Gambling involves risking something of value, usually money, on an event that is determined at least in part by chance. Most people think of casinos and slot machines when they think of gambling, but the term covers a wide variety of activities. Playing bingo, buying lottery or scratch tickets, betting on sports events and office pools are all forms of gambling. Gambling is a major international commercial activity and is legal in many countries.
Most gamblers do not experience harm and many enjoy the social interaction, rush of winning or the opportunity to try out strategies that may lead to positive outcomes. However, for some people the behaviour is a problem that can have long-term negative effects on their physical and mental health, relationships, work performance and study. It can also leave them in serious debt and at risk of homelessness, and it is a cause of significant distress for family, friends and communities.
The prevalence of harmful gambling and the need for specialised treatment is increasing worldwide. It is estimated that about one in ten people will experience some form of problem gambling. Harms caused by gambling can have a negative impact on individuals, families, and society, and can occur at any age, gender or socioeconomic status. It is associated with a range of risk factors including psychological disorders, mood conditions such as depression and anxiety, substance abuse, and a history of trauma.
Several different types of therapy are used to help people overcome their urges to gamble and learn healthier ways of coping with stress. Counselling can help people understand their problems and how they have developed, consider options for change, and solve them. In addition to individual counselling, group therapy is also used for some people who have trouble controlling their gambling habits.
Many countries have regulated or banned gambling. The activities that are regulated include betting on sporting events, horse races and the lottery, as well as online gambling. In many countries, the government taxes the profits from gambling and receives substantial revenue as a result. The governments are then able to provide services such as education, healthcare and law enforcement.
While the benefits of gambling can be considerable, the risks are high. The most common risks include loss of control, compulsive or uncontrolled gambling and social impacts. People can lose their homes, cars, jobs and even their children as a result of gambling addiction. The financial, emotional and social costs can be devastating.
Although the negative effects of gambling are well established, a comprehensive understanding of the magnitude and complexity of gambling harm is lacking. This is partly due to the lack of a consistent definition of harm, and the use of inadequate proxy measures such as symptomology in assessing gambling-related harms. The conflation of harm with consequences also has implications for public health approaches to the issue, which require clarity and consistency of interpretation. It is time for a new approach.