Howard League leads calls for National Board to tackle gambling-related crimes

Penal reform organisation The Howard League has alerted stakeholders that the Commission on Crime and Gambling Related Harms (CCGRH) has published its final report, urging the government to undertake a new strategic approach to address crime linked to gambling in the UK.

Of significance, the Commission has called for a greater ‘centralised response’ from the Home Office and Ministry of Justice to handle the unique intricacies of crimes linked with gambling, which require increased funding for local and regional treatment and a better infrastructure to report on related crimes.  

In the report’s foreword, Commission Chair Lord Goldsmith KC, acknowledged research limitations on the subject matter, as in “25 years only 50 papers have been written on the issue”.

“Links between gambling-related harms and crime are less well understood,” Lord Goldsmith explained. 

“Anecdotal evidence is plentiful; hardly a week goes by, it seems, without a newspaper reporting a criminal court case in which gambling has been a factor.”

“But when the Commission on Crime and Gambling Related Harms began work in 2019, there were hardly any data for us to interrogate.”

To address this gap, the commission held evidence sessions with expert witnesses to help develop new research projects and gain a deeper understanding of the issue and its impacts on all victims.

As such, the study focused on the objectives of ‘What are the links between gambling-related harms and crime?’, ‘What impact do these links have on communities and society?’ and  ‘What should be done?’

In its assessment of prior studies, it found that limited research cites that links between gambling and crime exist, but that evidence is not compelling and indicative enough for the need for assertive action.

As such, the subject matter can be misunderstood by stakeholders as the relationship between gambling-related harms and crime is complex and spans a broad spectrum, with gambling-related harms influencing various forms of crime.

Furthermore, in determining the prevalence of gambling-related crime is difficult due to its concealed nature and the absence of systematic recording.

Current studies offer limited insight into the demographics involved in gambling-related crime. However, evidence suggests that individuals from ethnic minority communities may experience more severe levels of gambling-related harm.

The pathways leading participants into gambling and crime are diverse, with some starting in their teens and others later in life, influenced by diverse triggers and social-or-personal factors.

Due to the intricacies of dealing with gambling-related crimes, the Commission recommends the creation of a National Board, made up of senior representatives from the police, crime commissioners, prosecution, probation, prisons, public health, victims’ advocates, and individuals with lived experience of gambling-related harms related to crime.

Four key areas are recommended for stakeholders to prioritise: creating a strategic plan for addressing gambling-related crime, strengthening the role of criminal justice agencies, incorporating gambling-related crime into broader government initiatives, and commissioning additional research.

Needing to establish a strategic approach, the report proposes allocating resources from Gambling Commission (UKGC) revenues to be directed to the criminal justice and health commissioners.

Better funding will enable them to fund work at local and regional levels and facilitate the development of a treatment and support infrastructure through police, courts, and prisons, aiming to reduce gambling-related crime and guarantee those criminal justice agencies can create adequate support pathways.

Furthermore, the report advises enhancing the role of criminal justice agencies by identifying multiple points within the criminal justice process where screening and assessment procedures can be improved.

Across related institutions, the report supports the need for better guidance and training to increase awareness among practitioners. For instance, when gambling-related harms or potential gambling addiction are identified, mandatory completion of probation reports to inform sentencing should be obligatory.

Discrepancies in training highlighted the inappropriate confiscation of assets under the Proceeds of Crime Act, which can ruin the lives of innocent families, which was raised as a particular cause for concern in evidence sessions. 

To integrate gambling-related crime into broader government actions, a joint Parliamentary select committee inquiry has been proposed to examine cross-departmental governance, strategy, expectations, and results.

In the long run, a model similar to the Deaths in Custody Ministerial Group could enable ongoing cross-departmental supervision of progress in addressing gambling-related harms, including crime.

Lastly, the report recognises the need for more research in various areas, such as comprehending the prevalence and nature of the intricate relationship between gambling and crime, the impact of the growing number of gambling products on crime, and effective support and interventions across both criminal justice and public health systems.

The commission’s findings and suggestions offer significant insights for politicians, policymakers, and practitioners striving to prevent crime and tackle gambling-related harms.

Concluding its report, the Commission discovered that there is an “appetite for reform” within the police, courts, prisons and probation, but found an “apparent absence of scrutiny” within government, by inspectors of government services and, largely speaking, by Parliamentarians. 

Backing the report’s findings, The Howard League cited: “As the government prepares to reveal planned reforms to gambling legislation, this report serves as an essential call to action for a more comprehensive and strategic approach to addressing the issue.”