What is gambling?

Gambling is taking part in any game or activity in which you risk money or a valuable object in order to win money.

A few examples include:

• Lotteries (scratch cards, Mega Millions, Powerball, etc.)
• Bingo
• Betting on billiards or pool
• Card games (poker, blackjack, etc.)
• Private betting on sporting events, including pools
• Casino games (slot machines, roulette)
• Video lottery terminals
• Internet gambling
• Dice

When do individuals begin to play?

In most Western societies, gambling is perceived as a harmless or low-risk social activity for participants of all ages. It is not unusual to see parents offering lottery tickets, especially scratch cards, to their children, even if this activity is meant for adults only. We know from research that many problem gamblers were introduced to gambling activities by family members as early as 10 years of age.
The majority of people gamble and never experience any problems. These individuals play for fun, on an occasional basis, know that they will most likely lose the money being wagered, and only bet money they can afford to lose. After playing, these people go back to their regular activities and other responsibilities. However, for some people, gambling can lead to serious problems.
Why do they play?

Contrary to popular belief, research and clinical work show that money is not the only reason why individuals gamble. Money is used as a means to pursue gambling activities. People play for fun, excitement, and to make money. Those who experience gambling problems often say that they play to escape and to forget about their problems.

Luck-based and skilled-based activities

Games of luck are games in which the results depend, either partially or totally, on luck. Practice does not increase a person's chances of winning, and a player's knowledge or skill has little or no control over the result. The nature of luck-based games is such that all events are unique and independent. Examples include Bingo, roulette, the lottery and slot machines.
Games of skill are games in which a certain level of knowledge or skill is required. The player can, at least in part, control the result of the game. Practice can make a person a better player. For example, sports are considered games of skill (soccer, golf, billiards, etc.). Some card games are games of skill to an extent.

Self evaluation

• Do you often find yourself thinking about gambling activities and/or planning the next time you will play?
• Do you need to spend more and more money on gambling activities to get the same level of excitement?
• Do you become restless, tense, fed-up, or bad-tempered when trying to cut down or stop gambling?
• Do you ever gamble to escape or forget problems?
• After losing money on gambling activities, do you ever return another day to try and win your money back?
• Have you lied to your family and friends about your gambling?
• Have you spent money that was needed for basic expenses on gambling activities instead?
• Have you taken money from someone you live with, without their knowledge, in order to gamble?
• Have you stolen money from outside the family or shoplifted in order to gamble?
• Have you experienced problems with members of your family or close friends because of your gambling?
• Have you missed work or school in order to participate in gambling activities?
• Have you ever had to ask for help because of your gambling?

Gambling problems

While the vast majority of adults and adolescents gamble from time to time, others engage in the activity excessively. Moving from occasional players, they may progressively become regular players, and then show symptoms of gambling disorder.
Gambling becomes problematic when a person keeps playing despite experiencing negative consequences from their gambling participation. Because they are preoccupied with their gambling activities and are losing control, excessive players will neglect their other responsibilities and activities. They are unable to set or maintain limits related to both time and money.

Impact of problem gambling on personal functioning

Gambling problems can affect all aspects of a person's development: social life, occupational, professional or academic life; mood, personality, physical and mental health; and personal relationships. The level of impact and the degree of severity of symptoms varies from person to person.

Personal health problems

Additional health problems can arise, including physical health problems, such as physical pain, sleeping disorders, eating habits, and mental health problems such as anxiety, stress, depression, mood swings, and unexplained anger.
• Interpersonal problems can form in relationships with family members and friends.
• Financial problems, such as spending more money than planned, borrowing, and stealing money, can arise from gambling habits.
• Academic and professional problems in school can occur, such as a loss of interest in previous pursuits, absenteeism, and failing.

Signs of problem gambling

Some signs can indicate the development of a growing problem:
• a consuming interest in gambling and gambling-related activities
• problems in work or school, such as a loss of interest or unexplained absences
• changes in personality or demeanor
• changes in relationships (new friends and acquaintances, ignoring old friends)
• changes in mood
• explosive expression of anger
• signs of anxiety and stress

Here's what research and clinical work tells us: Problem gamblers...

• are more likely to be male
• are generally greater risk-takers
• tend to report higher rates of depression
• often gamble to escape problems
• are more likely to also develop substance addictions
• seem to be more excitable and outgoing
• are more anxious and less self-disciplined
• are at greater risk for suicidal ideation and suicide attempts
• often recall an early big win
• report more daily hassles and major traumatic life events
• often have parents, relatives, or friends who gamble
• develop problems with family and friends
• move quickly from just gambling with friends and family to problem gambling
• show decreased occupational or academic performance

Acknowledgement: International Centre for Youth Gambling Problems and High-Risk Behaviors, McGill University