Limitations of Public Health Approaches to Gambling


Gambling is an addictive behaviour that can cause significant harm to individuals and their families. This includes losing money, causing financial stress, and damaging relationships.

Harm minimisation is a central goal of gambling policy and public health approaches to prevent and treat problems with gambling. However, there are some limitations in the current landscape of harm measurement and research which impede efforts to address gambling from a public health perspective. The first limitation is that there is no robust and internationally agreed upon definition of harm. This is exacerbated by the use of inadequate proxy measures of harm such as problem gambling symptomology and behavioural symptoms which contribute to a limited understanding of gambling harm.

The second limitation is the lack of consistent conceptualisations of gambling harm across treatment providers, policy makers and researchers. This is particularly true of problem gambling symptomology which often fails to capture the complex nature of gambling and its effects.

Despite the lack of an internationally agreed upon definition of gambling harm, there are numerous research studies which have identified common negative impacts associated with gambling. These include poor mental health outcomes, relationship problems and legal complications.

There is a wide range of different forms of gambling including casino, sports betting, lotteries and online gaming. These forms of gambling are popular in many parts of the world, although some countries have banned them.

The term ‘gambling’ can refer to any risky or uncertain behaviour that involves the expectation of a reward. This could be as simple as a single person placing a bet (such as ‘I will win this lotto ticket’) or it can be more complex such as a commercial entity investing in new or untested technologies to see if they will be successful in the future.

People who gamble may be able to reduce or avoid their gambling related harms through a range of interventions such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). CBT can help to identify and understand the beliefs around the behaviour that lead to a problem.

It can also provide support and advice on how to avoid gambling. It can be difficult to break the habit of gambling, so seek professional help if you feel you are struggling.

Family members of people who gamble can play a role in reducing the impact of their loved one’s gambling habits. They can set boundaries with the person, such as asking the person to wait before spending money or making decisions about where the money should go. They can also help with the finances and take over some of the responsibility for ensuring the gambling behaviours are controlled.

The third category of gambling related harm is those harms that occur or emerge even if the person’s engagement with gambling ceases through changes in their own or someone else’s behaviour. These harms are referred to as ‘legacy’ harms because they do not stop with the person’s gambling behaviour but may continue.

Initially six categories of harm were identified, these included those harms relating to relationships, emotional or psychological harms, impacts on the person’s health and work, study or economic activity, and criminal acts. Further analysis of the data relating to people with strong religious beliefs, CALD groups and indigenous populations identified an additional classification: cultural harms.