Commission calls for rise of knowledge on problem gambling and crime links

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An academic literally review has revealed “a dearth of knowledge worldwide about the links between crime and problem gambling,” calling for change to tackle a variety of concerns.

The Commission, set up by the Howard League for Penal Reform, began its review in 2019, finding that, while millions of people are affected by gambling either directly or indirectly, there appear to be fewer than 50 peer-reviewed papers in the last 25 years that address the links between problem gambling and crime specifically.

In response, the Commission intends to conduct its own research in three strands: the first project will look at the prevalence of gambling-related crime; the second will consider the lived experience of people caught up in the system; and the third will explore sentencers’ awareness of the issue.

Chaired by Lord Goldsmith QC, the Commission seeks to establish what the links between problem gambling and crime are, what impact they have on communities and wider society, and what steps could be taken to reduce crime and make people safer.

Lord Goldsmith QC, explained: “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.

“From people getting into debt and defrauding family members or employers, to domestic violence and other crimes relating to gambling-related stress, we know anecdotally that police stations, courts and prisons see significant numbers of cases – but only a handful of academic studies have looked at this across the globe.

“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.”

The literature review covers regions including Australasia, the US, Canada, Germany, Scandinavia and the UK, stressing that “while the overall quantity of research is not huge, there is a consistency in findings across all jurisdictions”.

Researchers comment that they have “found high prevalence rates of people committing crimes to fund their gambling. A wide variety of crimes are committed as a result of gambling addiction; not just ‘white collar’ crimes such as theft and fraud, but also offences that occur in public spaces such as street robbery. 

“There is significant evidence of domestic abuse and child neglect linked to problem and pathological gambling”.

Furthermore, it is suggested that the more complex, prolonged and persistent a gambling problem is, the more likely it is that a crime will be committed and that many crimes may result.

Acknowledging a growing understanding that gambling addiction is a behavioural disorder, it was added that little has been translated to sentencing with problem gambling not considered to be a mitigating factor in the way mental health problems or drug and alcohol addiction are.