Summary of first-ever inquiry into crime linked to gambling
The Howard League for Penal Reform (“Howard League”), which is the oldest penal reform charity in the UK, launched a Commission on Crime and Gambling Related Harms (the “Howard League Commission”) in June 2019. The primary objective of the Howard League, which extends beyond gambling, is “less crime, safer communities and fewer people in prison”.
The Howard League Commission, chaired by Lord Goldsmith KC with a team of 12 Commissioners, was the UK’s first-ever inquiry into the relationship between crime and gambling, and focused on understanding/determining:
- the links between gambling related harms and crime;
- the impact these links have on communities and society; and
- what steps could be taken to reduce crime and make people safer.
A call for evidence was issued, attracting submissions from a range of stakeholders including the gambling industry, academics, practitioners, policy makers and people with lived experience. Evidence sessions took place with Ministers and senior stakeholders; minutes from these sessions can be found here.
The Howard League Commission published its final report in April 2023. It has also published its submission to Government’s call for evidence as part of the review of the Gambling Act 2005, and related research projects, for example, on sentencers’ understanding and treatment of problem gamblers and prison culture and gambling.
The Commission found that there is “an urgent need for ownership to be taken to reduce gambling harms related to crime both at political and strategic level and at operational policy and professional stakeholder level” and that there is “appetite for reform” within the police, courts, prisons and probation, but found an “apparent absence of scrutiny” within Government.
The Howard League Commission found that:
- The impact of gambling-related harm and crime touches all aspects of life, for example, finances, employment, relationships, health.
- There are a high number of people committing a wide range of crimes as means to fund their gambling. These include white-collar/acquisitive crimes, as well as street robbery, domestic abuse and neglect, criminal damage and drugs offences.
- Victims of gambling-related crime include employers, as well as social/familial networks.
- There is scope to improve understanding of gambling-related harm among criminal justice agencies including in relation to sentencing, rehabilitation, recovery and support.
- Certain criminal justice responses, such as Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA) orders, are counterproductive.
- The impact of gambling-related harms and crime on affected others, women and individuals from ethnic minority communities is disproportionate and poorly understood.
- A strategic approach should be developed. The report calls on the Government, health bodies and criminal justice agencies to take a strategic approach to tackling the issue of gambling-related crime. It also recommends the creation of a national board to address crime linked to gambling – including senior representatives from the police, police and crime commissioners, prosecution, courts, probation, prisons, public health, victims’ advocates, and representation from those with lived experience of gambling-related harms related to crime.
- Further funding. More funding needs to be provided locally and regionally, to develop a treatment and support infrastructure through the police, courts and prisons, which would help to reduce crime and enable more people to access services. For example, Gambling Commission revenues could be channelled into funding criminal justice and health infrastructure around treatment and support.
- The role of criminal justice agencies should be enhanced. Examples include further development of the screening and assessment processes for problem gambling, integrating the voice of individuals with lived experience and improving sentencing guidelines in relation to gambling disorder. The Equal Treatment Benchbook should also be reviewed and gambling disorder considered alongside drug and alcohol use.
- Gambling-related crime should be integrated into cross-government action. This could include the development of a Parliamentary select committee inquiry and cross-departmental oversight body. The report also recommends an external review regarding regulator/operator steps to address criminal activity, gambling-related harms, and provision of support.
- Areas for further research should be explored. Examples of topics include the prevalence and drivers of the relationship between gambling and crime, the nature and efficacy of support/treatment (what constitutes effective support/interventions; upstream prevention; affected others; appropriate outcome measures) and the wider societal and system impact (the financial costs to society of gambling-related harms in the criminal justice system; impact on prosecution practices e.g. culpability, mitigation).
The report comes as the Government announces planned reforms in its long-awaited White Paper, High stakes: gambling reform for the digital age. Although the niche areas of development/focus arising from the final report of the Howard League Commission will be a helpful ancillary to the proposals in the Government’s White Paper, its timing is not fortuitous given that the attention of the UK Government and the Gambling Commission will be on implementing the numerous reforms set out in the ambitious White Paper. We therefore suspect that the most likely avenue for change will be via the criminal justice agencies. They may be best placed to use the evidence presented in the Howard League Commission’s report to promote positive change in relation to the identification of gambling-related harm during the sentencing process, and provide appropriate support to affected offenders during their prison sentences and subsequent rehabilitation into society.