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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.

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 unlicensed, 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 high risk gambling and crime, including financial crimes25. A Swedish study found that fraud and embezzlement were the most common crimes to go to court.26 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 sectors27 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. 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 addiction28 and that is being extended to more areas in 2024 to 202529, 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. 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, who is 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 licensed 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 newer technologies, such as gambling with cryptocurrencies30.

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 incarcerated31 and a recommendation for greater 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 occurring to fund gambling activities?
  • What is the size of the illegal market, and what is the impact on British consumers?
  • Which populations are particularly drawn to using illegal sites?
  • What is motivating consumers to gamble on the illegal market?
  • How easy is it for consumers to know that they are using an unregulated operator?

Evidence theme 4 - Progress made in year one

The Gambling Commission and its Digital Advisory Panel (DAP) conducted a project to explore how it can improve its understanding of the make-up of the illegal online market, its size and how it changes over time. This involved mapping the potential motivations for consumers using unlicensed gambling sites

We also started using Google search API data and web-scraping techniques to build the first iteration of a dwell time model for unlicensed gambling websites. This will feed into a dashboard tracking traffic to these sites over time to support and evaluate the Commission’s disruption work.

Forward look

We are undertaking research as part of our Consumer Voice programme to build on the work already conducted by DAP, by exploring consumers’ pathways into the illegal online market, motivations for using it, and awareness of licensed and unlicensed gambling. Academics at the University of Glasgow are also developing survey questions exploring participation in the illegal online market, with learning being shared between the two projects.

We will be collecting more robust data via the GSGB on the extent to which participants self-report having committed a crime to finance their gambling or to pay their own or someone else’s gambling debts, as part of our work to better understand the consequences of gambling.

We will continue to develop and refine the dwell time model, to increase the accuracy of the illegal online market size estimation, as well as incorporate more data sources into the dashboard, such as information from social media and streaming platforms like Twitch and Kick.


25Crime and Problem Gambling: A Research Landscape (opens in new tab) (PDF), S. Ramanauskas, Prepared for the Howard League’s Commission on Crime and Problem Gambling, 2020.

26Criminogenic problem gambling: a study of verdicts by Swedish courts (opens in new tab), P Binde, J Cisneros Örnberg and D Forsström, International Gambling Studies, volume 22, issue 3, 2022, pages 344 to 364.

27Such 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.

28Arresting 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.

29Police in England and Wales to screen suspects for signs gambling addiction is driving crime (opens in new tab), The Guardian, 2022.

30Safer gambling and consumer protection failings among 40 frequently visited cryptocurrency-based online gambling operators (opens in new tab), M Andrade, S Sharman, L Y Xiao, P W S Newall, Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, volume 37, issue 3, 2023.

31Gambling and crime: An exploration of gambling availability and culture in an English prison (opens in new tab), L R Smith, S Sharman, A Roberts, Criminal Behaviour and Mental Health, volume 32, issue 6, 2022.

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