What Is Gambling?


Gambling involves wagering something of value on an event whose outcome is determined at least partly by chance. This activity is widespread, legal in most countries and a major international commercial industry. There are several different types of gambling, including lotteries, horse racing and card games like poker. Many people use money to gamble, but some people use other items as stakes. For example, players of marbles games often wager marbles, and gamers of collectible game pieces such as Magic: The Gathering or Pogs may wager their collector’s cards or small discs.

While most people who participate in gambling do so responsibly, a minority develop problem gambling. This condition is also known as pathological gambling or compulsive gambling. It is estimated that 5% of people who engage in gambling will eventually develop this disorder. The risk is higher for people with lower incomes, because they are more likely to have more to lose than those with greater wealth. In addition, males are more likely to develop problem gambling than females.

Problem gambling is often associated with family and financial difficulties, and can damage relationships and careers. Fortunately, treatment is available. Behavioral therapy and cognitive-behavioral therapy can help people recognize the signs of problem gambling and learn strategies to manage it. In addition, family therapy and marriage, career, and credit counseling can help address issues that are exacerbated by gambling.

Although the exact definition of gambling varies by jurisdiction, it generally includes any activity in which a person stakes or risks something of value upon the outcome of a contest of chance or on a future contingent event not under his control or influence, upon an agreement or understanding that he or someone else will receive something of value in the event of a certain result. This does not include bona fide business transactions valid under the law of contracts, such as the purchase at a future date of securities or commodities, and contracts of indemnity or guaranty and life, health or accident insurance.

A growing number of researchers have focused on identifying factors that make individuals vulnerable to gambling problems. These factors include a predisposition to thrill-seeking and impulsive behavior, as well as genetic differences in the brain’s reward system. The most effective way to identify such vulnerabilities is to conduct longitudinal studies that follow individuals over time. Compared to other research designs, longitudinal data provide more precise causal inferences and can help researchers elucidate the mechanisms that moderate and exacerbate gambling participation. However, such studies are hampered by numerous barriers. For example, it is difficult to maintain a research team over a long period of time; there are challenges with sample attrition and the danger that repeated testing will influence gambling behavior and/or behavioral reports; and knowledge that period effects (e.g., aging and seasonality) confound longitudinal outcomes. Despite these obstacles, longitudinal research on gambling is becoming increasingly commonplace and sophisticated. Longitudinal studies can reveal a wide range of critical information about gambling, from those activities that place individuals at risk for developing more serious problems (subclinical) to those behaviors that meet Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders criteria for pathological gambling (PG). This information could eventually lead to improved prevention and treatment strategies.