Gambling refers to a behaviour where a person stakes something of value, with consciousness of risk and hope of gain, on an outcome of a game, contest or uncertain event. It could be as simple as an individual or a group placing a bet or wager on a result of a game or as complex as a commercial endeavour where a company takes a decision to invest in a new technology in the hope of future high demand.

People who gamble may experience a range of different harms, both whilst gambling and outside of it. The harms can include financial, relationship and mental health related problems.

The harms from gambling can be defined based on the context and behavioural level of engagement with the activity. For example, harms from gambling at a social gambling venue are different from those that arise from a casino in a state where it is illegal to gamble.

Harms from gambling were also grouped into categories to reflect the type of impact that they had on the person who gambled or the affected others. These harms were grouped into three levels: the first level was the general harms, including those that occur during the course of an engagement with gambling; the second level included a variety of specific harms arising from an identified point in time (such as when a person has become a problem gambler or has reached a point where their gambling was no longer causing them harm); and the third level includes legacy harms which may remain even after an individual’s gambling ceases.

Financial harms were a key concern within the general harms category and a number of distinct levels of severity were identified. These ranged from the loss of surplus or discretionary income to the capacity to purchase luxury goods such as holidays or electronic equipment. They were also linked to the loss of time that a person spent gambling which could have an impact on their family, friends or other significant other.

These harms were primarily driven by the individual’s distorted cognitions, feelings of powerlessness in managing their gambling behaviours and a sense of desperation to recoup losses. These were often reported as a continuum where people who gambled moved from one end to the other, with a movement from one end to the other usually resulting in negative effects on the individual.

Relationship harms were particularly prominent in the general gambling harms and were often associated with a reduction in the amount of time that a person spends with their partner, spouse, child, family member or friend due to their engagement with gambling. These harms were often linked to a sense of being lost and the ability to control one’s own thoughts and actions.

This was particularly the case for a person who had become a problem gambler and were losing a significant amount of money as a result of their gambling. They were often reported as unable to control their spending habits, and had a tendency to lie about the amount they had spent.