Public Health Approaches to Gambling

Gambling is an activity where a person risks something of value (money or items of personal or social worth) on an event that has an element of randomness and/or chance. It is undertaken with the intention of winning a prize and the expectation that the outcome will be more beneficial than the amount risked.

There are many different forms of gambling. Some of the most popular include: casino games such as blackjack and roulette, lotteries, sports betting (including horse and greyhound racing and football accumulators), instant scratchcards and bingo. People also gamble online using internet casinos, video poker, and betting sites. Gambling is an addictive behaviour which can have serious and negative consequences for the health of those involved. This can affect a person’s physical and mental health, relationships with family and friends and their work and study performance. It can also lead to serious debt, homelessness and even suicide. Problem gambling can have a huge impact on our society. It is estimated that over half of the UK population takes part in some form of gambling and it is thought that more than 400 suicides each year are associated with problem gambling. It can also have a negative impact on communities and economies. It is estimated that the amount of money legally wagered annually globally is about $10 trillion.

It is important that public health approaches to gambling consider harm minimisation. This involves identifying the broader impacts of gambling, including those that are not specifically associated with the behaviour itself and those that occur after a person has stopped engaging in gambling. This is an important shift away from a focus solely on harms experienced at the diagnostic point of problem gambling, or those experienced whilst a person is engaging with gambling behaviour.

The concept of harm, irrespective of the domain it is applied to, is necessarily subjective. This is a reflection of the social model of health that is central to a public health approach and it is perhaps unsurprising that a precise definition of gambling related harm has not been developed. This is partly due to the breadth of experiences of harm and the inter-relationships between these and other factors such as comorbidities, which makes it difficult to isolate the effects of gambling from those caused by other influences.

If you or someone you know has a gambling problem it’s important to seek help. Talking to a trained counsellor can be a great way of gaining support and advice. There are many other ways to relieve unpleasant feelings, have fun and socialize without gambling including exercising, spending time with friends who don’t gamble, taking up a new hobby, volunteering or trying relaxation techniques. You could also join a peer support group such as Gamblers Anonymous, which is based on the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. It’s free, confidential and available 24/7.