May 29, 2020

The ‘Hidden Addiction’ – Gambling-Related Harm and Criminal Justice

Eartha Heptinstall & Urtha Felda
CJ Officer; Women's Programme Officer

The Criminal Justice System (CJS) may not be the first place that comes to mind when thinking of gambling harms, but research has shown that there are a higher number of people affected by gambling harms within the CJS than in the general population.

Gambling has been called  the ‘hidden addiction’ - there is little awareness around this topic for people going through the system or amongst the professional working in it, and therefore gambling related harm is going unnoticed and untreated.

Gambling harms have not received the same level of awareness as other behavioural or substance issues/addictions across the CJS. The right questions need to be asked to uncover issues so we can work with individuals to overcome them – if a gambling problem is left unaddressed, rehabilitative work in other areas of the individual’s life is not likely to be successful.

There are some people in the CJS that are experiencing gambling related harm because they had turned to crime to fund their gambling, or to pay off debts. Some gambling may form part of a wider ‘criminal lifestyle’. For others, crime may have been a result of someone else’s gambling behaviour, for instance a partner. The relationship between gambling and crime is complicated and we continue to learn more and more about it.

GamCare is an independent charity, working to minimise gambling harms for gamblers and their loved ones since 1997.

We operate the National Gambling Helpline, providing information, advice and support for anyone affected by gambling harms. Advisers are available 24 hours a day on Freephone 0808 8020 133 or via web chat at We also offer a range of free treatment across England, Scotland and Wales, as well as a moderated forum and daily chatrooms so that people can speak to others experiencing similar issues and seek support.

GamCare and our network partners are actively working within the CJS to raise awareness and support those affected. This includes work in prison settings (e.g. Breakeven) and police custody suites (e.g. Beacon Counselling Trust). We have hosted workshops and training sessions, providing free resources to be used in community and custodial settings, as well as facilitating conversations to support development of screening points and referral pathways to refer those needing support for their gambling problem to the appropriate help and/or treatment. More recently, we have provided an In-Cell Activity Pack for prisoners in response to COVID-19, aiming to build awareness of gambling and gambling related harms.

As gambling harms gain momentum in mainstream conversation, and we begin to better recognise the ways we can better raise awareness and reduce harms for specific groups, GamCare will contribute to the conversation on Wednesday 17th June 2020 with a one-hour virtual session as part of InsightsOnline.

The session will begin with an introduction to gambling behaviour in the UK, looking at where and when people gamble, which activities are generally most popular and why.

We will look at what differentiates gambling as a form of entertainment and gambling behaviours which may lead to negative consequences, as well as exploring some of these potential impacts. We’ll briefly look at the way women specifically experience gambling related harm, how GamCare are reaching young people at risk of developing a gambling problem, and the current conversation around gambling related financial harm.

We’ll look at the ways gambling and crime are related, which will lead on to a conversation around how gambling operates in prison. We’ll then look at the free support and treatment options that are available to people who are in contact with the CJS who have been affected by gambling related harm.

We hope you can join us.


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