TACKLING ADDICTION: Future gambling policy discussion
Durham Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) Joy Allen
A council committee is to discuss future gambling policy – but may not adopt the area’s Police and Crime Commissioner’s suggestions for tackling addiction.
Durham PCC Joy Allen has called for more action to recognise problem gambling and stop people turning to crime to fund it.
She was consulted as Durham County Council reviewed its statement of principles or gambling policy for the next three years.
This covers casinos, bingo halls, betting offices, gaming centres and machines in pubs and clubs, under the Gambling Act 2005.
The Act seeks to prevent related crime or disorder, make sure gambling is fair and open and protect children and vulnerable people from harm or exploitation.
Ms Allen suggested the council consider ordering licensing conditions to protect vulnerable people.
These include prominent posters and leaflets offering help to problem gamblers on gambling premises, staff training on vulnerable people, “self-exclusion” schemes and advertising “designed not to entice passers-by”.
In response, the council referred to Gambling Commission guidance that licensing decisions should be made on a case by case basis.
So “a generic, blanket approach to conditions cannot be applied”, the council’s report comments.
“To do so would fetter the discretion of the committee and be open to challenge.”
The report says the PCC’s comments are largely noted and accepted, and the service worked closely with the police and the Gambling Commission on enforcement.
It adds public health matters highlighted by the PCC “do not fall within the remit of the policy”, but the council might still work with her on these to reduce gambling-related harm.
The council proposes to use GambleAware’s interactive maps showing problem gambling severity and data on treatment in each area.
The new gambling policy is expected to come into force at the end of January next year.
The council welcomed Ms Allen’s wish to work with it more, taking a “public health approach” to gambling.
She spoke out on the issue after a Public Health England (PHE) report showed gambling-related crime was worth £162 million a year, and harm like bankruptcy and job issues, family and health problems – cost at least £1.27bn in 2019-20 in England alone.
Ms Allen, the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners’ joint lead for its addictions and substance misuse portfolio, said she wanted to work with local partners and other PCCs to tackle problem gambling as a driver of crime.
She said: “Adult gambling is not a crime, and many people are able to enjoy gambling safely.
“But just like alcohol it can be highly addictive and dangerous.
“People may resort to burglary or theft to feed their addiction.
“Money worries can lead to domestic violence and abuse.
“If debt spirals, loan sharks and other manipulative people can blackmail or coerce vulnerable addicts into other criminal activity.
“Further harms associated with gambling include mental health conditions, homelessness, and unemployment.
“There was a recent case in County Durham where a young man has been jailed for dealing drugs to fund his gambling debts.
“We need to address gambling addiction where it is a driver of these crimes and prevent further harm to individuals and families.
“We need better awareness of gambling harms, effective screening that can identify offenders with gambling problems in custody suites, training for custody officers and others and an effective response centred around evidence-based solutions.
“I am pleased that the NHS and Public Health England are recognising this issue and I am keen to work with local partners and other PCCs to look at how we can also tackle problem gambling.
“We also need to ensure gambling companies are playing their part in dealing with the consequences of problem gambling, for example by returning money to victims of theft.
“I want to encourage those presenting with gambling addictions to use the support services available to prevent further harm and crime.”
An approach focusing on prevention, early intervention and treatment was suggested.
The PHE report showed people at risk of harm from gambling were concentrated in areas of higher deprivation.
Support for gambling addiction is available from the NHS Northern Gambling Service on 0300 300 1490 or via email at email@example.com.
Words: Gareth Lightfoot, Local Democracy Reporter
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