Gambling is a popular recreational activity where people stake something of value on a random event with the intent of winning something else of value. It can include things like lottery tickets, sports betting and gambling on the internet. It can be a very fun way to spend your time and make a bit of money, but it can also be dangerous.
Despite being a common and well-known social activity, there is little understanding of how gambling harms are experienced. This is largely due to the lack of an agreed definition and a lack of conceptualisation that reflects the breadth of gambling experiences and the complexities associated with defining and measuring harms.
We used a multi-stage research method to explore the breadth and experience of gambling related harms, including focus groups (n = 13) and semi-structured interviews with a range of individuals who had experienced harms from both their own and someone else’s gambling. Participants were recruited using advertising on social media, and all interviews were conducted via telephone.
The primary objective was to identify a functional definition of harm from gambling that could be operationalised in ways consistent with standard public health protocols and measureable outcomes. It aimed to capture the breadth of gambling related harms, whilst being sensitive to the potential influence of comorbidities and other factors such as substance abuse and depression in influencing the development of gambling related harms.
Harm from gambling is defined as a consequence or outcome of gambling that is experienced by the person who gambles, their affected others and the broader community. It is a complex and subjective concept, reflecting the complexity of the mechanisms by which gambling harms occur.
Several domains of harm were identified, which included financial, relationship and legacy/transgenerational. The first group of harms included the erosion of savings and financial resources, loss of capacity to pay for discretionary items such as family outings or social activities, involvement in artistic, cultural or sporting activities or educational experiences, and a reduction of opportunities to engage with others in a meaningful manner.
A secondary dimension was the impact on relationships to the person who gambles and their affected others, including their family and friends. Whilst not able to be measured or quantified as easily as financial harms, this dimension was a key threshold point in the development of gambling related harms.
This second group of harms included the loss of trust within a relationship, and unequal engagement or effort put into a relationship between the person who gambles and their affected others. This was a strong feature of the data in both focus groups and interviews.
The final group of harms was a legacy and transgenerational aspect. This included the child(ren) of a person who gambled, who would assume a parent role in terms of care tasks and other household duties such as food provision or providing financial support. This is a similar pattern to impacts reported from other addictive behaviours, and is in keeping with the broader literature on child maltreatment and behavioural issues such as alcohol and gambling.