The Effects of Gambling on Individuals, Families, Communities, and Society


Gambling involves placing something of value, usually money, at risk on an event with an element of chance with the potential to win a larger prize. This can be done through a variety of games and activities including sports, horses, lottery tickets, cards, bingo, slot machines, instant scratchcards, keno, racing, dice, or casino games such as baccarat and roulette. While many people engage in gambling as a form of entertainment, others are attracted to the potential for big wins and often become addicted. Gambling has both negative and positive effects on individuals, families, communities, and society.

The negative effects of gambling include increased stress and debt among gamblers, social distancing from family members, and decreased work productivity. However, the benefits of gambling include a source of income and a way to escape from everyday life for a short while. It is important to note that while the risks of gambling are significant, some individuals do not suffer from addiction and can enjoy this activity responsibly.

Some benefits of gambling include entertainment, a sense of accomplishment, and the opportunity to learn about probability and risk management. Those who engage in gambling can also benefit from the social interaction and camaraderie that comes with it, as they can find new friends and make new connections. In addition, gambling can be a great way to boost self-esteem and confidence, as well as provide a sense of purpose and meaning in one’s life.

A growing number of individuals are turning to gambling to boost their financial security, and it is estimated that more than a third of adults have placed a bet in the last year. While most of these individuals do not experience problems, a small percentage develop pathological gambling (PG), which is characterized by recurrent maladaptive patterns of gambling behavior that cause substantial distress or impairment. PG typically begins during adolescence or young adulthood and is more prevalent in males than in females. Those who are at high risk for developing PG are those who start gambling at a younger age and are more likely to report problems with strategic or face-to-face forms of gambling, such as blackjack and poker.

Longitudinal studies are essential to assessing gambling harms and benefits, but they are rarely carried out due to the costs associated with multiyear commitments. Furthermore, examining longitudinal data over a long period can cause aging and period effects to confound results (e.g., changes in behavior may be influenced by the age at which individuals started gambling and whether they are currently experiencing economic hardship).

Despite these limitations, some studies have attempted to evaluate gambling’s impacts using economic costing methods. These studies, however, tend to focus on only a small portion of the problem and do not take into account both monetary and nonmonetary costs and benefits. A more comprehensive approach would involve evaluating gambling’s impact on a personal, interpersonal, and community/society level. While the latter levels are difficult to quantify, they are still important to consider as they affect other stakeholders outside of gamblers.