Howard League inquiry calls for CJS to overhaul its approach to 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’.

The headline remark was made by the League’s ‘Commission on Crime and Problem Gambling’ – a research unit led by Lord Goldsmith QC, that has examined links between problem gambling and crimes committed during the past two-years. 

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

Taking on a first of its kind inquiry, the Commission secured direct feedback from criminal justice stakeholders, public health, gambling firms and the lived experience of victims of crime and problem gambling addiction.

Of note, 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.  

As the UK’s system of law enforcement, the CJS and its officers have suffered from a lack of ‘examples of good practice’ in how frontline police officers should respond and engage to crimes committed as a result of problem gambling.

Helping improve the CJS, the inquiry recommends that the Ministry of Justice include the training of problem gambling insights amongst legal practitioners. Furthermore, the Ministry has been advised to improve the assessment of problem gambling individuals currently serving sentences in the CJS.

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

Further recommendations, saw the inquiry call for the 2002 Proceeds of Crime Act to be amended with regards to  ‘confiscation orders’ related to gambling crimes. 

Citing lived experience, the inquiry stated perpetrators of problem gambling crimes rarely benefitted materially as assets would be placed into bets – “gambling disorder is instrumental in the offence, the gambler typically turns to crime to maintain their addiction once all other assets have been exhausted”.

A review of confiscation orders is required, as the penalty disproportionately places burdens on family members and actively hampers the rehabilitation of an individual attempting to rebuild their life.

Instead, the inquiry advised 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.  

A final recommendation urged the Sentencing Council to support the CJS by overhauling its sentencing guidelines, to ensure that courts can deal with problem gambling harms and consequent crimes appropriately.

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.

“Pockets of good practice do exist, particularly where the police first make contact with people who may have committed offences linked to problem gambling, but far more work needs to be done across the system to tackle this issue and reduce crime.”


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