The Harmful Consequences of Gambling


Gambling is an activity where something of value (money, other people’s money or other things that have a monetary value) is placed on an event whose outcome is determined at least in part by chance. This can include betting on sporting events, buying lottery or scratch tickets or games such as marbles, pogs or Magic: The Gathering that use collectable game pieces as stakes.

Problem gambling may lead to serious consequences for the person affected, their family and their wider community. These include financial, social, emotional and occupational harms. People who are experiencing problem gambling are at risk of a wide range of harmful effects including, but not limited to, depression and substance abuse. They are also at higher risk of suicide.

Identifying harms is difficult, as many of the consequences of gambling are not immediately apparent and some of the more obvious effects can be attributed to other factors. This is because a problem gambler’s behaviour can be masking other underlying problems.

In order to understand the breadth of gambling related harms, an inductive analytical approach was taken that identified six different thematic harm classifications. These were:

The framework was developed by drawing on a series of semi-structured interviews with individuals who either identified as a person who gambles or as an affected other. Interviews were conducted in person or via telephone and lasted between 20-60 minutes. A total of 25 interviews were undertaken with a mix of both people who gambled and affected others.

Financial harms include a loss of money, the inability to purchase other items with surplus income and an increased reliance on credit. In extreme cases, the accumulation of financial harms can lead to a ‘tipping point’ whereby the cost of debt repayments outweighs income and leads to poverty and homelessness.

This category of harm was considered a ‘legacy’ of gambling and referred to the impact that continues after a person has changed their own or someone else’s engagement with gambling. Legacy harms can occur at a number of time points from the initial experience of gambling through to a diagnostic point of problematic gambling and beyond.

The social harms of gambling relate to the damage caused to relationships, especially in terms of alienation. This can be at a personal level with friends and family or at a broader community level, where there is alienation from other communities such as religious groups, CALD communities or indigenous populations. Those who are experiencing problem gambling are also more likely to be engaging in other risky behaviours such as drug use and alcohol abuse. This is a key reason that it is essential to address the causes of the gambling problem and provide appropriate treatment where necessary.