Gambling is placing something of value (usually money) on an event involving chance in the hope of winning a prize. It may be as informal as tossing a coin or buying a lottery ticket, or as structured as a casino game. It can involve any type of event with an element of chance, including horse racing, keno, baccarat, slots, instant scratch tickets, bingo, roulette, poker and dice. The prize can be anything of value, from nothing at all to a life-changing sum of money.
There is no doubt that gambling can be a harmful behaviour and is associated with a range of negative outcomes, especially for those with addictions. Some people who gamble have severe problems and experience significant harm in their lives, both personally and financially. This is why many treatment providers and public health initiatives reference the need to minimise gambling related harms. However, achieving this goal requires a clear and consistent definition of harm.
A functional definition of harm has been proposed, which is designed to be applicable across different settings and disciplines and to a range of activities and participants. It is also intended to provide a framework for measuring gambling related harm, which can be used by a wide variety of groups and organisations, including treatment providers, policy makers and researchers.
The definition of harm has been developed through a series of focus groups and semi-structured interviews with individuals who identified as both a person who gambles and someone affected by the gambling behaviour of another. These were conducted in person or via telephone, and lasted between 30-60 minutes.
A large number of factors can influence the level and intensity of harm resulting from gambling, and the degree to which it negatively impacts on an individual’s life. These include:
Several effective treatment options are available to help people with gambling problems. These include cognitive-behaviour therapy, which teaches people how to resist unwanted thoughts and behaviours; family intervention programmes that involve helping parents and children deal with the effects of gambling; and self-help groups such as Gamblers Anonymous.
A key component of effective treatment is for individuals to understand the reasons they gamble. This includes the risk of financial loss, as well as the underlying psychological drivers, such as the desire to make money, to be successful and to avoid boredom. Understanding the underlying causes can also help people who are concerned about their loved ones’ gambling behaviour to better support them. This is particularly important given that the latest version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders has moved pathological gambling from a compulsion category to an addictive behaviour. The aim is to reduce the level of harm caused by gambling and improve its quality of life for those who experience it. To do this, it is essential to ensure that people who gamble have access to appropriate and accessible services. The key to this is a holistic approach, which addresses the whole person and their needs.