The Effects of Gambling


Gambling is the wagering of something of value on a random event with the intent of winning something else of value. The prize may be monetary or non-monetary. There are several types of gambling, ranging from raffles to sports betting. Gambling has a number of negative effects, including psychological, financial, labor and social/community well-being issues. Those affected by problem gambling are referred to as “gambling disorder”. Problem gamblers can be from any race, religion or education and income level. Problem gambling can be found in small towns and big cities, amongst young people and seniors. It can cause serious family problems, lead to substance abuse, and contribute to bankruptcy and homelessness. In addition, it can negatively impact the economy through losses in tax revenues and tourism, increase crime rates and impose costs on health care and the justice system.

Gamblers are prone to overestimate the probability of winning. This overestimation is related to the way in which a person’s brain processes reward and risk. The brain releases dopamine, a feel-good neurotransmitter that makes a person excited about the possibility of winning. Although this dopamine release is normal, it can trigger a false sense of reward that encourages individuals to continue gambling even when they are losing. It can also cause an individual to think they are in control of their behavior when, in fact, they are not.

In many cases, problem gambling is a coping mechanism for other life issues, such as boredom, depression, grief and stress, or an attempt to meet basic human needs like belonging. Gambling can also provide an escape from daily life by providing an opportunity to be surrounded by different people, sounds and emotions.

The development of a gambling addiction is caused by multiple factors, such as genetic predisposition, environmental cues (like media portrayals of sexy, glamorous and fashionable gamblers), poor judgment, cognitive distortions, and mental illness. The understanding of gambling and pathological gambling has undergone a shift, from viewing gamblers with problems as having psychological issues to considering them to have an addictive disorder.

Gambling impacts can be structuralized into three classes: costs and benefits. Costs can be categorized as personal, interpersonal and community/society levels. The personal and interpersonal level costs are invisible and include the monetary effects on the gambler’s own finances, as well as family members and other loved ones. External impacts at the society/community level are visible and mainly consist of societal costs, which include general costs, costs of problem gambling and long-term costs. These societal costs can be offset by increased tax revenues from gambling, which can be directed to beneficial activities.