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Gambling and crime within minoritised communities
Howard League Gambling Commission research on the lived experiences of crime and gambling for people within ethnic minority communities.

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Lived experiences

The latest (14 April 2023) research from the Howard League’s Commission on Crime and Gambling Related Harms aims to understand the nature and experiences of gambling, gambling-related harms and crime within ethnic minority communities. The research, authored by Geraldine Brown, Julie Trebilcock and Nicola Harding, was co-produced with peer researchers.

Co-production

Peer researchers were central to the study’s  methodology with evidence gathered using interviews (n=18) and focus groups (n=8). The researchers highlight the importance of recognising that ethnic minority communities are diverse and that there is no single ethnic minority experience. They are clear that experiences of gambling (and crime) connect to, and must be contextualised in relation to, wider social, economic and cultural factors.

Key findings

The data sets out both shared and different experiences, and the potential for the label of ‘ethnic minority’ to render differences within and between groups invisible. The data also highlights the importance of understanding how systemic inequalities shape the lived experiences of ethnic minority communities. These factors are significant because they may create additional ‘risks’ and experiences of harm to ethnic minority communities’ pathways into, and experiences of, disordered gambling and crime.

Pathways into gambling

Study participants reported a number of pathways into gambling. Some described growing up around gambling, reporting gambling from an early age with family and friends, activity which was characterised as a ‘normal’ in their family or peer group, whereas for others gambling was forbidden within their culture. 

Those who had migrated to the UK highlighted how gambling could be involved with processes of acculturation. Gambling in some countries was limited by cultural/religious considerations, for example being regarded as ‘Haram’ or seen as a lower-class
or criminal activity. 

This is illustrated by one participant “Anil” who described participating in gambling as a means to integrate. He recalled a conversation with his father where he tried to convince him that gambling was ‘good and normal’ in the UK:

“I convinced him gambling is good and normal in this country, because I took him to  Cheltenham, Ascot racecourse, casinos and it’s like, look, normal people are coming. It’s not like gangsters do this like you see in Bollywood movies, you know, dog dens… It’s like gambling is so normalised in this country.”

Some participants talked of how gambling could offer a means of hope (in relation to addressing socio-economic disadvantage), as a (flawed) way to secure independence and a better standard of living for themselves and their family.

Others described gambling as a way of escaping from the everyday stresses of racism. 

The research showed that people from ethnic minority communities experience a wide range of gambling-related harms, including cultural harms. Gambling-related harms can be compounded by a culture of secrecy and silence within some families who may seek to protect the gambler (and wider family) from the shame and stigma associated with gambling. 

The research highlights how the role of familial support can be double edged. Families can be protective and well-intentioned, but also have the potential to enable further gambling and may serve to delay access to professional support.

Gambling and crime

Participants disclosed having committed a range of offences relating to gambling, including financial crimes and those relating to public disorder and illegal drugs. While ten of the participants in the research had come to the attention of the criminal justice system, participants also described hidden harms, including: unreported crimes (e.g. theft from family members); domestic abuse; the relationship with associated addictions; and legal issues relating to immigration.

At all stages of the criminal justice system (arrest, prosecution, sentencing and under sentence) participants reported that their gambling was not adequately considered and there was no meaningful provision of support.

Conclusions

The research team highlight many challenges for gambling policy and practice in relation to minoritised communities. The lack of robust data is a key issue with little knowledge about the prevalence and popular forms of gambling within different communities. 

The research suggests several areas that need to be developed in order to reduce crime and gambling-related harms. Particularly highlighted are the areas of preventative strategies and better education about gambling-related harm, and the need for better diversity and representation of different ethnic and faith communities. These are needed at all levels of gambling oversight, regulation, and treatment, alongside a public health approach to gambling.

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