Gambling Harms – A Conceptual Framework and Taxonomy

Gambling is an activity that involves risking money or something of value on a chance to win more. This could include playing scratchcards, fruit machines or betting with friends.

It is a fun and social way to spend time, but it can also be addictive and harmful for individuals and their families. It can lead to financial loss, relationship problems, criminality and mental health issues, including gambling disorder.

Problem gambling is a serious mental health condition, which can be difficult to treat. It affects more than two million people in the United States, and it is linked to suicide, depression and anxiety. Symptoms can start at any age, and they are more common in men than women. The symptoms of gambling disorders often run in families.

Harms from gambling occur across all age groups, but they are particularly high among younger people and those with a low income or no surplus income or resources before engaging in gambling. They are also higher in those who have previously been diagnosed with a gambling disorder or in the family of someone with a gambling disorder.

The term harm has been used widely in public health approaches to gambling and is associated with the concept of minimizing harmful outcomes [1]. However, the current landscape of gambling policy and research uses inadequate proxy measures of harm such as problem gambling diagnostic criteria and behavioural symptoms. These limitations reduce the effectiveness of gambling prevention and treatment strategies.

A definition of gambling harm is needed that is based on a thorough understanding of the breadth and experience of harms. It is crucial to establish a consensus on this issue, as it will help to guide gambling related research and policy.

To address this issue, the current research set out to develop a conceptual framework and taxonomy of gambling related harms to identify key dimensions or crisis points where individuals who gambled or affected others may seek assistance or treatment. The study was conducted in a mixed method research design with focus groups (n = 10) and semi-structured interviews (n = 25) with participants who identified they had experienced harm from gambling.

Using an inductive approach, the researchers drew on their a priori knowledge of gambling and the literature to formulate a series of discrete concepts that were then connected with those generated from the data. The results of the analysis enabled the development of a conceptual framework and taxonomy that were then used to inform research, policy and practice.

First, a taxonomy was developed that defined three broad categories of harms: general financial, relational and psychological/emotional harms. The general financial harms were grouped into those that impacted on people who gambled and affected others in terms of their finances or short-term cash flow, and those that impacted on the person who gambled by exhausting their surplus income or financial resources.

Second, the relational harms were grouped into those that impact on people who gamble and affected others in terms of their relationships with that individual or other people. These harms were not as easily quantifiable as the general financial harms, but there was an underlying crisis point where the individual who gambled or affected others felt that their primary relationship had been negatively impacted by their gambling.