What Is Gambling?


Gambling is an activity where people risk money or other valuables to win a prize. It may be fun for some, but it can also cause financial or emotional problems.

Some people gamble for coping reasons – to forget about their worries, or to distract themselves when they are angry or upset. Others gamble because they think they can make money.


Traditionally, gambling is any activity where someone risks money or belongings on activities that have an element of randomness and chance. It can include casino games such as blackjack, poker or roulette; sports betting such as football accumulators or horse racing; or lottery games such as scratchcards.

Historically, understanding of harm related to gambling has focused on problem gambling diagnostic criteria and behavioural symptoms. However, these measures are limited in their scope. They fail to capture the breadth of the harm experience and do not take account of broader social models of health. This paper proposes a functional definition of harm that allows the focus to be on consequences rather than behaviour. It also identifies a taxonomy of harms experienced by people who gamble, affected others and the broader community.


Gambling is risking something of value on the chance that you will win or lose. It is a widespread activity and one that has been popular throughout the centuries, despite efforts by governments and moralists to ban it. The reason people gamble is unclear, but it may be related to our innate desire to control randomness in our lives.

Some of the earliest forms of gambling included dice games, astragalomancy (using knucklebones to divine the future), and betting on horse races and sports events. Cards games such as baccarat started appearing around the 1400s and became popular with aristocrats. However, many religions and societies have banned gambling. This includes the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. These groups believe that gambling encourages vice and promotes immorality.


Gambling can take many forms and isn’t restricted to a casino or sports betting center. People play card games for small amounts, place friendly wagers with friends and even buy lottery tickets for fun. A professional gambler can make a living gambling and can use strategy and skill to win.

In general, the higher the level of involvement in a specific form of gambling, the greater the likelihood of experiencing PG. This finding is supported by sociological and behavioral theories. Behavioural theories suggest that continuous games with a high reward frequency are more closely associated with PG than discontinuous games (e.g. weekly lotteries). Also, cognitive theories propose that games that induce many cognitive fallacies have a closer association with PG. This pattern was not evident in the case of horse betting or EGMs, however.


Gambling can cause harm in many ways, including relationships, health, work performance and social life. People who develop gambling problems often experience financial distress, and it can affect their families, friends and workplaces. Harmful gambling is a complex problem that requires professional help to tackle.

The risk of developing gambling disorder increases with age and certain personality characteristics. It also increases with the severity of an addiction to another substance or activity, such as drugs or alcohol.

Supporters of gambling argue that it can attract tourism, while opponents say that it promotes a wide range of social ills. They claim that it leads to domestic violence, poverty, crime and homelessness. In addition, some studies have linked gambling to mental health problems such as depression, anxiety and panic attacks.


Gambling addiction ruins lives, breaks families apart and drains personal and monetary savings. It can co-occur with depression and needs immediate treatment, including psychological and psychiatric intervention.

People with gambling disorder have lost touch with family and friends and often lie to them about their behaviour. Some become involved in illegal activities and violence in a desperate attempt to recover their losses.

Pathological gambling is a behavioral addiction similar to substance abuse, and has been moved to the same category as drug addiction in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). Scientists have now discovered that gambling and drugs alter some of the same brain circuits. This explains why people crave gambling in the same way they crave other substances.