Public Health and Gambling


Gambling is an activity where people place bets on events with an unknown outcome. The events could be anything from a football match to a scratchcard. The person places the bet by choosing a number and matching it with ‘odds’ that are set by the betting company. These odds determine how much money the person could win if they won the bet. Despite being a risky pastime, gambling is very popular and accessible. For example, four in five Americans say that they have gambled at least once. This popularity makes it difficult to recognize if someone has a gambling problem. However, the behavior is not without negative consequences and can negatively impact one’s personal and social life. It also can have a huge financial impact. Fortunately, there are a number of ways that people can help prevent a loved one from becoming addicted to gambling.

For many people, the reason they gamble is not to become rich or to solve a financial crisis, but rather for enjoyment. It can be a social activity that brings friends together, or it can be a way to relax and unwind from the day. It can also be an effective way to improve one’s mental health. For instance, when playing a casino game, the brain produces dopamine which gives players a rush and can make them feel happier. This is because the human body is designed to seek rewards and happiness. This is why many people experience pleasure from things like a good meal or spending time with family and friends.

The negative effects of gambling are not just on the gambler, but can have an impact on their significant others and on society as a whole. In addition to the monetary costs, studies on gambling have also identified an increase in crime, loss of productivity at work, and decreased quality of life. The societal costs of gambling are often overlooked because they do not show up on the balance sheet. To understand the full picture, it is necessary to take a public health approach.

A key aspect of this is to identify the intangible harms that occur and to quantify them using a measure called disability weights (DW). DWs are similar to QALYs (Quality Adjusted Life Years) used in healthcare. While a QALY is a unit of measurement for medical and economic outcomes, a DW provides a more personalised perspective by adjusting for the impact on the individual’s social networks.

Traditionally, the focus of gambling studies has been on economic benefits and costs, but this ignores social impacts which are a significant part of the overall impact. Studies that examine only the negative social impacts of gambling are therefore incomplete. This is a particularly serious issue when considering gambling for children as they are especially vulnerable to the harms of gambling. For this reason, it is important to study the positive social impacts of gambling and to integrate them into a broader policy agenda.