What Is Gambling?

Gambling is the wagering of something of value on an event with an uncertain outcome, where instances of skill are discounted. It requires three elements to be present: consideration, risk and a prize. It can involve playing games such as card or dice, slot machines, fruit machines, table games and betting on events such as horse races or football accumulators. Other forms of gambling include instant scratch cards, keno and bingo, as well as speculating on business, insurance or stock markets.

Problem gambling can affect a person’s physical and mental health, their relationships with family and friends, work or study performance, and their legal and financial circumstances. It can also lead to substance misuse and even homelessness. There are many ways to get help for a gambling problem, including self-help, peer support and inpatient or residential treatment and rehab programs.

In recent decades, understanding of the adverse consequences of excessive gambling has undergone a profound change. It has moved from a view that people who gamble have recreational interests and are prone to addiction to a view that individuals who suffer from pathological gambling have psychological problems. This shift has been reflected in, or stimulated by, the changing clinical classification and description of pathological gambling in various editions of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (called DSM), published by the American Psychiatric Association.

Gambling can take place in a wide variety of settings, from commercial casinos and arcades to online platforms and social media applications. The term ‘gambling’ can also be used to describe other activities that are characterized by an element of chance, such as lottery draws and state-organized sports betting, and can include non-money wagering using materials that have a value (such as marbles, Pogs or collectible trading cards) — although these forms of gambling do not usually meet the definition of a ‘gamble’ in the legal sense.

Many factors can contribute to the development of a gambling problem, including personality, family and cultural influences, and biological vulnerabilities, such as an underactive brain reward system or genetic predisposition to thrill-seeking behaviours and impulsivity. The way a person thinks about betting can also make a difference, with those who believe they are more likely to win than they really are, or that certain rituals can bring them luck, tending to be more vulnerable.

People who have a habit of gambling often hide their problem from their friends and family, and may feel the need to be secretive about how much they gamble. They may lie about their spending habits or try to convince others that their gambling is harmless, or they might keep a record of everything they have lost in an attempt to justify their actions. This can lead to isolation and loneliness, which in turn can trigger or worsen the effects of a gambling addiction. In order to overcome this, it is helpful to seek the support of a trusted friend or join a support group such as Gamblers Anonymous.