Gambling is an activity that involves risking something of value, such as money, for a chance to win something else of value. It can take many forms, including lotteries, scratch cards, horse and greyhound racing, football accumulators and games of chance like marbles or pogs. There are also games that involve skill, such as poker or blackjack, but the main element of gambling is risk and a prize.
Some people may gamble as a form of entertainment or to pass the time, but for some it can become a serious problem. Problem gambling can damage relationships, cause financial hardship and even lead to homelessness. There is a growing awareness that gambling disorders are real and can affect anyone, regardless of age, race or gender. However, only one in ten people with gambling problems seek help. There are several types of treatment for gambling disorders, but cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is the most effective.
The psychological factors behind gambling are complex and varied, but the most important is the illusion of control. This occurs when players overestimate the relationship between their action and some uncontrollable outcome. People also have a tendency to discount losses and underestimate the likelihood of winning. These are known as “gambling biases” and they can lead to harmful behaviours.
Another key factor is the motivation to gamble. This can be for a variety of reasons, such as mood change or the dream of winning a jackpot. People can also feel a sense of achievement when they gamble, and this is linked to the brain’s reward system. Some researchers have found that gambling can improve the mood of some people and relieve stress.
The final factor is the environment in which gambling takes place. This is particularly important because it can be difficult to stop gambling when you’re in a casino. Casinos are designed to keep players gambling longer by making it as easy as possible for them, from the location of slot machines next to store counters to the offer of free drinks.
In addition, many gambling activities involve wagering items of value that don’t have monetary value, such as marbles or collectible game pieces. It is therefore essential that we have a clear definition of harm in relation to gambling, as well as a consistent way of measuring it. A new conceptual framework and taxonomy for harms in gambling have been developed to assist with this, drawing on evidence from a range of sources, including a literature review and consultation with treatment providers and those involved in developing public policy. This approach will ensure that the term ‘harm’ is used consistently across treatment and research. It will also make it easier to compare the scale and impact of harms in different settings. Currently, harms are measured by the use of problem gambling diagnostic criteria and behavioural symptoms, but these do not capture the full breadth of harmful impacts that occur from gambling. It is time to move away from this conflation of harm with negative consequences and towards a more holistic understanding of the impact of gambling.