Gambling is an activity in which a person puts something of value at risk for the opportunity to gain more valuable property. The activity can take many forms, from the purchase of a lottery ticket to betting on horse and greyhound races or football accumulators, from recreational activities such as playing card games or bingo to professional sports gambling. In all these forms, the underlying principle is that the outcome of an event is determined by chance or randomness and is not known in advance.
Understanding of gambling and gamblers with problems has undergone profound change in recent years. In the past, people with gambling problems were viewed as having personality disorders or substance abuse problems. Today, it is recognized that the adverse consequences of gambling are a result of impaired impulse control and a tendency to engage in risky behavior. This recognition has changed the way that the problem is understood and treated.
Although there is no consensus on the causes of gambling addiction, there are several theories. These include the heuristics and biases that influence perceptions of risk, the desire for novelty and sensation and the effects of rewards. A combination of these factors is believed to lead some individuals to engage in gambling to the extent that it becomes a serious addiction.
A major factor in the development of gambling is the availability of money. In addition to its ability to stimulate the reward system of the brain, gambling can also increase a person’s income and status, leading to a sense of power and self-worth. Those who have a gambling disorder may become addicted to it, leading them to gamble compulsively and to ignore other areas of their life such as work and family. The behaviour can have devastating impacts on family members and society, as well as the gambler’s own physical, emotional and social health.
The most common form of gambling is betting on sporting events. Betting companies promote their products through advertising on TV and the internet and by offering ‘free bets’ to new customers. However, this approach is not as effective as it once was because of the introduction of technology such as computerised betting systems.
There is little doubt that most types of gambling involve some level of impulsiveness. Whether this is a result of an intrinsic need to seek sensation and the excitement that comes with it or because of a heuristic such as the gambler’s fallacy (the belief that the next die roll will land on four because the previous ones haven’t).
There is a growing awareness of the harms caused by gambling, both for the individual gambler and for his or her family and friends. This has led to a rise in the number of organisations dedicated to promoting responsible gambling. In the United States, state governments now run lotteries to raise revenue for government programs and have established a national association for gambling addiction treatment. This initiative has been hailed as a model for other countries.