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A Functional and Conceptual Definition of Gambling Harm

A Functional and Conceptual Definition of Gambling Harm


Whether it’s buying a lottery ticket, placing a bet on the horses or playing the pokies, most people gamble at some point in their lives. But when gambling becomes a problem, it can have serious consequences. It can strain relationships, interfere with work and lead to financial disaster. If you’re concerned about a loved one, there are treatment and rehabilitation programs available.

A Functional Definition of Gambling Harm

There is a growing need for a comprehensive and inclusive definition of harm in the context of gambling. This is due to the lack of a robust and internationally agreed upon definition, as well as the use of inadequate proxy measures that limit our understanding of gambling related harms.

This paper proposes a functional definition of harm that can be operationalised to support the measurement of gambling related harm consistent with standard epidemiological protocols used in public health. It also contributes a conceptual framework for gambling related harm that captures the breadth of how harms can manifest for the person who gambles, their affected others and the broader community.

A Conceptual Framework for Gambling Related Harm

The framework identifies six thematic classifications of harm that are broadly reflected across the life of the person who gambles, their family and friends, and the broader community. These are: – Financial harms; – Emotional and psychological harms; – Impacts on the person’s health; – Impacts on work, study or economic activity; – Criminal acts; – Cultural harms (harms relating to people with strong religious beliefs, CALD groups and indigenous populations).

Moreover, the framework also captures an additional category of harm which is not a direct result of gambling behaviour but rather reflects the wider social determinants of harm. This category relates to intergenerational harms and is a pervasive legacy harm that impacts beyond the current lifecourse of the person who gambles.

An initial phase of the research was conducted using a number of focus groups (n = 12). This included a combination of semi-structured interviews with participants who identified that they had experienced harm from their own and/or someone else’s gambling. These interviews were conducted both in person and via telephone.

The aim of the research was to identify the key themes underlying harm from gambling. The themes were based on a review of existing literature and the results from the initial focus groups. These themes were categorised into a final taxonomy and then further analysed to generate further insights. This resulted in the identification of a final theme relating to lifecourse and intergenerational harms.