Public Health and Gambling

Gambling is the wagering of something of value (the “stake”) on an event with an uncertain outcome and the intent to win something else of value. This can involve a single event such as a roll of dice, a spin of the roulette wheel or a horse race, but it also can be a series of events such as a lottery drawing or an entire sports season. A person’s chance of winning is determined by a combination of factors including skill, the amount of money wagered, and luck.

People who gamble often find it hard to recognise that they have a problem and may hide their gambling activity from family members, friends or employers. They can become obsessed with gambling and start spending more time and money on it than they realise, even to the point where they cannot afford to pay their bills or put food on the table. They may also begin to use credit cards or loans, and may even steal to fund their gambling activities.

The psychological triggers that can lead to problematic gambling are varied, and include a desire for control over an unpredictable event. Gamblers will often attempt to rationalise their losses by convincing themselves that their chances of winning will increase if they continue to lose – for example, by remembering that they have had a string of tails on the coin flips, or that their lucky clothes are helping them.

Compulsive gambling is a serious mental health problem that can lead to debt and bankruptcy, loss of employment, depression and even suicide. It can also affect the lives of those closest to the gambler, with partners and children suffering financially and emotionally. The effects of gambling extend to society as a whole and can include increased crime, social distancing, poorer work performance and decreased productivity.

It is important to understand that the impact of gambling is complex and must be considered at three levels – financial, labor and health and well-being – in order to assess its overall effect. The methodological challenges in assessing these impacts include how to determine what portion of the impact is related to gambling, and how to quantify non-monetary impacts. This article offers a conceptual model to examine these issues and applies it to a public health perspective on gambling. This will help to create a common methodology for the assessment of gambling and its impact. This will be a key step in developing the evidence base needed to support gambling regulation and treatment services. In the meantime, a range of organisations offer support, assistance and counselling for people who are experiencing problems with their gambling. These services can help individuals to gain control over their gambling and stop it causing harm to themselves, their families and the wider community. This includes specialised services for those who are at risk of gambling-related mental illness and those with gambling addictions. They can also provide advice to those who are concerned about a friend or relative’s problem with gambling.

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