Gambling is a popular form of entertainment where people wager something of value on a random event with the intention of winning something else of value, often in the form of money or prizes. There are many forms of gambling, including lotteries, casino games, horse racing, sports betting and online gaming.
Harms can be defined as negative consequences of a person’s gambling behaviour that may lead to social and emotional distress, and in some cases, physical harm or death. It can also affect the individual’s relationships, work and studies.
The concept of harm is a central component of public health approaches to gambling, in terms of prevention and treatment. There is an emerging body of literature on gambling related harms and a need for more effective treatment to address this issue. However, a number of important issues remain unresolved and the ambiguity of the term harm can be problematic.
Definition and conceptual framework
A comprehensive and consistent definition of harm was required that would be able to operationalise the measurement of gambling related harms across the public health domain and provide a basis for discussion and debate around the issue within the treatment community, policy makers and researchers. This was necessary to ensure that gambling related harms were recognised and treated in the public health domain in line with standard epidemiological protocols used by health professionals.
Initially, data was analysed and compared to thematic categories of harms identified by previous research into gambling related harms. This allowed for a range of themes to emerge that could be categorised and classified in terms of the types of harms experienced and their temporal categories in the experience of harm.
Financial harms were grouped into two groups; those that were a loss of surplus income or resources, and those that impacted on managing short term cash flow problems. The first group was impacted by those who consumed gambling products to the extent that they exhausted their surplus income or financial resources, with a significant loss of discretionary funds or resources available for other activities. These were typically those who had less or no surplus income prior to engaging with gambling and were consuming their surplus to the point where they were using that surplus for other expenditure and activities beyond necessities such as food, housing, transport and utilities.
Relationship harms were another significant category of gambling related harms that impacted on the relationships between the person who gambled, their affected others and the wider community. These impacts included the reduction of time spent with a partner, spouse, child, family member or friend as a result of their engagement with gambling. These impacts were identified as ranging from episodic to pervasive in their impact and dependent on the individual characteristics of both the person who gambles and the affected other.
Lifecourse and intergenerational harms were identified as a final category of gambling related harms that represented a unique position in terms of both classification and broader a category within the overall conceptual framework of gambling harms. These harms were a continuing impact that occurred from the initial gambling engagement through to someone who had reached a temporal point of significance in terms of their experience of harm (typically a crisis).
The conceptual framework of gambling related harms and proposed functional definition were developed through inductive analysis of data gathered from people who gambled, their family and friends and those in the broader community. This was in addition to consultation with experts and community sources that helped identify a set of relevant concepts and definitions, and to establish a common understanding of how harms can manifest.