Gambling involves risking something of value on an event that has at least some element of chance in its outcome. The gambler hopes to win a prize of greater value than the amount invested. The term is used to describe a wide range of activities including lottery tickets, cards, bingo, slots, machines, instant scratch-tickets, races, animal tracks, dice, sporting events and even office pools. It is not to be confused with insurance, which differs from gambling in that it involves a transfer of risk and the use of actuarial methods for determining appropriate premiums (in contrast to gambling, in which skill may improve the odds of winning).
People gamble for a variety of reasons. The potential for winning money is one, but other motives include mood change (such as the feeling of euphoria linked to brain reward systems), socializing with friends, and escaping from worries or stress. People can also feel a sense of achievement and pride in making their own luck by betting on sports events or horse races. Some people use gambling to escape from boredom or to help them sleep, while others may think of it as a form of therapy.
The ability to make rational decisions and not become addicted to gambling is within everyone’s reach. Those who are worried about their or a loved one’s gambling should talk to a doctor. It is possible to find treatment and self-help groups for problem gambling. It is also important to remember that gambling is not a profitable way of earning money, so it is better to stick to a budget and only play with an amount that you can comfortably lose.
It is important to recognise that the products marketed by the gambling industry are designed to keep people gambling and can lead to harm. This includes gambling websites that manipulate the odds and offer bonuses such as free bets. People who are concerned about their own or a loved one’s gambling should remove credit cards, have someone else manage their finances, close online betting accounts and only carry a small amount of cash on them.
The understanding of gambling problems has undergone a radical transformation. Historically, people who experienced adverse consequences from gambling were viewed as sinning sinners, but now we understand them as having psychological problems. This shift has been reflected in, or perhaps stimulated by, changes in the diagnostic classification of pathological gambling in various editions of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). It is also reflected in the growing recognition that gambling is an activity that can have serious health and societal consequences. The public is now being educated about the risks of gambling, with many campaigns to raise awareness and support services being developed. These campaigns are being conducted at local, state and national levels. They are supported by a significant body of research evidence, which is being translated into policy and practice. This body of research is providing a solid foundation for the development of a sound, evidence-based approach to managing gambling problems.