Gambling should be viewed the same as other addictions, such as drugs and alcohol, as it “devastates lives and families”, according to a Coventry University researcher.
And people whose lives are affected by the harms of gambling and come to the attention of the criminal justice system need to be given greater support.
Dr Geraldine Brown led a research project examining the experiences of ethnic minority communities, crime and gambling harms, which saw her and her colleagues speak with men in a Category B prison, as well as men and women in communities whose lives have been affected by gambling and those at organisations concerned with these issues.
She was commissioned to carry out the research by the Howard League for Penal Reform, which had set up the Commission on Crime and Gambling Related Harms in 2019. This study was one of six looking at gambling harms, with a full set of recommendations to be presented to the House of Lords later this month.
The main findings were that people from ethnic minorities could be led towards gambling due to issues such as growing up around gambling, moving to the UK and the role of acculturation, gambling as a means of hope about socio-economic disadvantage and escapism from their wider lives.
Participants also confessed to committing offences that might not always be associated with problems arising from gambling, such as domestic violence and stealing from loved ones.
Dr Brown said: “There were so many common themes, either how they gambled to fund an addiction or how addiction led them to be in the criminal justice system. There was also a wider range of crimes involved. You usually think of financial crimes (linked to gambling harms), but people link disordered gambling to acquisitive crimes, drug-related crimes, domestic violence and other types of street-based violence.”
“We need to understand the lived experiences of those with gambling harms as it makes their stories a little bit more complex.”
The findings also highlight a lack of support at every stage within the criminal justice system – from arrest and prosecution to sentencing.
Some people explained how prisons limited their ability to gamble but posed risks for others due to social gambling activities such as card games, dominoes and a lack of support once leaving the prison environment.
Dr Brown said: “A key recommendation is that there’s a lack of screening at any point in the criminal system. There needs to be thought on how you capture people’s addictions. Whether on arrest, in court or if they end up in prison, these are key junctures.”
“Also, on a public health model, we need to see gambling as equally severe as other addictions like drinking and drugs. Gambling devastates lives and families, and to understand that is important.”
Dr Brown worked alongside two other academics – Dr Nicola Harding from Lancaster University and Dr Julie Trebilcock from Brunel University London – as well as the Howard League, Betknowmore UK, and We Fight Fraud and says speaking with groups who may not always be heard is a vital part of their research.
Lord Peter Goldsmith KC, chair of the Commission on Crime and Gambling Related Harms, said: “The experiences of people from ethnic minority communities about gambling, gambling-related harms and crime have been overlooked for too long.”
“The findings from this study provide unique insight into how the inequalities and social, economic and cultural factors faced by people in ethnic minority communities critically impact their relationships with gambling and their experiences of gambling-related harms and crime.”
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