Gambling and crime: An exploration of gambling availability and culture in an English prison

Stephen Sharman, Smith Lauren*, University Lincoln

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


There is evidence that prisoners have the highest rate of problem gambling in any population, but little is known about the nature of in-prison gambling, the motives for it or how it relates to prior gambling behaviour.

To investigate the prevalence and type of gambling prior to prison and the prevalence, type, and reasons for gambling in prison.

Two hundred and eighty-two male volunteers in a Category B male prison in England completed a questionnaire which included the Problem Gambling Severity Index (PGSI).

One hundred and twenty-six (45%) reported gambling in prison, with eighty-one (30%) of participants reporting that gambling was a normal part of prison life. Pre-prison behaviour, whether type of index offence or prior gambling, had little relationship to in-prison gambling. Frequency of gambling in prison increased with increasing PGSI risk category. The most common types of gambling in prison were card/dice games, sports and ball games, while the most common motives were entertainment, excitement or sense of challenge and to win prizes, with significant differences in motive between PGSI risk categories. Prison canteen items formed the most common currency gambled. People within the higher PGSI risk category were more likely to have borrowed items from other prisoners.

Our research has added to existing literature by identifying high rates of gambling in prison and showing that prisoners' perceptions of gambling are as a normal part of prison life. Findings suggest that screening and support should be available to manage gambling in prison, including support to reduce gambling-related debt, particularly given associations between debt and violence in prison. Relief from boredom and need for excitement were among the most common reasons for gambling in prison, indicating that there is a need to provide a more appropriately stimulating prison environment.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)389-403
Number of pages15
JournalCriminal Behaviour and Mental Health
Issue number6
Early online date17 Nov 2022
Publication statusPublished - 2 Dec 2022


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