Harm From Gambling – A Functional Definition and Conceptual Framework


Gambling involves wagering something of value on an uncertain event with the intent of winning a prize, which could range from a small amount of money to a life-changing jackpot. Gambling behaviour is influenced by a number of factors, including the person’s environment, beliefs and coping skills. Psychological disorders and mood disorders may also increase someone’s vulnerability to harmful gambling behaviour.

Harm from gambling is known to impact individuals, families and communities. Despite this, there is still no robust internationally agreed upon definition of harm and inadequate measures of harm, which impede efforts to address gambling from a public health perspective. In particular, conflation of harm (the consequence) with the problem behaviour – such as using a single item on screening instruments – limits our understanding of the extent and type of harm caused by gambling.

In addition, there is a growing recognition that harms from gambling are complex and experienced by people who gamble and their affected others in multiple ways. This paper seeks to develop a functional definition and conceptual framework for gambling related harm that captures the breadth of harm experiences. In doing so, it contributes a taxonomy of harms which can be used in future research.

A variety of methods were used to collect data for this paper, including a systematic literature review; interviews and focus groups with people who gamble and their affected others; and analysis of social media posts made by people who gamble. The results suggest that a functional definition of harm from gambling can be developed that enables it to be measured consistent with other public health issues, such as drug use and smoking.

The first step to avoiding harm from gambling is recognising when your gambling is out of control. This is important because it’s often difficult to recognise that you’re wasting your money, especially when you’re spending more than you can afford to lose. When you feel that you’re losing control, it can be tempting to hide or lie about how much you’re spending, but this will only lead to bigger losses and more harm.

The most common reasons that people gamble are for social or financial rewards. This includes wanting to win the lottery, betting on sports events or even just playing pokies for fun. However, it’s also possible to gamble for mental health reasons, such as getting a rush or feeling ‘high’ from gambling. However, it’s important to remember that no matter how many times you press the button on a slot machine or roll a die, the chances of winning remain the same each time. The illusory relationship between your action and the uncontrollable outcome is called the gambler’s fallacy. This is the same phenomenon that explains why the chances of rolling a number like four on a dice continue to be the same no matter how many times you roll it. The same is true for all other games of chance. This is a key part of how gambling products are designed to keep you playing.

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