chair of the Commission, with the overall aim of establishing the links between problem gambling and crime, as well as the impact they have on communities and wider society, and what steps could be taken to reduce crime and protect people.

“Concern about harmful gambling activity has been growing for some time, but this is the first commission to focus specifically on the relationship between problem gambling and crime,” Lord Goldsmith said.

“The criminal justice system itself does very little work to capture the scale of the challenge and even less in terms of offering interventions like those we see for alcohol or drug problems. This has to change and our Commission can play a key role in improving the response to disordered gambling and crime.”