The Relationship Between Gambling and Crime
By Yavin Kumar @ Sydney Criminal Defence Lawyers
Gambling is a popular form of entertainment among Australians, and with over 80% of Australian adults engaging in some form of gambling every year, our country now has the highest rate of gambling in the world. Gambling in Australia is also a significant public health issue, where figures report that around 80,000 to 160,000 of Australian adults experience significant problems from gambling, with a further 250,000 to 350,000 more adults experiencing moderate risks that may make them vulnerable to problem gambling.
Australians love a good punt, whether it be on the pokies at the pub, or a bet on the fastest horse during the Melbourne Cup, however research confirms that citizens in our country wager more, and lose more, than other people in any other country in the world. Unfortunately, gambling is an addictive pastime that can bear negative consequences if taken too far, and can lead to people losing much more money than they can afford, and sometimes do not have in the first place. Some cases involving addiction to gambling could also see punters have an unpleasant encounter with the criminal justice system.
Alarmingly, roughly around 1 in 4 problem gamblers commit gambling-related offences, the most common offence being fraud. As the Australian Institute of Criminology suggests, more than a quarter of a billion dollars has been believed to have been lost to gambling-related fraud through crimes involving defrauding the government, falsifying accounts and committing forgery, stealing, and providing false information. Most of this money has never been recovered.
In a 2002 research paper published by Liquor & Gaming New South Wales, it was outlined that initially, problem gamblers draw on their savings and then make cash advances on their credit cards, borrow funds from friends and family, or even take out loans from banks and other financial lenders in order to obtain money to fund their gambling addiction and all related debts. Some problem gamblers may resort to borrowing from loan sharks, or even resort to selling personal or family-owned property (in some cases, this can include their residential home), and in the most extreme situations, resort to illegal activities to obtain some money to fuel their dangerous punting habits.
In all the cases analysed in the Local and District Courts of New South Wales, the research paper found that the relationship between gambling and committing an offence was immediate and short term. Examples of matters that highlight this include:
- Subject 19 committed an armed robbery on an employee at the TAB so that he would be able to place a bet on a trifecta;
- Subject 54 stole his partner’s bank card and spent the money he withdrew at the local RSL club;
- Subject 11 played on the poker machines and lost $110. He and a friend then decided to commit a robbery to get more money so that they could continue playing.
There are also reported cases which show the direct relationship between gambling and crime being existent over extended periods of time. As an example, subject 17 in the research paper, who was employed as a bank clerk, stole $96,000 from customer bank accounts and credited the stolen funds to his own account. All proceeds of the crime were spent on poker machines during the bank clerk’s lunch breaks.
In instances where an offence has been committed which involves the offender being under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol, the Courts offer a range of programs and resources that allow offenders the opportunity for rehabilitation, which may include participating in the MERIT program, or having the relevant matter heard before the Drug Court. Both of these diversionary methods of sentencing have been shown to have reduced recidivism rates for these types of offences, as offenders are given all the support they need to reform their lives for the better.
However, despite our heavy culture regarding gambling and a clear correlation with matters involving fraud in its various forms, there do not appear to be many legal mechanisms available to the Courts to assist those who commit crime to fuel gambling addictions in the same way. In this regard, it may be time for the Government and Judiciary to consider implementing court-mandated programs, much like the Drug Court Program and MERIT, to deal with crime-related problem gambling in an attempt to offer rehabilitation to offenders, and hopefully reduce the rate of gambling-related fraud in Australia.
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