Howard League Inquiry demands Criminal Justice System overhaul to change problem gambling crimes

The Howard League has called for an overhaul in how the UK’s Criminal Justice System (CJS) addresses ‘crimes linked to problem gambling’.
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The Howard League has called for an overhaul in how the UK’s Criminal Justice System (CJS) addresses ‘crimes linked to problem gambling’.

The outcry was made by the League’s ‘Commission on Crime and Problem Gambling’, a research unit led by Lord Goldsmith QC.

Publishing its ‘State of Play’ briefing, the group underlined that the UK’s CJS was hindered by a ‘lack of knowledge’ on how problem gambling harms can lead to crime.

The Commission used feedback from criminal justice stakeholders, public health, gambling firms and the lived experience of victims of crime and problem gambling addiction in the inquiry process.

Despite problem gambling being a recognised mental health disorder, the Commission states that the CJS has inadequately dealt with responding to related offences in an appropriate way.

Poor measures have led to the CJS ‘up-tariffing’ problem gambling offences, replacing fines and treatment orders on individuals with more punitive outcomes.  

Of the recommendations made, the inquiry hints that the Ministry of Justice includes the training of problem gambling insights amongst legal practitioners. Furthermore, the Ministry has been advised to improve the assessment of high-risk bettors currently in custody. 

The Ministry of Justice and CJS were advised to improve their engagement with ‘specialised local services’ that maintain direct engagement with problem gambling victims.

The inquiry stated those who commit problem gambling crimes rarely benefitted materially as assets would be placed into bets because “gambling disorder is instrumental in the offence, the gambler typically turns to crime to maintain their addiction once all other assets have been exhausted.”

The inquiry suggested that compensation of gambling crimes be recouped by the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) when it undertakes investigations of licensed operators’ social responsibility, customer care and money laundering failures.  

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.

“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.