Gambling is an activity in which people risk something of value (usually money) on an event whose outcome is determined at least partly by chance. This can be done by betting on sports events, playing bingo, buying lottery or scratchcard tickets and even speculating on business or financial markets. It is important to understand the different types of gambling and how they work, so that you can make informed decisions about whether it is appropriate to gamble.
The word ‘gambling’ most commonly refers to a form of entertainment where people compete against each other, such as in poker or horse racing. However, it can also refer to other activities where there is an element of risk such as lottery, fruit machines or online games. In addition, social gambling can involve a group of friends or co-workers who play card or board games for small amounts of money, place bets on friendly office pools or buy lottery or scratchcard tickets. These activities are not considered to be professional gambling and may not cause harm, but they can be addictive.
Traditionally, the concept of gambling has focused on risking money or possessions for an uncertain outcome. However, it is also possible to gamble with non-monetary items such as status or prestige. The concept of harm associated with gambling is broadly defined and includes all losses, both direct and indirect, caused by a person’s gambling behaviour and related to their personal and family life.
In terms of harm, the most prominent symptom reported by people who experience gambling problems is a loss of control. This is reflected in the definition of addiction in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which classifies pathological gambling as an impulse control disorder along with other conditions such as kleptomania, trichotillomania and pyromania.
Harms related to gambling can be grouped into three categories: financial, psychological and interpersonal. Financial harms include a reduction in a person’s income or savings and the erosion of their capacity to spend on discretionary items such as family outings, social activities and involvement in cultural, sporting and educational activities. They can also include the loss of a job or home.
Psychological harms include feelings of anxiety, depression and low self-esteem. These can be due to a gambling problem, as well as other factors such as stress, family or work problems and relationship difficulties. In addition, psychological harms can be caused by the stigma and discrimination suffered by people with gambling problems.
Lastly, interpersonal harms include damage to a person’s relationships with their family and friends, which can lead to isolation, anxiety, depression and low self-esteem. This category of harm is not able to be measured as easily as the other two, but it has been found to be equally important in people who gamble. It is therefore a key consideration when making decisions about help and treatment. Those who experience this type of harm should seek help as soon as possible to prevent it from worsening.