The Social Impact of Gambling


Gambling involves risking something of value, such as money, on an event whose outcome is determined at least in part by chance. The gambler hopes to win and gain something of value, such as money or goods. Although many people associate gambling with casinos and slot machines, it can also occur in bingo halls, lottery tickets, scratch-off games, and office pools. Gambling is legal in many countries and has become a global industry. It is estimated that the total amount of money legally wagered in the world each year is about $10 trillion.

The impact of gambling is complex and involves both positive and negative effects on individuals, families, communities, and society at large. While monetary costs and benefits are easily quantified, the social impacts of gambling are more difficult to assess and quantify. Social impacts include personal and interpersonal losses, social disruptions and harms, and economic costs that aggregate societal real wealth. These impacts can have long-term effects, as seen with problem gambling and other forms of addictive behavior.

At the personal and interpersonal level, losses are mainly non-monetary in nature, such as disruptions to relationships and a sense of loss of control. The arousal of winning and losing is also a key factor in the appeal of gambling, and there are some psychological mechanisms at play that increase a gambler’s likelihood of engaging in this activity. For example, research suggests that gamblers experience a ‘reward rush’ when they make a winning bet, and this may be partially due to the release of the feel-good hormone dopamine.

It is important to recognize that the underlying drivers of gambling are similar to those of other addictive behaviors, such as substance use and problem gambling. This is because a person’s vulnerability to gambling can be influenced by a variety of factors, including preexisting personality traits and environmental circumstances. In the case of gambling, this can include a family history of problem gambling and a person’s general tendency to seek sensation-seeking experiences. In fact, some theories of gambling addiction, such as Zuckerman’s theory of sensation-seeking and Cloninger’s theory of self-regulation, suggest that gambling may be a form of seeking stimulation and novelty.

Families of gamblers can help by supporting their loved ones and establishing clear boundaries. It is also important to reach out for support from a counselor or peer support group, such as Gamblers Anonymous, which is based on the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous and has helped many people overcome their gambling problems. In addition, it is crucial to find new social activities and friends to help refocus one’s life away from the lure of casinos and other gambling sites. Finally, if finances are an issue, it is a good idea to set up a budget and make sure that the gambler has access to their own funds. This can be accomplished by setting financial limits and encouraging the gambler to spend more time with their children or spouse.