Gambling and Public Health


Gambling is any activity where a person stakes something of value, such as money, goods or services, in return for a chance to win a prize. It can include betting on sporting events, playing casino games and even purchasing scratchcards. The risk of losing the money or prize that has been staked is significant and is a fundamental part of gambling. People gamble at casinos, racetracks, on the internet and in their own homes.

Problem gambling is a complex issue with a wide range of consequences. These can affect the person who gambles, their family and friends and the broader community. They can cause physical and psychological harm, impact on work or study, result in relationship problems, legal problems and even homelessness. The behaviour can also be socially stigmatising and lead to discrimination.

A number of public health approaches to gambling focus on the idea that ‘harm minimisation’ is a key goal. However, these often lack a consistent definition of harm, a conceptualisation of its breadth and an appropriate means of measuring it. The current article develops a functional definition of gambling related harm to assist with the measurement of these issues, and provides a framework for understanding its manifestation at three levels; the person who gambles, their affected others and the broader community.

The framework was developed through inductive analysis of a series of data sets that included the results of focus groups and semi-structured interviews conducted with individuals who identified as either a person who gambles or an affected other. A taxonomy of harms was created which included six different thematic classifications that can occur in sequence or concurrently: financial harms, harms to relationships, harms relating to mental or emotional wellbeing, impacts on work or studies and other harms. In addition, the concept of legacy harms was added to account for those effects that persist even if the person’s engagement with gambling ceases through changes in behaviour or a diagnostic point.

The first step towards reducing harmful gambling is to recognise that you may have a problem and seek help. This can be done by talking to a family member or friend, getting counselling or finding a support group. It is also important to set boundaries around how much you are going to spend and for how long, and never gamble with money that you cannot afford to lose. Finally, learn to relieve unpleasant feelings in healthier ways – try exercising, spending time with friends who don’t gamble or practicing relaxation techniques.