The Definition of Gambling and the Harms Associated With It


Whether it’s buying a Lotto ticket, placing a bet on a sports event or hitting the pokies at your local pub, gambling is something most people do at some stage in their lives. But it’s important to understand how gambling works, what types of gambling there are and the harms that can be associated with it.

A basic definition of gambling is ‘putting something of value on an event that’s uncertain and in which skill plays a relatively minor role’. Generally speaking, the gambler is hoping to win more than they spend, but this doesn’t always happen. Gambling is a risky activity that can result in a loss of money and/or other valuable items.

It is also important to recognise that the term ‘harm’ is broad and includes both direct and indirect consequences of a person’s gambling behaviour. These can include damage to the person’s physical and mental health, their relationships, their ability to work or study, the cost of treatment for addiction, and the impact on the wider community.

One of the challenges for measuring gambling related harm is that, unlike with most other substances, there is no clear cut behavioural measure of harmful behaviour. Instead, a variety of measures are used, such as symptomatology (e.g. a person’s physical or emotional symptoms), self-report, performance at work or school and criminal acts committed as a result of a person’s gambling.

The initial theory generated from the data was that gambling harms occur at three levels: the person who gambles, those close to them and the broader community. This is consistent with the national definition of problem gambling that was published in Queensland in 2012.

This concept was later expanded to incorporate a sixth level for cultural harms that is specific to particular groups, such as CALD and indigenous people. The concept of harms at different levels was also supported by evidence that gambling often exacerbates and contributes to other harmful behaviours, such as alcohol use and depression, in addition to impacting on personal and family relationships and causing a lack of social and work engagement.

If you have a loved one who is struggling with gambling addiction, there are many ways to help them. Cognitive-behavioral therapy can help to change unhealthy patterns of behaviour, and teach a person how to control their urges and solve problems caused by gambling. It can also treat any underlying conditions that may be contributing to their gambling, such as drug or alcohol use and mental health issues like anxiety or depression. If the underlying conditions are not treated, they are more likely to continue gambling and can be more easily influenced by marketing materials designed to keep them playing. If your loved one is struggling with a gambling problem, seek professional help as soon as possible.