Gambling and crime
Updated: Dec 11, 2021
Although the Gambling Act 2005 clearly states gambling should be prevented as a source of crime or disorder, it has been linked to opportunity, duress, violence, and negligence crimes. Moreover, international and national studies have shown a disproportionate number of individuals suffering from gambling addiction in the prison population. Furthermore, gambling-related harm is omitted from screening as first-stage health assessment in correctional services dictated by NICE guidelines includes substance abuse but omits gambling. The industry has drastically downplayed the magnitude of crimes linked to gambling via blame deflection on the black market.
The Gambling Act 2005 sets out three licensing objectives 42
preventing gambling from being a source of crime or disorder, being associated with crime or disorder or being used to support crime
ensuring that gambling is conducted in a fair and open way
protecting children and other vulnerable persons from being harmed or exploited by gambling.
Gambling has been linked to crimes of:
opportunity such as theft,
duress such as drug trafficking to pay debt, &
negligence such as leaving children unsupervised
As well as crimes to facilitate gambling, gambling can conversely be used to facilitate crime by offering a means for money laundering. Moreover, crimes of abuse, intimidation, and violence can be related to gambling and may be induced by the psychologically taxing effects of harms on individuals that gamble. Familicide, which is at the extreme end of family violence harms, has seldom been measured or reported in research. Moreover, as well as potentially being victims of gambling-related crime, affected others have also been reported to commit crimes such as petty theft and illegal drug use.
Studies worldwide have identified that prison populations contain disproportionate numbers of individuals who have suffered gambling harm. Furthermore, a significant percentage of the crime committed by individuals suffering from gambling disorder is directly gambling-related.
NICE guidelines on "Mental health of adults in contact with the criminal justice" at first-stage health assessment include alcohol and substance misuse but omits gambling.
The industry downplays the significance of gambling-related crime in Great Britain, primarily by suggesting that Great Britain's situation is somehow better than in other countries and by deflecting blame for crime to black market operators.
What is known?
Public perception of gambling related crime
Agree that gambling in this country is associated with criminal activity 25
Prevalence of gambling related crime
Prevalence of gambling-related crime in individuals that gamble
A review found that approximately 50% of the crime committed by individuals with gambling disorder was gambling-related; this is in line with studies (presented in the same review) that reflect between 4%-9% of all crime is gambling-related crime committed by individuals with gambling disorder. 156
A study in Hong Kong reported the prevalence of suicidal ideation and familicidal-suicidal ideation among individuals presenting to gambling disorder treatments services of 20.0% and 0.6%, respectively 157
In 2010, 1 in 500 or 0.2% of adults in Great Britain reported committing crimes to finance their own gambling in the past year such as forgery, fraud, theft, and embezzlement 19 (1 in 1000 or 0.1% of adults in 2007) 21
Prevalence of gambling-related crime in affected others 3
18% reported not fully attending to needs of children
7% reported engaging in petty theft or dishonesty as a consequence of their family member's gambling
5% reported leaving children unsupervised
4% reported taking money or items from friends or family without asking first
3% reported feeling compelled or forced to commit crime or steal to fund family member’s gambling or pay debts
Prevalence of gambling-harm among prison populations
Multi-centre studies of gambling harm in Great Britain's prisons have reported significantly elevated rates of prevalence compared to the general population
In a 2017 study, 34.3% of those surveyed in English and Scottish prisons suffered gambling harm due to their gambling in the past year 158
11.2% suffered low-risk gambling harm
11.0% suffered moderate-risk gambling harm
12.1% suffered gambling disorder harm
A study in two English prisons (one male and one female) reported that 13.4% of males and 7.2% of females admitted to committing a crime to finance gambling or pay off debts 159
Cost of gambling related crime
Estimated cost of crime
According to the IPPR, between £40m (0.9% of the overall spend on prisons) and £190m (4.3%) are spent on gambling disorder related incarcerations in Great Britain 160
Czech Republic (population: 10.7m) 81
Total: £61.1m - £69.6m
Police (4.7 – 6.5% of all major cases, and 0.6 – 0.8% of all minor cases were related to gambling): £22.3m to £30.8m
Prisons (15.8% of prisoners were in jail because of crimes related to gambling): £37.0m
Sweden (population: 10.2m) 80
Geography of gambling related crime
Location of betting shops and deprivation by crime decile
Betting shops in Great Britain are overwhelmingly in areas of deprivation by crime 161
29% of betting shops are in the top 10% most deprived postcodes by crime
16%, 2nd decile
13%, 3rd decile
11%, 4th decile
10%, 5th decile
8%, 6th decile
6%, 7th decile
4%, 8th decile
2%, 9th decile
1% of betting shops are in the bottom 10% of most deprived postcodes by crime (least deprived postcodes)
What the industry said?
The Betting and Gaming Council 16
“By international standards, Great Britain has a well-regulated and well-functioning gambling market with high levels of consumer choice and low levels of crime and problem gambling.”
Firstly, the BGC argues in relation to international standards to deflect responsibility, despite there being no reliable evidence to support this claim. Great Britain has low levels of gambling-related crime, demonstrating the industry’s refusal to accept evidence and scientific consensus.
“On the basis of data available, licensed gambling in Great Britain is almost entirely free from criminal involvement from an operational or ownership perspective.”
The following statement offers a favourable view that, crucially, focuses on criminal involvement on owners and operators. In doing so, the BGC omits consideration of crime committed to fund gambling or gambling used to facilitate crime such as money laundering.
“…the percentage of respondents who bet more than they could afford has fallen. The same is true of those borrowing money, selling items or committing a crime in order to gamble.”
The last statement contrasts with the last series of gold-standard gambling prevalence studies, which reflect an increase in gambling-harm and gambling-related crime.
Denise Coates, Joint-CEO of Bet365 162
“[Bet365] recognises its responsibility to minimise gambling-related harm and to keep crime out of gambling. The group is committed to developing an evidence-based approach to responsible gambling. To this end, the group continues to work with research partners on a number of projects to improve its methods of identifying harmful play and deliver more effective harm-minimisation interventions.”
Coates, CEO of Bet365, acknowledges gambling-related harm and the risks of crime associated with gambling. While donating millions to the Denise Coates Foundation, which now has a burgeoning balance sheet of over £300m funds and yet no donations had been made to either gambling or addiction charities. 163
Ulrik Bengtsson, CEO of William Hill 164
"[The black market] is a problem we must keep pace with and confront. Not doing so, risks an increase in crime and problem gambling."
Bengtsson conflates crime with the black-market industry despite evidence reflecting significant issues with gambling-related crime in Great Britain despite the unregulated market making up approximately 1.2% of total stakes.
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21. Wardle H, Sproston K, Orford J, Erens B, Griffiths M, Constantine R, et al. British Gambling Prevalence Survey 2007. NatCen. 2007
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42. European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights. Age of majority. Available from: https://fra.europa.eu/en/publication/2017/mapping-minimum-age-requirements/age-majority [Accessed: 22nd March 2021]
80. Hofmarcher T, Romild U, Spångberg J, Persson U, Håkansson A. The societal costs of problem gambling in Sweden. BMC Public Health. 2020;20(1): 1921. Available from: doi:10.1186/s12889-020-10008-9
81. Winkler P, Bejdová M, Csémy L, Weissová A. Social Costs of Gambling in the Czech Republic 2012. Journal of Gambling Studies. 2017;33(4): 1293–1310. Available from: doi:10.1007/s10899-016-9660-4
156. Williams RJ, Royston J, Hagen BF. Gambling and Problem Gambling Within Forensic Population: A Review of the Literature. Criminal Justice and Behaviour. 2005;32(6). Available from:doi: 10.1177/0093854805279947
157. Wong PWC, Blaszczynski A, Tse S, Kwok N, Tang J. Suicidal Ideation and Familicidal-Suicidal Ideation Among Individuals Presenting to Problem Gambling Services: A Retrospective Data Analysis. Crisis. 2014;35:219-232. Available from: doi:10.1027/0227-5910/a000256
158. May-Chahal C, Humphreys L, Clifton A, Francis B, Reith G. Gambling Harm and Crime Careers. Journal of Gambling Studies. 2017;33(1): 65–84. Available from: doi:10.1007/s10899-016-9612-z
159. May-Chahal C, Wilson A, Humphreys L, Anderson J. Promoting an Evidence-Informed Approach to Addressing Problem Gambling in UK Prison Populations. The Howard Journal of Criminal Justice. 2012;51(4): 372–386. Available from: doi:10.1111/j.1468-2311.2012.00723.x
160. Thorley C, Stirling A, Huyuh E. Cards on the table: The cost to government associated with people who are problem gamblers in Britain. IPPR. 2016.
161. TalkGEN. Gambling-harm and crime. Available from: https://www.talkgen.org/post/gambling-harm-and-crime [Accessed: 31st March 2021]
162. Neate R. Bet365 chief Denise Coates paid herself £217m last year. The Guardian. 12 November 2017. Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2017/nov/12/bet365-chief-denise-coates-paid-217m-last-year [Accessed: 29th March 2021]
163. Denise Coates Foundation. REPORT AND FINANCIAL STATEMENTS. Denise Coates Foundation; 2019.Available from: https://register-of-charities.charitycommission.gov.uk/charity-search?p_p_id=uk_gov_ccew_onereg_charitydetails_web_portlet_CharityDetailsPortlet&p_p_lifecycle=2&p_p_state=maximized&p_p_mode=view&p_p_resource_id=%2Faccounts-resource&p_p_cacheability=cacheLevelPage&_uk_gov_ccew_onereg_charitydetails_web_portlet_CharityDetailsPortlet_objectiveId=A9993065&_uk_gov_ccew_onereg_charitydetails_web_portlet_CharityDetailsPortlet_priv_r_p_mvcRenderCommandName=%2Faccounts-and-annual-returns&_uk_gov_ccew_onereg_charitydetails_web_portlet_CharityDetailsPortlet_priv_r_p_organisationNumber=5031042 [Accessed: 30th March 2021]
164. @UlrikBengtsson. ‘p2. ....this is a problem we must keep pace with and confront. Not doing so, risks an increase in crime and problem gambling. https://t.co/4RXR5iRki8’. [cited 4 February 2021] Available from: https://twitter.com/UlrikBengtsson/status/1357277446450642944 [Accessed: 30th March 2021]