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27 Oct 2021

Commission uncovers worrying lack of knowledge or targeted activity to address crime linked to problem gambling

Problem gambling leads to crime, but there is a worrying lack of knowledge or targeted activity within the criminal justice system to address it, a briefing by the Commission on Crime and Problem Gambling reveals today (Wednesday 27 October).

For the last two years, the Commission, set up by the Howard League for Penal Reform and chaired by Lord Goldsmith QC, has been investigating the links between problem gambling and crime; what impact they have on communities and wider society; and what steps could be taken to reduce crime and make people safer.

The Commission’s briefing, State of Play, summarises the evidence uncovered so far and makes some initial recommendations to government and policymakers. The report also includes the findings from new research with sentencers, which demonstrates that, although problem gambling is recognised as a mental health disorder, offending related to it is not being dealt with in an appropriate way.

Lord Goldsmith QC, Chair of the Commission on Problem Gambling, said: “Crime related to problem gambling represents unplumbed depths of which the criminal justice system seems largely unaware.

“For example, although there has been a growing understanding that gambling addiction is a behavioural disorder, and one which can lead to crime, problem gambling is not considered to be a mitigating factor in sentencing in the way mental health problems or drug and alcohol addiction are.

“Prisons do not screen for signs of problem gambling when people arrive, and it would be up to individual probation practitioners to pick up on problem gambling from their caseload – with limited guidance to support the people they are supervising or to advise on what treatment services might be available locally.

“Pockets of good practice do exist, particularly where the police first make contact with people who may have committed offences linked to problem gambling, but far more work needs to be done across the system to tackle this issue and reduce crime.”

The Commission is the UK’s first inquiry to focus specifically on the links between problem gambling and crime. Lord Goldsmith QC leads a panel that includes experts in criminal justice, public health and the gambling sector, and people with lived experience of problem gambling.

Commissioners have heard evidence from a wide range of witnesses including regulators, gambling companies, police, prison and probation workers, and academics, as well as personal testimony from people whose lives have been affected by crime linked to problem gambling.

The Commission heard that limited mental health and addiction support was available in police settings for people with gambling problems. Witnesses said that there was a lack of understanding about gambling addiction, among both police and mental health practitioners.

The briefing gives details of a pilot project in Cheshire, which indicated that as many as one in eight people arrested may have a gambling problem. The Commission is currently undertaking research to understand whether each police force in England and Wales routinely screens for problem gambling when people are brought into custody suites and, if so, what happens.

Witnesses described having to educate their own legal teams about problem gambling when their cases came to court. One told the Commission that their hearing had to be adjourned while the judge researched the matter.

Commissioners heard that hardly any support was available for people in prison and, where it was, there were barriers to getting it. Witnesses said that gambling was a significant part of prison culture, making recovery more challenging.

Giving evidence about probation, witnesses again highlighted a lack of understanding and knowledge among practitioners. But while no tailored support was available, the probation service was at least helpful in accommodating needs, such as allowing changes to electronic monitoring conditions so that people could attend Gamblers Anonymous meetings.

The Commission found that the Ministry of Justice could take important steps that would not only improve practice but also help to build a picture of the prevalence of crime related to problem gambling.

The briefing recommends that the Ministry of Justice review what improvements can be made to: training and raising awareness among practitioners; assessing individuals in the criminal justice system for problem gambling behaviours linked to their offending; identifying the availability of specialist services locally; and guiding people to those services.

Witnesses highlighted problems with the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 in relation to financial crimes that arise through problem gambling, and the Commission recommends the use of this legislation in these cases should be reviewed.

Problem gamblers typically turn to financial crime to maintain their addiction once all other assets have been exhausted and any stolen finances are in turn consumed through gambling. A confiscation order in such circumstances disproportionately lands on families and actively hampers the rehabilitation of an individual attempting to rebuild their life.

Finally, the Commission’s new research with sentencers points to the important role played by the Sentencing Council. The Commission recommends that the Sentencing Council should consider what improvements can be made to sentencing guidelines to ensure that the courts deal with problem gambling appropriately.

Notes to editors

  1. The Howard League for Penal Reform is the oldest penal reform charity in the world. It is a national charity working for less crime, safer communities and fewer people in prison.
  2. The Commission on Crime and Problem Gambling was launched in 2019 and is chaired by Lord Peter Goldsmith QC. He leads a team of academics and professionals with expertise in the criminal justice system and public health, as well as experts with knowledge of the gambling industry and with lived experience of addiction.
  3. The Commissioners are: Lord Peter Goldsmith QC (Chair); Dr Jamie Bennett, Deputy Director, HM Prison and Probation Service; Andrew Black, co-founder of Betfair; Professor Henrietta Bowden-Jones OBE, FRCPsych, BA (Hons), DOccMed, MD (Imperial), Founder and Director of the National Problem Gambling Clinic; Assistant Chief Constable Matt Burton, Cheshire Police; Dr John Chisholm CBE, Medical Ethics Committee, British Medical Association; Jon Collins, Chief Executive, Prisoners’ Education Trust; Frances Crook OBE, Chief Executive, Howard League for Penal Reform; Elizabeth Morony, Partner, Clifford Chance LLP; Andrew Neilson, Director of Campaigns, Howard League for Penal Reform; Neil Platt, Clinical Director, Beacon Counselling Trust; Sarah Ramanauskas, Senior Partner, Gambling Integrity; Professor Gerda Reith, Professor of Social Science, University of Glasgow; Norma Stephenson OBE, Councillor, Stockton on Tees Borough Council; Sue Wade OBE.
  4. A copy of the Commission’s policy briefing, State of Play: Crime & Problem Gambling is available at: https://howardleague.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/State-of-Play-FINAL-Online.pdf
  5. The Commission’s research report, Sentencers’ understanding and treatment of problem gamblers, is also published today. Authored by Sarah Page, Senior Lecturer in Sociology and Criminology at the University of Staffordshire, the full report is available here. A summary of the research is available here.
  6. More information on the Commission and its work can be found on the Howard League’s website.
  7. An article by Lord Goldsmith QC about the Commission’s work, published in the Telegraph on 27 October 2021, can be found on the Telegraph website.

Contact

Rob Preece
Campaigns and Communications Manager
The Howard League for Penal Reform
Mobile: +44 (0)7714 604955
Email: robert.preece@howardleague.org

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