How to Reduce Gambling Harm

Gambling involves risking money or other assets on an event with an uncertain outcome, such as a game of chance or sports betting. While gambling can provide enjoyment and excitement, it can also cause harm. Problem gambling can damage physical and mental health, relationships, performance at work or study and lead to debt and homelessness. It can also have a negative impact on family, friends and other community members. The UK government has set out to reduce gambling-related harm, including suicides, through a range of initiatives.

A growing body of research identifies that many people are at risk of gambling-related problems. Although the risk of gambling-related problems is largely related to the person’s own behaviour and decisions, there are a number of environmental factors that can contribute to the development of harmful gambling behaviours. These include the availability of casinos and other forms of gambling, advertising of gambling products and services, the presence of friends who gamble, the environment in which gambling takes place and the social constructs associated with gambling, such as mateship, hedonism, and thrill and adventure.

While there are a number of risk-reducing strategies, the most important one is to recognise when your gambling is out of control. If you are unsure whether you have a problem, speak to your doctor or visit the websites of organisations that offer support and advice for gambling-related harm.

The use of a gambling problem hotline can also help. Many of these services offer free and confidential counselling, advice, and referrals for specialist treatment. In addition, some of these services can link you with a peer support group, such as Gamblers Anonymous, which is based on the 12-step recovery model used by Alcoholics Anonymous.

Identify your triggers and try to avoid them. For example, if you drive past a casino on your way to and from work, consider taking an alternative route or turning off the television when watching sports, as this can trigger your urges to gamble. Similarly, make sure you leave credit cards and other non-essential cash at home when going out so you can’t be tempted to spend money on gambling. It’s also helpful to learn healthier ways to relieve unpleasant feelings, such as exercising, spending time with friends who don’t gamble or doing hobbies that require creative thinking.

A social practice theory approach to gambling could explore how the materials and objects involved in gambling shape practices, such as using apps or mobile phones, playing slots or other games of chance and betting with collectible items like marbles or pogs instead of real money. This could build on existing research that highlights the power dynamics and agency of friendship groups in shaping their expectations about how to gamble, as well as discourses around competencies on estimating odds, game playing strategy and how to deal with winning and losing. It might also consider how changing the availability or form of certain materials could impact gambling behaviours, such as the removal of cash machines from casinos or restricting the advertising and marketing of poker and other casino games.