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Evidence theme 6 - Illegal gambling and crime

Evidence theme 6 - Illegal gambling and crime

This theme is about:

  • understanding how gambling is linked to criminal activity
  • understanding crime as a dimension of gambling-related harm
  • improving our knowledge of the extent and impact of the unregulated market.

Another one of the Gambling Commission’s three Gambling Act licensing objectives (opens in new tab) is to prevent gambling from being a source of crime or disorder, being associated with crime or disorder or being used to support crime. This can relate to crimes committed in connection with gambling activities (whether illegal gambling or funding gambling through crime), crimes that affect society or gambling operators, crimes committed by gambling operators, or connections between gambling and the criminal justice system.

Research by the Howard League has found links between problem gambling and crime, including financial crimes27 – with a Swedish study finding that fraud and embezzlement were the most common crimes to go to court.28 Other crimes are addressed through the Commission’s clear anti-money laundering rules for regulated operators, assessment and updates of the risks of different gambling sectors29 and the work of the Sports Betting Intelligence Unit to deal with reports of betting-related corruption and protect the integrity of sports and betting.

However, establishing causality for individual crimes can be difficult when there are many contributory factors or when solely correlational data is available. There is likely to be a sizeable impact upon others (particularly direct victims) as a result of criminal activity, and establishing the scale of this is particularly difficult when acquisitive crimes against friends or family may go entirely unreported. Some police forces have trialled screening for gambling addiction30 and that is being extended to more areas in 202331, which has the potential to provide greater insights.

We are also interested in the extent and impact of the illegal gambling market in Great Britain as part of this theme. Research into channelisation has been conducted in other nations but further research is required to confidently estimate the extent of illegal gambling within Great Britain, the people who are engaging with it and the impact that it is having. It is also important for the safeguarding of consumers to get an understanding of their recognition of when they are gambling with a company licenced in Great Britain and when they are gambling on the illegal, unlicensed market. We also need to understand why consumers are doing so, and consider the risks and impact of forms of gambling created by new technology, such as gambling with cryptocurrencies.32

As well as the research being done with those entering the criminal justice system, the extent of gambling within prisons has been unknown in Great Britain due to official participation surveys requiring postal addresses. There are reports of gambling being prevalent whilst incarcerated33 and a greater requirement for support for many upon release.

Given the secretive nature of criminal activity, research into this theme may need more specialised and focused research methods, with greater reliance upon new and existing partner organisations and new tracking techniques identified within the gambling landscape section.

Example research questions within this theme

These are the type of questions that could be considered in relation to this theme:

  • What is the extent of criminal activity to fund gambling activities?
  • What is the size of the illegal market, and what’s the impact on British consumers?
  • What is motivating consumers to gamble on the illegal market?
  • How easy is it for consumers to tell that they are using an unregulated operator?

Evidence theme 6 - What the Gambling Commission will focus on

To better understand illegal gambling and crime, the Commission will focus on:

  • research into consumers’ understanding and use of unlicensed illegal gambling operators
  • using the Gambling Survey for Great Britain to develop our understanding of how people commit crime or are a victim of crime as a dimension of gambling-related harm.


27Crime and Problem Gambling: A Research Landscape (opens in new tab) (PDF), Sarah Ramanauskas, Prepared for the Howard League’s Commission on Crime and Problem Gambling, 2020.

28Criminogenic problem gambling: a study of verdicts by Swedish courts (opens in new tab), Per Binde, Jenny Cisneros Örnberg and David Forsström, International Gambling Studies, volume 22, issue 3, 2022, pages 344 to 364.

29Such as: The money laundering and terrorist financing risks within the British Gambling industry 2020 and the updates relating to Emerging money laundering and terrorist financing risks.

30Arresting Problem Gambling in the UK Criminal Justice System: Raising Awareness and Screening for Problem Gambling at the Point of Arrest (opens in new tab) (PDF), GamCare and Beacon Counselling Trust, 2017.

31Police in England and Wales to screen suspects for signs gambling addiction is driving crime (opens in new tab), The Guardian, 2022.

32Safer gambling and consumer protection failings among 40 frequently visited cryptocurrency-based online gambling operators (opens in new tab), Maira Andrade, Steve Sharman, Leon Y Xiao, Philip W S Newall, Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, volume 37, issue 3, 2023.

33Gambling and crime: An exploration of gambling availability and culture in an English prison (opens in new tab), Lauren Rebecca Smith, Steve Sharman, Amanda Roberts, Criminal Behaviour and Mental Health, volume 32, issue 6, 2022.

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