Criminology experts Sarah Page and Dr Jo Turner and prison and policing expert Sarah Plimley from the Centre of Crime, Justice and Security at Staffordshire University contributed to the UK’s first-ever inquiry into crime linked to gambling, led by the Commission on Crime and Gambling Related Harms.
Chaired by Lord Peter Goldsmith KC, the final report was shared yesterday as the Commission drew its work to a close at an event in the House of Lords, calling on the government, health bodies and criminal justice agencies to take a strategic approach to tackling the issue.
It comes as the government released its long awaited white paper aiming to tackle problem gambling through a range of reforms to Britain’s gambling laws. Evidence collected by the Howard League for Penal Reform for the Commission, which includes the work of Staffordshire University, contributed to the white paper.
Sarah Page explained: “Gambling can have devastating effects on people’s live, leading to debt, domestic abuse and child neglect. We found that gamblers often turn to financial crime to maintain their addiction, including theft from workplaces of up to hundreds of thousands of pounds.
“However, when talking to magistrates across England and Wales, we found that those in court with gambling addiction typically had previous good character before the addiction spiralled out of control. Usually, when gambling stopped, crime stopped too.”
Dr Jo Turner, who is also a justice of the peace, added: “Our research shows that there needs to be better understanding of those affected by problem gambling within the criminal justice system and better sign posting to treatment services. We also want to see improvements to sentencing guidelines to ensure that the courts deal with problem gambling more appropriately.”
Other recommendations from the research included greater restrictions on advertising and online gambling, plus provision to safeguard children and people at risk of gambling related harms.
The white paper includes proposal to include curbs on digital marketing, a 1% levy on industry revenues to help fund treatment, government-run safer gambling campaigns, affordability checks, and online slot machine stakes limited to between £2 and £15.
The researchers are encouraged that the white paper includes more consideration to gambling advertising but hope that more will be done to better safeguard people from gambling harms.
Jo said: “The government’s announcement is a step in the right direction and we are pleased to see some of our recommendations reflected in the proposed reforms. Going forward, however, there needs to be more focus on rehabilitating rather than punishing those who become involved in crime as a direct result of gambling.”
In partnership with GameCare and HMPPS, Staffordshire University is continuing its research to understand the scale of gambling related harms across the whole criminal justice system in the UK.
Next month, Sarah Page will travel to Las Vegas to present their research findings at the international Gambling & Risk Taking Conference and is also meeting with justice officials from the Welsh government to discuss potential reforms to sentencing guidance across Wales.
Sarah added: “One of the things that was clear from our research is that we do not know the scale of gambling related harm within the criminal justice system. What we’re doing now is working with prisons and probation services to understand what issues people are experiencing, what treatment they are being offered and what support they would like.
“We hope that providing the bigger picture across the UK will influence practical solutions to help those most impacted by problem gambling.”