October is National Crime Prevention Month, a month-long event created in 1984 to spread the word about crime prevention and personal safety. At the Florida Council on Compulsive Gambling (FCCG), we believe that prevention is key in the identification of both the link between compulsive gambling and crime and potential solutions.
In pursuit of this goal, the FCCG advocates the need for a gambling court in Florida, to serve non-violent or first-time offenders who commit crimes due to a gambling problem, similarly to how drug courts facilitate rehabilitation in lieu of or in conjunction with incarceration for qualified offenders. Until the judicial system takes steps to identify whether a crime committed is the result of someone’s gambling problem, afflicted individuals will continue to go undetected and will not receive the necessary supports to address their underlying problem. For example, there are times when a person is using or selling drugs, yet their drug use may be due to a gambling problem and attempts to self-medicate or escape. Conversely, a person who is selling drugs may be doing so to obtain more money to gamble, at any means necessary. If the primary/underlying issue of a gambling problem is not identified, and in absence of an established gambling court system in Florida, this person will not receive the rehabilitation necessary to address their gambling addiction and is at a much higher risk of re-offending upon release if incarcerated for the crime committed.
The Connection Between Problem Gambling and Crime
Overall, problem gamblers are substantially more likely that non-problem gamblers to gamble on illegal activities, as well as to exhaust personal finances and options. They’re also more vulnerable to resorting to illegal activities to pay off gambling debts or to obtain money for placing more bets. One out of every 10 patients in treatment for compulsive gambling has been in jail. 
Problem and disordered gambling is fueled by cash, and the access to cash contributes to the pace and depth of an individual’s gambling addiction. The progression of problem gambling pressures the individuals to look for new sources of cash often leading to criminal activities including embezzlement, fraud, and theft. Further, problem gambling is associated with an increased risk for mental health problems, including depression, anxiety, suicide attempts, and substance abuse. Up to 50% of compulsive gamblers in support groups report problems with drugs and alcohol. 
Keep in mind that while many compulsive gamblers will ultimately commit a crime resulting from their gambling addiction, attorneys, police officers, court systems, correctional facilities, and other human services organizations do not currently screen for a gambling disorder and therefore do not ultimately address the root of the problem. The legal and criminal justice systems are generally not equipped to screen for gambling addiction and do not provide treatment support services for persons incarcerated due to crimes resulting from a gambling disorder. Additionally, while counselors within correctional facilities are typically familiar with conducting assessments and establishing treatment for alcoholics, drug addicts, and violent offenders, very few have experience in the pathology, assessment, and treatment of problem gamblers.
Ultimately, research has revealed that across age groups, problem gamblers are more likely to consume alcohol, to use drugs, to experience mental health issues, and to engage in illegal acts than non-problem or lower risk gamblers.
Problem gamblers are typically faced with many legal consequences and challenges, mental health challenges, and relationship problems because of their gambling addiction. This year, the 888-ADMIT-IT HelpLine data revealed that 21% of contacts reported experiencing legal problems, including both civil and criminal actions as a result of their gambling addiction. Given considerable debt, it is not surprising to find that 34% of this year’s contacts reported that they filed bankruptcy at least once or have a bankruptcy case currently pending due to their gambling problem (a decrease from 50% in 2020/2021 which saw high levels of bankruptcy during the pandemic). It’s also important to note that gamblers’ divorce rate in the 2021/2022 fiscal year was 32% compared to 18% in 2020/2021. This likely attests to the financial and relationship difficulties faced by families where a family member has a gambling problem. There are clear long-term social and economic consequences for both the gambler and their family.
Hope and Help Are Here
In honor of National Crime Prevention Month, it’s time to take action and start helping the people and families behind these statistics. Without practical identification and intervention approaches, gambling activities and problems will usually continue while incarcerated and illegal acts will again be committed upon release. The FCCG has recognized this issue and responded with the 888-ADMIT-IT HelpLine, providing expert assistance and resources for those facing legal action in a problem gambling-related case. With our 24/7, multilingual and confidential HelpLine, people who are struggling can get the help they need to address outstanding legal issues and start the road to recovery.
Some resources available through the 888-ADMIT-IT HelpLine include:
- FCCG’s Online Program for Problem Gamblers (OPPG)
- FCCG’s Peer Connect Program
- Self-Help Support Group Information and Referrals
- Self-Exclusion Program Options
- Financial Resources & Assistance Programs
- Legal Resources & Assistance Programs
If you or someone you know are experiencing difficulties due to problem gambling, start the journey of recovery today by contacting the confidential, multilingual, free, 24/7 Problem Gambling HelpLine at 888-ADMIT-IT (888-236-4848), texting (321-978-0555), emailing (firstname.lastname@example.org), chatting (gamblinghelp.org), or visiting us on social media.
- Custer, Robert L., and Harry Milt. When Luck Runs out: Help for Compulsive Gamblers and Their Families. Warner Books, 1986.
- Furr, Robert C. Gambling on Credit: Exploring the Link Between Compulsive Gambling and Access to Credit . Florida Council on Compulsive Gambling, Inc., May, 2006, https://gamblinghelp.org/assets/research_pdfs/Gambling_and_Problem_Gambling_Prevalence_Among_Adults_in_Florida_August_10_2011.pdf.