Gambling is a term used to describe an activity that involves risking money or property for the purpose of gaining a positive or negative result. It can be a social activity, such as playing games or betting on sporting events, or it can be a more serious problem, such as compulsive gambling or gambling addiction.
Despite the popularity of gambling, there is little agreement about what harms are associated with gambling. This is in part due to the lack of a common definition of harm, and in part to the diversity of interests and approaches in the disciplines that are interested in the phenomena of gambling.
There is a growing body of evidence on gambling and mental health issues. It demonstrates that people with gambling problems experience poorer overall mental and physical health, and often also have co-morbidities such as depression or alcohol use. This suggests that the impact of gambling problems can be significantly exacerbated by these comorbidities.
Harm is defined as ‘any kind of harm or distress arising from, or caused or exacerbated by, a person’s gambling’. This is more expansive than the Queensland Government definition of gambling related harm which only includes harms from problematic gambling and does not cite any mechanism by which gambling may cause or exacerbate harms.
The New Zealand 2003 Gambling Act definition is more broad and describes harm as encompassing a range of personal, social or economic consequences. This broader approach to gambling related harm is more in line with the social model of health, and supports the view that gambling can exacerbate or generate harms.
Using a conceptual framework for harm to capture the breadth of how harms can be experienced by a person who gambles, their affected others and the broader community was the next step in the development of a gambling related harm definition. This was achieved through an inductive analysis of data gathered from the fieldwork and from theory.
A taxonomy of harms was derived by identifying three temporal categories (emergence, crisis and legacy) in the experiences of harm that emerged from the collection of data. These categories reflected the experience of harm as it manifested across different times in the individual’s life, and the temporal point at which a person would be experiencing their first engagement with gambling, or the impact of their behaviour on others.
These initial themes of harms were then compared with the concepts that influenced the development of the conceptual framework. This allowed the researchers to develop a clear link between theories of harm and underlying mechanisms and outcomes.
The framework provides a means of operationalising the concept of gambling related harm and can be applied to standard epidemiological protocols that are currently used in public health. Its inclusion of the experience of harm as a consequence or outcome is important because it differentiates gambling harms from other sources that may be associated with gambling, such as diagnosis, behavioural symptoms and the impact of other comorbidities. It can be useful in assisting those who are seeking help for gambling-related harms to identify and understand the nuances of their experiences and how they can be managed.