Gambling 101


Whether it’s buying a lottery ticket, playing cards, or placing a bet on the horses, sports events, or the pokies, gambling involves risking money or something of value (like property) on an event that has an element of chance and the purpose is to win. Traditionally it has involved betting against the house or other players but there are many ways to gamble now that technology has blurred these lines. It is important to understand what gambling is, the risks and how it can be a problem.

There are, and have always been, professional gamblers who make their living, either honestly or dishonestly, from gambling. There has also been a long history of legal prohibitions on gambling, often on moral or religious grounds, or to preserve order when gambling has been associated with violent disputes or a lack of productive activity, or to prevent people from wasting money and energy that they could be using for other things.

The definition of gambling is an act of putting something of value, usually money, on the outcome of a contest of chance or a future contingent event that is not under one’s control or influence, upon an agreement or understanding that the gambler will receive something of value in the event of a certain outcome. It is not a valid means of investing or financing business, nor does it include bona fide transactions for the purchase or sale of securities or commodities, contracts of insurance indemnity or guaranty, and life, health or accident insurance.

Gambling can cause harm to the person who engages in it, their family members, and others. However, it can be difficult to define and measure the extent of that harm. Harm may be measured in a variety of ways, including behavioural symptoms such as lying to a spouse or therapist; financial consequences such as the loss of a job, education, or career opportunities; and the use of illegal activities, like forgery or theft, to finance gambling.

If someone is exhibiting harmful behaviours it is important to seek help. Counselling can be helpful in helping them understand the nature of their problems and consider options to stop gambling, or to cope with it better. There are no FDA-approved medications to treat compulsive gambling but treatment of underlying mood disorders, such as depression or anxiety can be helpful. It is also important to learn how to deal with unpleasant emotions in healthier ways, such as exercise, spending time with non-gambling friends, or practicing relaxation techniques. Lastly, it is important to get support from friends and family. Many states have gambling helplines and there are national organizations such as Gamblers Anonymous to provide peer support. In addition, it is important to set limits on how much and for how long a person will gamble and not to spend more than they can afford to lose. It is also a good idea to remove temptation by locking away credit cards, having someone else be in charge of money, or closing online betting accounts.