Gambling involves risking something of value – usually money or possessions – on an event whose outcome is determined at least partly by chance. It can involve placing a bet on a sporting event, buying a lottery ticket or scratchcard, playing poker or other card games, online casino gaming and many other activities. It can be a fun and enjoyable activity for many people, but it can also have serious consequences if it becomes an addiction or is not controlled. It can harm mental health, relationships, work and study performance and lead to debt and homelessness. Problem gambling can also affect family, friends and other loved ones who support those who have a problem with their gambling.
In the past, gambling was often banned for moral or religious reasons, or to protect the interests of the public and reduce violent disputes over betting. Today, most types of gambling are legal and widespread and can be found in casinos, bookmakers, on the internet, on television and even at the races. It is estimated that over half of the UK population engages in some form of gambling activity. While some people gamble for a living or as a way to socialise with friends, others use it to relieve boredom or stress, or to help them get through difficult times.
There is also a long history of illegal gambling, which has sometimes been on a large scale and for profit, but often to support family or community needs such as fighting crime. There is a growing recognition of the harms associated with gambling and it is now recognised as a public health issue affecting individuals, families, communities and societies. Harms from gambling are a result of the interaction between broad social and environmental determinants. This is a complex and multifaceted phenomenon and the development of an operational definition for gambling related harm that is robust and inclusive will be challenging.
The definition of harm was developed through a process that involved a wide range of stakeholders including academics, practitioners, researchers and people who have experienced harm. It is important that the definition is widely understood and accepted, as this will enable an integrated approach to harm reduction, prevention and treatment.
A key consideration in the definition was to ensure that it covered the full spectrum of harms caused by gambling, including the negative impacts on the individual and their families, as well as the wider community. It was also essential that the definition encompassed the psychological, social and behavioural aspects of harm.
To develop the definition, focus groups and semi-structured interviews were conducted with people who have a gambling disorder, or who have been affected by someone else’s gambling behaviour. These were carried out in person and via telephone and averaged around 90 minutes in length. The findings were then consolidated into a draft definition which was agreed by the stakeholder group. This definition was subsequently used as the basis for the final definition.