What is Gambling?

Gambling is the act of placing something of value on an event with the hope of winning something else of value. The two main types of gambling are chance-based games where skill can’t improve the odds, and those that involve a level of strategy. The latter includes card games, sports betting, and casino games such as poker and blackjack.

For most people, gambling is a form of entertainment and fun, but for some it can have serious consequences. It can harm relationships, work and study performance and lead to debt and homelessness. Problem gambling changes the reward pathways in the brain, leading to a lack of control over the behaviour. Ultimately it stops being about entertainment and becomes a way to make money or escape.

During a session of gambling, the person chooses an item to wager on – this could be a football team to win a match or buying a scratchcard. This is matched to a ‘odds’ set by the bookmaker, which determines how much money you can expect to get if you win.

As you play, the brain produces dopamine, which is a natural reward. You get a kick out of winning and the prospect of more rewards keeps you playing. However, the more you gamble, the more likely you are to lose. In the long run, the house always wins.

The person who has a gambling problem may not realise that they have one and it can be very difficult to stop. The behaviour can cause damage or disruption to family, work and social life and can be associated with depression, substance misuse and suicide. People with gambling problems also have difficulty coping with stress and anxiety in their lives and often turn to gambling for relief.

While it’s important to recognise the difference between an enjoyable hobby and an addiction, it’s equally important not to criticise a loved one who has a problem. Gambling is an addictive activity that takes your money in exchange for some entertainment, just like going to the cinema. Keeping this in mind can help you understand why a person would continue to gamble even when they’re losing money.

The reasons that people take up gambling vary from person to person and include: coping reasons (to forget their worries, feel more self-confident or feel better about themselves), financial difficulties and boredom. The media promotes gambling as a glamorous, exciting and sociable pastime, and some find it is an attractive way to make money. People with a problem may build up tolerance to gambling, meaning they need to bet more to achieve the same dopamine effect. This can then lead to the dangerous cycle of more spending and more losses. This is why it’s crucial to only ever gamble with money you can afford to lose. It’s also worth only using disposable income for gambling, rather than saving it for essential bills and rent. There are many different models and theories that attempt to explain the causes of pathological gambling, including behavioral-environmental reasons, a general theory of addictions and the reward deficiency syndrome.