What Is Gambling?

Gambling is betting or staking something of value, with conscious risk and hope of gain, on the outcome of a game, contest, or an uncertain event not under one’s control or influence. It excludes bona fide business transactions valid under law, such as contracts of insurance or guaranty and life, health, or accident insurance. It also excludes lotteries and state-organized or state-licensed sports pools. It has been estimated that the total amount of money legally wagered each year in gambling is about $10 trillion.

Many different types of gambling games are played for money, and they may be played in casinos, racetracks, or other venues. These include video games, slot machines, roulette, and blackjack, which are played at brick-and-mortar and online casinos; horse races and dog shows; sports betting, including football and basketball betting; scratchcards and pull-tab games; and bingo. Some people who gamble do so for fun rather than for money, such as playing card games.

There is a strong link between mental health issues and gambling problems. People who struggle with depression, stress, or anxiety are at higher risk of becoming compulsive gamblers. Some people who have a gambling disorder use it as an escape or to distract themselves from other problems they are facing. There is also a significant risk that someone who has a gambling problem will get into debt, and this can have a serious impact on their life.

It is difficult to determine how common gambling disorders are, as there are no universal diagnostic criteria for them and many people who suffer from them do not seek treatment. However, there is evidence to suggest that the occurrence of gambling disorders is much more prevalent than is widely believed. The psychiatric community has changed its view of pathological gambling in recent years, from viewing it as an impulse-control disorder to treating it as a behavioral addiction. The latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) now lists pathological gambling under the category of substance-related disorders.

There are a number of treatments for gambling disorders, including cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which can help address the beliefs around gambling that cause problems. These can include thoughts that you are more likely to win than you really are, and that certain rituals or activities will bring you luck. The therapist will also look at the underlying mood issues that can trigger gambling problems, such as depression or anxiety, and try to address these too. In severe cases, residential and inpatient treatments are available for those who are unable to stop gambling without round-the-clock support. These can be very expensive, but they can often be successful. Some countries have government-funded clinics for gambling disorders. Others have national helplines or websites for those who need them. In the UK, StepChange offers free and confidential debt advice for those who are struggling with gambling issues. The organization is funded by the Department for Communities and Local Government.