The Social Impacts of Gambling

Gambling involves placing a bet on an event that is uncertain. This could be betting on a football team to win a match, or playing a scratchcard. The gambler’s choice is matched to ‘odds’ that are set by the bookmakers. These odds determine how much the bettor will win or lose. While most individuals view gambling as a fun social activity, a minority of people develop serious and negative personal, family, work and financial consequences. These problems can persist, change the life course, and even pass between generations [1].

While a few individuals develop problem gambling, most gamblers are not at risk. The vulnerability to develop a problem is higher among low-income individuals who have more to gain from a large win, and among young people, especially boys and men, because of their greater likelihood to engage in risk-taking behaviors [2].

In addition to the monetary costs and benefits associated with gambling, there are also non-monetary social impacts. These occur at the individual, interpersonal and society/community levels (Fig. 1). Individual level social impacts involve costs that affect gamblers themselves, such as hiding gambling activities from loved ones or lying about them to avoid criticism. Interpersonal and society/community level social impacts involve costs or benefits that are shared with others, such as the increase in debt and financial strain on family members of gamblers or the escalation of gambling behavior into bankruptcy and homelessness [3]. These effects are difficult to quantify, so they tend to be overlooked by research scientists, psychiatrists and other treatment care clinicians, and public policy makers.