Gambling is an activity involving the risking of money or personal belongings in exchange for a chance to win something else of value. It involves three elements: consideration, risk, and a prize. It is a social act and, as such, can have both negative and positive effects on the participants. The negative effects are usually derived from people’s inability to control their gambling behavior. The positive effects are derived from the sense of satisfaction and achievement gained by people who gamble successfully. In addition, gambling can provide a social setting for individuals to meet new people with similar interests and improve their socialization skills.
The term ‘gambling’ is a broad one and can include several activities that involve placing a wager on an event of uncertain outcome. This includes card games like poker, blackjack, and spades played privately in homes, casinos, and other gaming establishments; casino-style machines such as slot machines, fruit machines, video-draw poker machines, two-up machines, baccarat, and roulette; sports betting like horse and greyhound racing, football accumulators, and lottery games; and speculating on business, insurance, or stock markets. It can also include other activities that involve the use of randomness or chance such as lotteries, scratch-off tickets, and bingo.
While there are many benefits to gambling, such as the thrill of winning, it can also have some negative impacts, including loss of personal and family wealth, addiction, and mental health problems. However, the majority of adults who gamble do so responsibly. It is estimated that 2 million U.S adults (1%) meet the criteria for a serious gambling disorder and another 4–6 million have mild to moderate gambling disorders. Moreover, research shows that most adults who gamble do so in moderation and are not addicted.
Most studies have focused on the economic impacts of gambling, which are often compared to investment in other forms of entertainment such as movies or sporting events. However, there is little attention to the social impact of gambling. This gap is largely due to the challenge of measuring social impacts, which are nonmonetary by nature and difficult to measure. Furthermore, these impacts are not easily comparable to investments in other forms of entertainment.
Moreover, social impacts can be structural and temporal in nature, affecting the individual and society/community levels. The former refers to invisible, individual impacts that occur within gamblers’ families or close friends, while the latter includes societal/community level external costs and benefits such as general impacts, costs of problem gambling, and long-term cost/benefits.
The methodological challenges in calculating the social impact of gambling can be solved using a conceptual model proposed by Walker and Williams. This model identifies benefits and costs and classifies them into three classes: financial, labor and health, and well-being. In addition, the model identifies levels of impact: personal, interpersonal, and societal/community.