Gambling Harm


Gambling involves placing a bet on an event that is subject to chance (for example, a football match, horse race or scratchcard). If you predict the outcome correctly then you win money. If you lose, then you’ll lose the money you placed on the bet. Whether it’s playing the pokies, betting on sports events or even just having a flutter on a lottery ticket, gambling is a common pastime that can cause harm for some people.

Harm is a term that is intuitive and implies damage or adverse consequences, but there is no single definition of harm for gambling. This is partly because gambling is a multidisciplinary activity that draws upon several different disciplines, each with its own approach and perspective. In addition, there is a degree of subjectivity in what individuals consider to be harmful, and a range of comorbidities that can interact with gambling.

Research into the prevalence of gambling problems has shown that between 0.4-1.6% of the population may meet criteria for a diagnosis of pathological gambling (PG), where gambling behaviours are maladaptive and recurrent and occur in at least three of the following areas:

The current study, led by Dr James Neal from Griffith University, used a qualitative method of data collection consisting of focus groups and semi-structured interviews with participants who identified as either a person who gambled or an affected other. The interviews were conducted in person and via telephone, ranging from twenty to sixty minutes in duration.

During the focus group phase, participants were asked to identify and discuss what they perceived as harmful effects of gambling. This was followed by a series of semi-structured interviews with affected others (n = 25) and persons who gambled (n = 11).

The purpose of the study was to generate a more consistent interpretation of harm in relation to gambling, to allow for future measurement that is grounded in public health approaches, and to account for the influence of comorbidities. It was found that, as well as causing negative effects on the individual gambler, gambling can also have significant societal costs. Consequently, a functional definition of harm was developed that identifies the breadth and range of experiences that can be associated with gambling, and which also recognises the inter-relationships between these experiences. It is also a recognised that many of these experiences can be difficult to isolate from the impact of gambling on a person’s lifestyle and overall wellbeing. This is why it is important that the function definition of harm includes an emphasis on social impacts. This was considered an appropriate and useful way to capture the complexity of gambling harms that were identified in this study. This is a valuable contribution to the literature on harm minimisation.