Gambling Harms – A Conceptual Framework


Gambling is an activity in which someone places a bet on the outcome of an event that has some degree of uncertainty and involves putting something of value at risk to gain something else of value. It may be done for fun, to win a prize, or to make a profit. It is an activity that can lead to negative consequences for the person who gambles, their family and friends and the broader community. These negative consequences include damage to physical and mental health, relationships, performance at work or study, financial difficulties, debt, and a reduced quality of life.

The concept of gambling related harm is well established within public health and research literature. Harm minimisation is a key principle in gambling policy and practice. However, the current discussion about defining and measuring harm is complex and has lacked a clear conceptual framework.

This paper aims to fill this gap by developing a conceptual framework of gambling harms for the purpose of measurement. The proposed conceptual framework is a multidimensional construct that incorporates the breadth of harms experienced by a person who gambles, their family and community consistent with social models of health and includes legacy and intergenerational harms as an integral part of the model.

Inductive analysis of the qualitative data resulted in the identification of six different thematic classifications of harms. The first group identified was financial harms that spanned the loss of surplus (those items or activities purchased beyond necessities with discretionary or excess income), erosion of savings, the failure to prioritise purchasing gambling products over other items from discretionary income and the loss of capacity to purchase luxury items such as holidays or electronic equipment. The second group identified emotional or psychological harms and impact on relationships, the third was damage to work, study or economic activity and the fourth was crime.

A fifth thematic classification of harms included those that impacted on health, and a sixth was the impact on the person’s identity including sense of self. A final thematic classification of harms was a result of the shift from a rational informed choice to an automatic process by which a person who gambles makes decisions.

People who experience problem gambling can have many ways of coping with the disorder, but it is important to remember that these actions are not healthy and should be avoided. There are a number of steps that can be taken to overcome this issue, such as seeking help from a family member or friend, joining a support group such as Gamblers Anonymous, exercising, avoiding alcohol and drugs and staying busy with other activities. These are all effective ways to reduce the frequency of gambling. If the problem persists, there are also professionals who can offer specialised treatment and advice such as family therapy and marriage or career counselling. For some people, they may need to seek legal assistance as well. For some, this may involve a court order to stop gambling.