The Positive and Negative Impacts of Gambling


Gambling is a form of entertainment that involves wagering something of value, usually money, on an event with a chance of winning some other value. Unlike sports or poker where the skill of the player is central to success, gambling is an activity that is mostly random. This makes it extremely difficult for players to predict the outcome of a particular bet, and this is one of the main reasons why people are so attracted to gambling.

In recent years, understanding of the adverse consequences of excessive gambling has undergone a dramatic change. For example, the notion that a person who has a problem with gambling is an alcoholic used to be commonplace but has been replaced by the view that someone who has a problem with gambling is suffering from a mental health issue similar to other psychiatric conditions.

Research into the causes of gambling problems has revealed that there are a number of factors. Some of these are individual characteristics (e.g., boredom susceptibility), a predisposition to the use of escape coping (like alcohol and drugs), a poor understanding of random events, impulsivity and stressful life experiences. Gambling addiction is also thought to occur due to changes in the brain’s reward pathway and a loss of control over gambling behavior.

The negative impacts of gambling extend to more than just the gambler and can have far-reaching effects on their family, friends and community. They can lead to financial hardship and debt, impacting on employment, housing and other aspects of day-to-day life, affect a person’s health and well-being, reduce their quality of life and cause social disruption. Some of these negative impacts can be measured using health-related quality of life weights (also known as disability weights) which can identify the intangible social costs of a person’s health state.

On the positive side, gambling can generate significant revenue for the public services and charitable organizations. Many governments operate state lotteries which are a source of public funding for education, healthcare and other infrastructure. Additionally, many casinos and other gambling operators are engaged in corporate social responsibility initiatives and donate a significant portion of their profits to charitable causes.

It is important to recognize that negative and positive impacts of gambling can coexist, and that the magnitude of the harms and costs of gambling should be considered on a spectrum of severity. Studies that focus on only problem and pathological gambling tend to underestimate the extent of the harms caused by gambling, as do those that do not consider all levels of severity. Taking a public health approach to gambling can help uncover some of these additional impacts. This can be accomplished by examining the positive impacts of gambling and including these in cost-benefit analysis. This can allow for a more complete picture of the effects of gambling and help to inform policy decisions.