Gambling Harms


Gambling is any form of betting that involves risking money. It can be as simple as placing a bet on the outcome of a football match, or as complicated as playing scratchcards. It can be an enjoyable pastime, but it can also lead to financial problems and a number of other harms.

Harms caused by gambling can range from minor inconvenience to life-threatening illnesses and death. They can be experienced by people with and without problem gambling or comorbidities such as alcohol abuse or depression.

Understanding what harms are caused by gambling and how they can be prevented or treated is critical to prevention and management of harm. However, a lack of a clearly defined term of harm in the gambling literature means that it is difficult to define harmful outcomes from gambling and to monitor these, or to make links between harms and behaviours that cause them.

This paper aims to address this gap and proposes a functional definition of gambling related harm that can be operationalised to support the measurement of gambling related harm consistent with standard epidemiological protocols used in public health. It also contributes a conceptual framework for gambling related harm that captures the breadth of how harms can manifest for the person who gambles, their affected others and the broader community.

In this study, data were gathered from a range of sources including focus groups (n = 12) and semi-structured interviews with individuals who had experienced harms as the result of either their own or someone else’s gambling behaviours. These interviews were primarily conducted via telephone but in some cases face-to-face meetings were arranged as well.

The resulting data highlighted that the majority of the harms experienced by participants were associated with their own gambling behaviours. In particular, the majority of participants reported a recurrent pattern of gambling and these were typically accompanied by changes in their personal or family life such as work loss, deterioration of relationships, and financial difficulties. In addition to these specific harms, it was found that a wide range of general harms were experienced by participants who gambled, ranging from short term impacts such as headache and migraine to longer term negative outcomes such as chronic disease or increased risk factors for illness.

For example, it was identified that the impact of gambling on a person’s relationship was often linked to the time and trust involved in allowing someone to gamble on their behalf. In some instances these interactions triggered feelings of guilt, shame or embarrassment in the participant which in turn led to their gambling behaviours changing.

Similarly, in some instances, gambling may create stress for the person who engages with it which can lead to a range of negative effects including a sense of inadequacy and low self-esteem. These underlying feelings can become a barrier to recovery and lead to increased gambling behaviours or even relapse.

It is important to remember that the majority of people who gamble do so in the hope of winning some money. If a person has lost all their money or has accumulated large debts from gambling, they should seek help as soon as possible. There are many organisations that provide help and support to those with gambling disorders. These include addiction recovery groups such as Gamblers Anonymous and alcohol and drug treatment services.