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Feature article - Crime and Harmful Gambling

We are all familiar with the fact that one of the licensing objectives is ‘preventing gambling from being a source of crime or disorder, being associated with crime or disorder or being used to support crime’. So, what exactly might that crime look like.

Perhaps the most common occurrence on the high street has been the issues surrounding betting premises, for example violence within a shop either to staff or machines, or the people stood outside the premises causing problems for other shoppers. At the other end of the scale you may have noticed a number of high profile cases brought by the Commission in relation to breaches of the anti-money laundering regulations.

However, there is a lot in between these two ends of the scale, most of which doesn’t make headline news, but certainly demonstrates the wider personal, social and economic costs of harmful gambling.

Perhaps this is best described in general terms by the “pathway to crime” which treatment providers will often refer to.

It runs as follows:

  • The person doesn’t have enough access to finance their gambling. They start by borrowing from close friends and family, intending to pay it back. Very often they will not disclose it is for gambling. The money is not paid back, and the sums involved escalate. Eventually that source of money is either insufficient or stops.
  • The next step is to use money that should be spent on essentials, such as rent or mortgage payments, food and utility bills, and or to max out on credit and payday loans. Unsurprisingly this then escalates to a point where another source of funds is required, and forms of criminality emerge. These range from fraudulent use of a relative’s credit card and low-level theft through to major criminal acts, very often against an employer.

Although the majority of these events are unlikely to be reported or are resolved before they reach court here are a few examples of those that have done so.

One recurring theme is how frequently the offenders are in a position of trust, either at work or domestically. In this case a woman was able to steal (opens in new tab) more than £2m from her employer by paying the cash to an unknown supplier.

Yet people need not be in a position of financial control to commit fraud to fund their gambling as this story of a postman who stole (opens in new tab) from items on his deliver round illustrates.

These eye-catching headlines are only the tip of the iceberg however they serve to illustrate the point. It should come as no surprise then that the findings from a pilot study of custody suite inmates (opens in new tab) in Cheshire revealed that they were 13 times more likely to be experiencing problem gambling issues than the population at large.

More generally the relationship between crime and gambling is still poorly understood and it is for this reason that the Commission has approved a regulatory settlement enabling the Howard League for Penal Reform (opens in new tab) to establish a Commission on Crime and Problem Gambling (opens in new tab) to ask three questions

  • What are the links between problem gambling and crime?
  • What impact do these links have on communities and society?
  • What should be done?

Over a three-year period, the commissioners will investigate patterns of crime linked to problem gambling, and the societal harms that connect the two, before seeking to make recommendations for government, the gambling industry and within the criminal justice system.

We also information on our website about setting up Betwatch schemes. These local schemes are designed to share intelligence primarily amongst bookmakers (but can be extended to include other gambling establishments) about anti-social behaviour and problematic customers.

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