The act of gambling involves wagering something of value on a random event where instances of strategy are discounted. This may take the form of a lottery, sports betting, horse racing, online casino gaming or playing the pokies. It can result in a variety of harms to individuals, families and communities.
Gambling is a complex issue and understanding how it can cause harm can help you to prevent it. In this article we explore some of the key reasons why people gamble, how it affects us and factors that may contribute to problematic gambling.
Harm is a word that is immediately intuitive, implying damage and adverse consequences. It is also a concept that differs across disciplines with many of them having different views of what constitutes harmful gambling.
Attempts to define harm from a clinical perspective have been hampered by the fact that it is often difficult to separate out the impact of gambling on someone’s life from the impact of a range of other factors, known as comorbidities, such as substance misuse or depression.
For this reason, definitions of harmful gambling often exclude those who are not clinically affected by the behaviour. This is a problem because it can reduce the scope for intervention.
To overcome this issue, we propose a functional definition of harm that is consistent with public health approaches to measuring the impact of health issues. It is defined as any initial or exacerbated harm associated with an engagement in gambling that decrements the health or wellbeing of an individual, family unit, community or population. This approach enables it to be applied consistently across disciplines and provides a useful alternative to current pathogenic definitions of harmful gambling.
This new definition has been developed from a series of focus groups and semi-structured interviews with a total of 25 participants, who identified as either a person who gambles or an affected other. The interviews were conducted in person or via telephone, and ranged from twenty to sixty minutes in length.
The findings from this research indicate that the use of a functional definition of harm is a critical first step in identifying and assessing the impacts of gambling on people’s lives. Using this definition will allow for the identification of common causes of harm and facilitate collaboration across disciplines to develop interventions to address them. In particular, longitudinal data will be vital to identify the factors that moderate and exacerbate harmful gambling behaviours and to establish causality. This is particularly important given that existing treatment interventions for problem gambling have had varying levels of success. The emergence of this new approach will also enable more efficient, targeted and cost effective research into the social impacts of gambling. It will help to create broad and deep data sets that can be used by researchers across a number of academic disciplines, avoiding the need for repetitive and costly work in each area. This will be a crucial step towards developing evidence to inform a national strategy for gambling.