In the UK, up to 340,000 people have a gambling problem. 2020 has been a strange year so far and has been difficult for a lot of industries, however, the gambling sector and in particular, the online poker sector has seen somewhat of a boom. The growing number of real money online poker cash games and tournaments alone have seen a whopping 30% growth rate this year. These are worrying statistics. Due to the current pandemic, times are hard for many people which may be causing many to turn to gamble in a bid to turn things around. Additionally, with current restrictions limiting our social lives and the night-time industries, illegal gambling dens and under-the-radar activity of any kind are potentially bigger problems than they were before.
Gambling is legal in the UK for those over the age of 18, and online gambling and gambling in casinos and betting shops are regulated. Even unregulated gambling at home with your friends, at work events, and in private clubs is legal so long as you’re playing with legitimate guests or friends and you are not asking anyone to pay a fee to take part.
Illegal gambling dens on the other hand often put on rigged games, putting vulnerable gamblers at risk. These dens are often run by organised crime networks, so are often linked to corruption, money laundering, and in the worst cases, human trafficking. Illegal gambling dens are more of a problem is slightly less developed countries such as Thailand, Cambodia, and the Philippines, but with gambling addiction ruining more and more lives in the UK, we’d be foolish to assume that unregulated, underground gambling is not happening right under our noses. In the same way that drug dens and brothels have found their place in rental property, gambling dens have been known to follow suit.
Spotting an illegal gambling den, or any other illegal activity in your rental property can be difficult, and if you do, it can be a real worry knowing how to handle it. Preventing the issue is key though, so it is important to be aware of the red flags to keep an eye out for. Many of these red flags will apply to other illegal activity too, such as drug dens or brothels. Firstly, keep an eye out for sudden spikes in power and water. In the past, this has always been an indication that someone’s living situation or the way they use the property has changed. That being said, with many people now working from home or spending much more time at home due to the Coronavirus pandemic, it’s important to consider that this could also be the reason for any change in the bills. That’s not to say that a significant increase may not peak your suspicion. An increase of 20% or more in water and power bills over a period of three or more consecutive months may potentially mean that there are more residents living in or spending a lot of time in the property other than those you are aware of and are stated in the tenancy agreement, or than an unlicensed business is being run from the property. Of course, this is not reason enough to suggest illegal activity, but it may back up any suspicions you might have.
You could also try and Google your property address. When it comes to illicit businesses such as gambling dens, the address might sometimes pop up online on a forum or on social media. This might lead you to alert the police or confront your tenant if you feel comfortable enough to do so. You or your neighbours may notice some strange activity around the property. Look out for a lot of people coming or going throughout all hours of the day and night. Also, quite often windows will be blacked out or curtains drawn in order to keep things as private as possible. All of these things are worth making a note of because the police can recognise these as strong indications of what could be happening behind closed doors. Similarly, nuisance and anti-social behaviour can act as a wide catch-all for illegal activity - be that illegal gambling dens, drug dealing, drug-taking or gang crime. Any drink-related behaviour issues, excessive littering and disruptive visitors are often minor things that can actually lead to unveiling bigger issues, so it’s always worth you or the neighbours reporting.
One of the most important things to do when trying to prevent an illegal gambling den - or any illegal activity - is to stay in contact with neighbours. You’re unlikely to be able to keep an eye on your property very much but the neighbours, however, will be able to pick up on anything out of the ordinary. It’s also within their best interests to keep you informed - nobody wants to live amongst crime. If the neighbours don’t already know you, go and introduce yourself and get on good terms with them. Make sure they know how to contact you should they have any issues with your tenants. It’s also a good idea to make your tenant aware that you’re in touch with the neighbours. This might defer them from getting up to no good in your property, as they run the risk of information finding its way back to you.
When you rent your property out to someone, you like to think they will respectfully treat it as their new home - but you can never be sure and it’s the risk you run as a landlord. Make sure you follow the correct screening process before offering your property to a tenant, and always involve the police if you suspect illegal activity.