Gambling – A Conceptual Framework and Taxonomy


Gambling is an activity where people bet something of value on a random event with the intention of winning something else of value. The event may be anything from a football match to playing a scratchcard. The choice of what to bet on is determined by the odds, which are set by the betting company and determine how much money the gambler could win if they were to be successful.

People gamble for fun, with a small amount of money that they can afford to lose, and only occasionally. But for some it becomes a problem and can have negative effects on their lives, especially those of their family and friends. It’s important to recognise when a person is struggling with gambling and seek help as soon as possible.

The definition of problem gambling has been debated for centuries, with many societies banning it entirely and others allowing it on a very restricted basis. It’s also a complex issue, as it’s not clear-cut whether someone has a problem if they are only occasionally gambling or if they are regularly spending more than they can afford to lose.

In this paper, we present a conceptual framework and taxonomy to understand harms from gambling. This has been developed from inductive analysis of the data, and a number of themes have emerged. The first is that there are a range of harms experienced at three levels – a person who gambles, affected others and the broader community. The second is that these can be grouped into temporal categories. For example, some harms can be referred to as legacy harms, which persist or emerge even when the behaviour has stopped.

Generally, the more money that is lost, the more serious the harm. People can experience financial harm at a personal level, such as the erosion of savings or the loss of income that has a direct impact on living standards. They can also experience harm at a community level, for example through a decrease in civic participation or the emergence of organised crime groups associated with gambling.

The third category of harm is the effect on relationships and the impact on children. This can include emotional harms such as feelings of shame and betrayal, and can have long term effects on the relationship with a spouse or partner. It can also affect the way a child behaves and their school performance.

If you’re worried about your own or a loved one’s gambling, or think they might be struggling with an addiction, you can get help and support from our trained counsellors. Our services are free, confidential and available 24/7. To make an appointment, call 0800 002 022. You can also find out more about the different treatments available by visiting our Treatment Directory. Alternatively, you can chat to a counsellor online using our LiveChat service. This is also free and confidential. You can also read our Frequently Asked Questions. Click on a question below to reveal the answer.