Food and Culture

The Definition of Gambling Harm

Gambling is when someone risks money or anything else of value on an event that has an element of chance, such as a lottery, bingo, scratch cards, fruit machines and casino games like blackjack, roulette and poker. It can be done in casinos, at racetracks, in private settings and online. It’s a common pastime, but for some it can be harmful. When gambling becomes compulsive, it can cause serious problems that affect relationships and finances. It can also trigger mood disorders, such as depression and anxiety.

Problem gambling can occur in anyone from any walk of life. It can start as a harmless diversion and turn into an obsession that leads to debt and even financial disaster. It can also strain family relationships, work and other aspects of daily life. Getting help for gambling problems can help you take back control of your life and repair relationships, finances and credit.

Some people may find it hard to recognize a problem because their culture promotes gambling as normal, or they don’t understand how serious the situation is. Other people are genetically predisposed to thrill-seeking behaviours and impulsiveness, making them more susceptible to gambling problems. Some people also have underactive brain reward systems, affecting how they process information and control their impulses.

A key point for policy makers, treatment providers and researchers is how to measure gambling harm. A consistent definition of gambling harm is needed to inform the design of public health measures and evaluations of their effectiveness. Various definitions of gambling harm have been proposed, and these differ in their scope and application. However, the broad range of negative impacts is well established, and the scale of impact increases with the frequency and amount of gambling participation.

Many of the most important behavioural and economic impacts of gambling are indirect, so a longitudinal design is the best method for studying them. Such studies can identify the underlying factors that moderate and exacerbate an individual’s gambling participation, and allow inference of causality. Longitudinal research can be expensive, but it produces more comprehensive and reliable data than other methods.

The Queensland Government’s definition of harm does not explicitly link the activity with its consequences, so conflation of the outcome with the behaviour is ongoing [1]. The definition used by Neal et al and Currie et al also fails to include that the harms of gambling can be exacerbated by other behaviours or reduced health states, such as alcohol use and depression. This is a critical limitation and needs to be rectified.