Whether it’s buying a lottery ticket or betting on a big match, many of us have gambled at some point in our lives. In fact, UK citizens lost £5.3 billion gambling online in 2019 alone.
For a lot of people, the loss is about more than just money. Gambling can damage people's self-esteem, health, relationships and those around them. It’s also linked to crime, including fraud, robbery and domestic abuse.
As the global gambling industry continues to grow, I believe more needs to be done to uncover the wider impact of its harms. Only then can we better protect individuals, their family members and communities.
That’s why me and my team undertook some of the first research in this area. Our work has informed policy and practice around the world and, for the first time, given voice to the thousands of UK families affected by problem gambling.
From Ancient Roman dice games to 1960s bingo halls, gambling has been around in one form or another throughout history.
But in recent years, the industry has changed at a rapid pace. Across the globe, an easing of rules, restrictions and attitudes around gambling has led to a huge increase in the range and intensity of products available.
This growth has also been fuelled by the development of online gambling. We can now access hundreds of betting sites at the touch of a button, from the comfort of our own homes.
In short, gambling has become more popular, more powerful and more normalised. This means it’s more important than ever to examine industry practices and the harms they can cause.
The true extent of gambling-related crime
Our research can be split into two key areas.
First, we explored the connections between gambling and crime. This involved an 18 month study of online gamblers, analyses of gambling advertising and interviews with gambling regulators. We also looked at player protection records.
Through this work, we identified the multitude of different crimes both gamblers and gambling providers experience. These ranged from offences to fund gambling, such as theft and robbery, to more complex, large-scale activity like match-fixing and cyber extortion. There was also a link to violent crimes, including assault and domestic abuse.
This was the first evidence-based study to reveal the nature and extent of online gambling-related crime. It also highlighted how it can be tackled through technological, legal and social responses.
So, what was the impact of these findings?
Changing policy and practice
We used the data to create a taxonomy of gambling-related crime. It categorises the variety of offences linked to gambling, making them easier to understand, investigate and prevent.
In the UK this has been used to increase understanding of gambling-related crime and inform policy. It’s also helping regulators across the world to share information and take a joined up approach to international crime problems such as money laundering and fraud.
What’s more, our research in this area helped demonstrate that current UK gambling laws aren’t fit for a digital age. As a result, the government is now reviewing the Gambling Act 2005 to provide better protection for online gamblers and make the industry safer for all.
Further afield, our work informed the Australian government’s decision to block illegal gambling websites, as well as the regulation of over 200 gaming companies in Malta. It was also used to raise awareness of the costs of illegal betting in Australia, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Singapore, South Africa and South Korea.