Understanding the Harms of Gambling


Gambling is an activity where participants place bets on events with uncertain outcomes, such as the outcome of a sporting event or a lottery draw. Some people gamble to win money or prizes, whilst others engage in gambling as a social activity. In some countries, the law prohibits gambling for ethical or social reasons, while others regulate and tax it. There has been a long history of both professional and illegal gambling, as well as legal prohibitions against it. In recent times, there has been a move towards a more permissive attitude towards gambling, with some governments relaxing the laws on it.

The earliest research on harms from gambling was conducted through focus groups and semi-structured interviews, with individuals who identified as either: people who gamble; affected others; or both. Interviews lasted from twenty to sixty minutes and were either in person or over the telephone. A total of 25 people took part in the interviews and were compensated for their time with a store voucher.

This research was conducted in accordance with the Declaration of Helsinki and was approved by the University of Wollongong Human Research Ethics Committee (HREC). The participants were recruited using advertising on social media sites, and interviews were held in either person or over the phone. The final sample included a total of 22 people who had experienced harm from gambling; 19 people who had gambled, and 10 affected others. The results from the interviews have been analysed and a conceptual framework developed to illustrate the relationship between harms and gambling related factors.

A key finding from the initial data was that harms could be grouped into clear dimensions or classifications, with the three most prevalent being:

Financial harm: this includes any loss of money that is directly linked to a person’s gambling behaviour; or any other financial impact caused by their engagement with gambling (e.g. theft, bankruptcy).

Physical and mental health: this encompasses any loss of physical or mental wellbeing resulting from someone’s engagement with gambling; or the impact on their family or friends due to their engagement with gambling. This also includes any impact on their job, education or health care.

Relationship harm: this refers to the negative effect on a person’s relationships with their families and friends, as well as with other social networks. It can also include negative effects on work and social interaction, such as stealing or lying to cover gambling activities.

The framework distinguishes between harmful and non-harmful gambling behaviour, and broadens the definition of ‘affected others’ to include those who work in the gambling industry or are involved with gambling treatment and support services. It is also consistent with a public health approach to defining and measuring harm, allowing for the inclusion of comorbidities that may be associated with gambling problems.

There are a variety of ways to get help for a gambling problem, including cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). CBT looks at the beliefs that can lead to excessive betting, such as the belief that certain rituals can bring luck or that you can always win back your losses by betting more. It can also look at the underlying causes of the problem, such as relationship issues or financial difficulties.

Posted in: Gambling Post