Can You Legally Bet and Gamble in Prison?

handcuffs and playing cardsIn some countries, participating in betting of any kind can get you sent to prison. Locked away behind bars for simply having a punt on your favourite sport or gambling on a game of cards. That isn’t the case when it comes to the United Kingdom and various other locations. Of course, that doesn’t mean people aren’t incarcerated in a jail cell for other crimes committed on a daily basis. However, one thing that could be questioned is whether or not inmates have the option of participating in betting and gambling. And if it is possible, has anyone inside prison ever won a big payout from doing so?

What’s more, if it is something that a prisoner can participate in legally, is this fair? After all, shouldn’t criminals be experiencing things tougher than the average everyday person? Gambling could be considered a treat rather than a punishment? What is the status of being able to bet in prison? We’re going to take a look at the possibilities and whether or not UK law permits it inside.

roulette wheel behind prison barsTo provide a short answer to this question, gambling is actually prohibited behind prison doors. Of course, this does not mean that it isn’t part of the prison sub-culture. Far from it. And really, there is nothing in online gambling sites’ terms and conditions that specifically mentions inmates of UK prisons. However, visiting the Betfred website and viewing the T&Cs in operation there, part 3.10 states the following:

“In opening and using Your Account you confirm that:

‘Gambling is not illegal where you reside or are accessing our Website or Services from.’

‘You will not deposit funds originating from criminal and/or unauthorised activities.’”

This pretty much relates to prisoners, as it is illegal for inmates to take part in the pools, buy Premium Bonds or anything of a similar nature. At the same time, it is the Gambling Act 2005 of the United Kingdom, which states the following in Part 18 ‘Miscellaneous and General’:

348. Excluded Premises

(1) This Act shall have no effect in relation to anything done on, or in relation to any use of, premises of a kind specified for the purposes of this subsection by order of the Secretary of State.

(2) This Act shall have no effect in relation to anything done on, or in relation to any use of, premises certified for the purposes of this subsection, on grounds relating to national security, by the Secretary of State or the Attorney General.”

This does incorporate the country’s prisons, as they are premises relating to the national security of the UK. However, even prior to the introduction of that act in 2005, gambling was banned in UK prisons.

Lottery Rules Focused on in 2004

national lottery shop signBack in 2004, prior to the current gambling act being introduced, the country’s gambling laws dictated that prisoners could not participate in such activity under an umbrella ban. Options like buying Premium Bonds and taking part in the pools for example were not available to prisoners in any way. Inmates have therefore not been able to engage in gambling in any legal way since before the Gambling Act 2005 was established.

That being said, the rules surrounding the participation in The National Lottery were quite hazy. This much is pretty much clear, considering in 2004 a sex offender won £7 million from the purchase of a lottery ticket. This was because The National Lottery was not actually included in the rules, although a Prison Service spokesman stated that it is “understood” to be a part of such.

Unfortunately, at the time, prisoner Iorworth Hoare was serving a life sentence for attempted rape but was out on a temporary release licence. Such licences are given to prisoners by governors, and also have certain conditions attached to them. The conditions at the time included specific areas that the prisoners could not go to and people they weren’t able to be in contact with at any time. All of those licences also included rules surrounding a ban on entering pubs, consuming any alcohol and visiting licensed betting shops.

In theory, that means that Hoare was not able to place sports bets through visiting a William Hill or Ladbrokes betting shop, for example. However, the fact that lottery tickets can be purchased from a variety of locations meant that banning the purchase of such would be very difficult. Therefore, the prisoner was able to purchase a ticket while out and about, and this was how he won the £7 million prize.

Following his win, a huge scandal erupted, which led to the government looking at a potential curb on the purchase of lottery tickets. Suggestions included the possibility of any prisoner who wins the lottery having to give up some of their money to compensate victims of their individual crimes – an idea thought up by then home secretary, David Blunkett. That proposal was widely backed by various MPs and was something considered for working into the UK Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Bill of 2004.

Yet, the editor of The Prisons Handbook, Mark Leech said that it would be easier to simple insert a “no gambling” clause into the rules handed out to prisoners on special release. The Home Office outrightly denied any plans were in the pipeline to alter the legislation at the time, though.

What Prisoners Can and Can’t Do – Do the Rules Work?

prisoner in handcuffs trying to access smart phone

Inmates serving time in UK prisons are given guidance on what they can and can’t do while inside. This also includes items that they can and cannot possess while serving their sentence. It may seem obvious, but jailed citizens cannot have computers or mobile phones within their cells, which is perhaps the sole way that they would be able to access gambling opportunities today. The online betting world is a big industry, although prisoners are not able to access such (or not legally at least).

Most prisons do provide computer access to inmates, although this is usually for educational purposes, so the likelihood is that any gambling sites would be blocked within the prison buildings. Does this actually stop such inmates from participating in betting at all? Obviously, they are severely restricted from doing the deed themselves, so would likely turn to outside sources for it instead.

There is little to stop a prisoner from asking a visitor to place a wager for them on a horse that is racing at the weekend or on a football match, for example. Simply put, there is nothing that can stop a person on the outside from going to a high street bookmaker to place a wager for someone else, regardless of if it’s a prisoner or not. Then, the winnings are simply handed over to the inmate via a bank transfer into their account or held onto until their release, for example. Where there’s a will, there will likely always be a way.

And it seems like that’s exactly what has been happening over the years, too. How do we know this? Because according to some sources, almost a quarter of prisoners are considered to be gambling addicts. A report by Forward Trust in December of 2020 revealed that 23% of inmates confirmed that they believe they have a gambling problem. More than half of those who responded believe that there should also be support for gambling addicts in prison, too.

Backing up that report was one from GamCare – one of the country’s largest gambling support organisations. Within that report, it is suggested that the consequences of gambling while in prison can be very severe, and even though this is the case, addiction to such amongst inmates goes largely unrecognised and untreated. Because of this, it laid out details surrounding the need for prison officer training so as to recognise symptoms of gambling addiction. GamCare itself has also been providing support within the UK’s criminal justice system (CJS) for several years regarding this. Prisoners do have access to the National Gambling Helpline, which operates as a freephone number on a 24/7 basis. Information leaflets and self-help resources are also accessible to prisoners.

Gambling A Source of Entertainment For Inmates

prisoners in jail playing cards

Despite the fact that prisoners have been found guilty of committing a crime, other than this they operate as many other peoples do. As a result, they tend to seek out forms of entertainment to keep them entertained. Passing the time in prison is likely not as easy as it is outside, so gambling is something that they often turn to as a result.

However, inside prison, gambling is not something that can be done with physical money, as prisoners don’t have such in their possession. This does not stop them from wanting to bet on just about anything, though. From football matches through to games of cards and even simple board games like Scrabble. In such circumstances, it is likely that inmates will gamble something that they do possess, such as some footwear or clothing or a pack of cigarettes, for example. Card games are allowed within prison, and it is through these games that most inmates decide to have a punt.

In comparison though, these are games played by prisoners against one another, rather than through official gambling channels like sportsbooks and casinos. Essentially, they are gambling games that you may play at home with a few friends, like for a poker night as an example. While you can bet in a certain way within prison, when it comes to betting money, this is not allowed. It could only take place if you got someone on the outside to do the betting for you, as noted.

And, as figures have shown, gambling does take place in prison. Therefore, despite being a banned activity, it isn’t able to be monitored on such a level that prisoners are completely kept away from participating in it.

To Conclude

UK Law FlagWhile the truth may be that gambling is banned within prison, it’s not something that inmates can be completely restricted from engaging in. There is likely always going to be someone willing to place a bet on the upcoming football match or purchase a lottery ticket for an inmate. And the authorities have very little capability of ensuring that prisoners don’t engage in this roundabout way of accessing gambling opportunities.

And while it may be possible for people to think that prisoners can simply use the phones in a prison to call a sports betting brand for placing bets, this isn’t something that would be possible – at least for a long time. It’s common knowledge that prison phone calls are monitored heavily, to ensure that they aren’t being used to organise additional crime to take place. If a prisoner opted to use the phone to place sports bets or the like, then the likelihood is that the prison service would take affirmative action to put a halt to it as quickly as possible.

It’s true to say that the legislation of the United Kingdom does mean that people cannot place wagers for others. It’s pretty much an illegal activity. But at the end of the day, it is very difficult to monitor that activity. You or I could send someone down to the bookies to place a bet for us and nobody would know that it’s been done in such a way. The person placing the wager is the customer, regardless of who is getting the potential payout at the end. That’s the same theory in motion if a prisoner requests someone else to place a bet via a bookmaker for them or buy a lottery ticket for them.