The Impact of Gambling

Gambling involves risking something of value on an activity that is primarily a matter of chance in the hope of realizing a profit. It has been a part of virtually every society since prerecorded history and is embedded in local customs, traditions, and rites of passage. Many people participate in gambling for recreation and to socialize. However, a small number of individuals become seriously involved in gambling and experience substantial negative personal, family, and financial consequences.

Gamblers are characterized by a variety of personality traits that make them more likely to engage in the behavior. Some are genetically predisposed to thrill-seeking behaviors and impulsivity, while others have problems with processing reward information and controlling impulses. Biological factors such as variations in brain circuitry are also related to risk-taking and a person’s ability to weigh risks.

A person may start to gamble for a variety of reasons, including stress from work or life events, boredom, loneliness, and/or as an escape from unpleasant feelings. While there are a few benefits to gambling (socializing, mental development, and skill improvement), most of the time, it becomes a problem when the individual loses control.

The impact of gambling can be analyzed at three levels: personal, interpersonal and community/societal (Fig. 1). Personal impacts cause effects at the level of the gamblers themselves, while interpersonal and community/societal impacts affect those outside the gamblers. These include family members, coworkers, and the larger community. The impact of gambling can be exacerbated by the availability of easy-to-use gambling websites and technology.