Gambling is a recreational activity in which participants risk money or items of value to predict the outcome of a game involving chance, such as fruit machines or scratchcards, sports bets, or card games. If they predict correctly, they win the amount of money or item they staked; if they lose, they forfeit it. Although gambling has many negative effects on people’s lives, it can also have positive impacts when it is used responsibly and within safe limits. It can even be a form of therapy for people who are struggling with mental health problems.
The impacts of gambling can be observed at three levels: personal, interpersonal and community/society. The personal level refers to gamblers themselves and includes their psychological, emotional, social and economic well-being. Interpersonal impacts involve those closest to gamblers, such as family and friends. They can include the impact of gambling on relationships and the impact of escalating debt and financial problems on their families. The community/society level involves those not directly connected to the gamblers, such as the community at large and businesses that can experience negative economic effects from gambling.
While some studies have attempted to estimate the economic costs and benefits of gambling, a significant limitation is that these calculations are often not based on a public health approach. In a public health approach, all types of gambling are evaluated and impacts of the activity are assessed across its severity spectrum, from pathological gambling to nonproblematic gambling. When only problematic gambling is examined, the true cost of gambling to society is underestimated.
In addition to the personal, interpersonal and community/society impacts of gambling, there are other, less visible or immediate social costs associated with this activity. These costs cannot be easily measured or quantified, and they are often overlooked in gambling impact research. However, they are just as important to consider and may have long-term consequences.
For example, children whose parents have a gambling problem are more likely to engage in unhealthy activities themselves, such as poker machines, the lottery or scratchcards, and to develop a gambling addiction. Parents can help their children avoid these unhealthy activities by ensuring that they are not exposed to them and by encouraging other healthy ways for children to handle boredom and stress, such as playing sports or taking part in extracurricular activities.
Similarly, family members of problem gamblers can help them by setting money and time limits for gambling and sticking to these limits. They can also encourage their children to participate in extracurricular activities that promote self-esteem, confidence and a sense of achievement, such as music or art. In addition, they should make sure that their child’s bank account is not accessible for gambling-related spending and close online betting accounts. They can also encourage their child to join a support group such as Gamblers Anonymous, which is modeled after Alcoholics Anonymous. This is a great way for them to meet people who have successfully overcome their own gambling addiction and provide invaluable guidance and support.