The Social Impact of Gambling


Gambling is an activity in which someone risks something of value (usually money) on a random event with the intent to win something else of value. Usually, this involves placing a bet on an event that is uncertain and uncontrollable, like a sporting event or a lottery draw. Although some people are able to gamble responsibly, many find that their gambling affects their lives in negative ways and can lead to financial problems such as serious debt and even homelessness. The impact of gambling can extend to family members, work colleagues and friends too. It can also cause mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, and can damage relationships.

The most common form of gambling is betting on a sporting event, but it can take place in a wide range of other venues and contexts such as casinos, racetracks and even on the Internet. It can involve betting on a specific team or individual, or on a random event such as a roll of the dice or a spin of a slot machine. There are also some games of chance that do not involve a stake such as scratchcards, which provide an alternative to traditional gambling.

Supporters of gambling argue that it attracts tourism and brings revenue to local businesses. They also claim that restrictions are costly to society, as they divert business to illegal gambling operations or other regions where it is legal. Opponents of gambling point out that it leads to addiction, which can damage individuals and families as well as the wider community. They also argue that the government should not be subsidising a behaviour which has proven to be harmful to so many people.

Traditionally, research into the impacts of gambling has focused on the economic costs and benefits, which are relatively easy to quantify. However, social impacts are often overlooked. These include the invisible personal and interpersonal harms associated with gambling, such as emotional distress, loss of control and self-esteem, as well as the indirect effects on others such as family members. These can also be measured using a concept known as health-related quality of life weights or disability weights, which assign monetary value to intangible harms and their impact on an individual’s quality of life.

While there have been and probably always will be professional gamblers who make a living from gambling, there is also a long history of legal prohibition of gambling, whether on moral or religious grounds or to preserve public order. Despite this, in recent years the psychiatric community has come to recognise that pathological gambling is a genuine addiction. This is reflected in the fact that the latest version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders now lists it under impulse-control disorders along with kleptomania, pyromania and trichotillomania. This move is a milestone in the recognition of gambling as a compulsion. However, it is still a hidden addiction for many and one that needs to be more openly discussed and addressed.