Gambling is a form of risk taking where individuals stake something of value (money, property or their own personal safety) on an event that has a chance of occurring. This event can be an outcome of a game or random event, such as a lottery draw, sports competition or horse race, and it can lead to winning money or other prizes. While gambling is often considered to be a recreational activity, for some people it can become a serious addiction resulting in financial and personal harm.
There are many reasons why people gamble, some of which may be related to social, health or financial factors. Some people gamble for entertainment purposes, enjoying the thrill of the rush that can come with a big win and the anticipation of what might happen next. Others do it for financial or ego-related reasons, such as thinking about how much they could buy with the money that they’re wagering or dreaming about the lifestyle they would have if they won the jackpot.
Despite the wide range of reasons why people gamble, there is a growing recognition that it can have harmful impacts on individuals and their families. These harms can be immediate and can also have long term implications for a person’s wellbeing, such as having negative impacts on their credit rating or being financially vulnerable to a point of homelessness or poverty.
The majority of the research on gambling is focused on pathological gambling, which has been described as a psychiatric disorder. In its most recent edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the psychiatric association classified pathological gambling as an impulse control disorder, in the same category as kleptomania, pyromania and trichotillomania, where a person is driven to engage in certain behavior even when it causes significant impairment or distress.
A definition of gambling harm is a crucial component in the development of effective prevention and treatment services. A key consideration in the creation of this definition was to separate it from other aspects of the issue such as categorisations of behaviour, clinical diagnosis and risks factors, to allow a focus on harm minimisation.
The new Australian and New Zealand Government definition of gambling harm was developed by a working group of experts and stakeholders, including representatives from community organisations, health professionals and the gambling industry. The definition defines harm as any initial or exacerbated adverse consequence that negatively detracts from the health, well-being, security or quality of life of an individual, family unit or community and can be physical, emotional, social, psychological or economic. This is a more holistic and nuanced approach than focusing only on behavioural symptoms. This is important because a number of these harms are experienced in conjunction with other unhealthy behaviours and reduced health states such as alcohol use and depression. It is also worth noting that a significant percentage of the harms attributed to gambling are experienced by vulnerable groups. This includes those experiencing poverty and those who are already suffering from a traumatic life experience such as domestic violence or childhood abuse.