Gambling Harms – A Conceptual Framework

Gambling is a common activity that involves betting or staking money on the outcome of a game, event, or contest. The risk of losing money and the hope of winning it back can be an addictive pastime that can lead to problems with finances, relationships, and health.

Harms related to gambling are a complex phenomenon that has not been fully characterized by research. This is partly due to the fact that harms are often subjective, socially constructed and are not clearly measurable using standard public health approaches.

In order to understand the range of harms that people experience when they gamble, it is important to consider the context in which gambling takes place and who may be affected by it. This includes the person who gambles, their family, friends and wider community, as well as those involved in the gambling industry.

A wide spectrum of experiences of harm can be experienced when people gamble, from the first time they engage with gambling through to legacy and intergenerational harms that are associated with the continued use of the gambling activity by their descendants. This project has sought to explore the breadth of gambling related harms and develop a conceptual framework that captures this diversity, allowing for both subjective and objective measurement consistent with the WHO definition of health.

The conceptual framework was developed through a systematic analysis of data collected during the study from over 250 individuals who had been exposed to gambling and were experiencing a range of harms. The themes that emerged from this analysis were then used to develop the framework of harms that are experienced by a person who gambles, their family, friends, and wider community.

General harms included the financial impacts of gambling, and were grouped into two categories: those that had been incurred from a person’s engagement with gambling and those that had been exacerbated by the ongoing use of the gambling activity. The exacerbated harms were particularly relevant to legacy, where there was an ongoing financial impact from gambling even after the person who gambled ceased to engage in the activity.

For example, when a person’s credit ratings declined and they were unable to purchase a house because of their debts and other negative financial impacts, they had an ongoing impact on their legacy. Other harmful impacts included a reduction in quality of life, and the loss of trust in the relationship between the person who gambled and their family.

Relationship harms were also identified as being a key concern for many people. These included the loss of trust and communication in the relationship as a result of the gamblers behaviour.

Other harms included a reduction in self-esteem and other personal attributes, such as confidence and independence. Those who were impacted by the gambling of their family members were often reported to be depressed and anxious as a result of this.

There was a clear distinction between the initial level of severity of financial harm and subsequent levels of financial harm, where it was recognised that people had reduced capacity to buy luxury items or spend money on other priorities. This was a symptom of the person’s changing motivation to gamble.

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