The Social Impact of Gambling


Gambling involves risking something of value (known as a stake) on an event that is determined at least in part by chance and with the hope of winning a prize. This can be money or other goods or services. It can also involve betting on a sporting event, horse race, or game of chance such as roulette or the lottery. The term ‘gamble’ is often used to refer to more formal forms of gambling such as casinos and slot machines, but it can also include less formal activities such as buying scratch tickets or office pools.

Generally speaking, people gamble for social, financial, and entertainment reasons. For example, some people gamble for social reasons because it is fun to bet with friends and think about what they might do if they won the jackpot, while others do it for financial reasons in order to win money or improve their standard of living. Some people also gamble for entertainment purposes, by playing games such as baccarat or poker.

Research suggests that a wide variety of harms are associated with gambling. These harms can have both short- and long-term financial, psychological, physical, and emotional consequences for the individual who is gambling, as well as their family, friends, and community. There is a link between mental health problems and gambling, which can be a way of masking feelings of anxiety or depression, and it’s important to seek help if you’re having trouble managing your emotions. There are lots of ways to get help, including cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). CBT can change the way you think about gambling by helping you challenge harmful beliefs such as that you’re more likely to win than lose, or that certain rituals will bring you luck.

The most common forms of gambling are horse racing, lotteries, and slot machines, but there is also a great deal of informal gambling activity amongst teenagers. Teenagers may play online sports betting, video gaming with friends, or participate in provincial lotteries, to name just a few examples. Research to date on gambling amongst teens is nascent, but early estimates indicate that this population reports higher levels of problem gambling than older adults.

Gambling is a major source of revenue for many governments and has significant social impacts. However, gambling is a complex issue and measuring its impact is not straightforward. Measures of gambling harm currently available are limited to either diagnostic criteria or behavioural symptoms, which do not adequately capture the full range of negative outcomes associated with gambling. Consequently, a functional definition of gambling related harm is proposed and a taxonomy is developed to describe the breadth of how harms manifest for the person who gambles, their affected others, and their communities consistent with social models of health. In addition, the paper discusses a series of measures that can be used to operationalise the new functional definition and support the measurement of gambling harm. These measures can be incorporated into existing epidemiological protocols for public health research on gambling.

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