Jul 06

Harms caused by problem gambling

gambling_slave1In previous posts I have written about the Conceptual Framework of Harmful Gambling (CFHG), which is a publication sponsored by the Gambling Research Exchange Ontario (GREO). The framework presents a broad set of factors relating to the harms that gambling may cause, such as features of the gambling environment, exposure and the various forms of gambling. The factors span across the cultural, social, psychological and biological domains. The CFHG also identifies factors that mitigate harm, such as problem gambling prevention and interventions.

While the CFHG outlines factors relating to harm caused by gambling, it does not list the specific harms that gambling may cause. This, however, is done in the following recent publication:

– Langham, E., Thorne, H., Browne, M., Donaldson, P., Rose, J., & Rockloff, M. (2016). Understanding gambling related harm: A proposed definition, conceptual framework, and taxonomy of harms. BMC Public Health, 16(80).

The paper is freely available from the journal and is, as far as I know, the most comprehensive list of gambling harms that have been compiled.

Another publication that I recommend about gambling harm is the following report:

– Browne, M., Langham, E., Rawat, V., Greer, N., Li, E., Rose, J., . . . Best, T. (2016). Assessing gambling-related harm in Victoria: A public health perspective. Melbourne: Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation.

The study presented in the report is complex and carried out in a series of stages. It is a bit difficult for me and others who are not experts in quantifying harms to public health to get an idea of how reliable are the results of the final stage. Nevertheless, the report presents an extensive catalogue of various harms caused by gambling (similar to the Langham, et al., 2016, paper just mentioned). The report also shows that these harms are widespread and affecting many more people than just gamblers. The results suggests that “… 50%, 34%, and 15% of the total harm resulting from gambling in Victoria can be divided among low-risk, moderate risk and problem-gamblers, respectively.” It is found that a typical “low risk” gambler (PGSI 1-2) suffers and creates less harm than “moderate risk” and problem gamblers, but because they are more plentiful among the population the total amount of harm attributed to them is greater than that attributed to more severe problem gambling. In the final stage of analysis, gambling in Victoria is found to “… contribute to 101,675 years of life lost to disability (YLD1) due to decreased quality of life, per year.”

A reflection after having read the report from Victoria is that it would be interesting to have some other leisure activity to compare with. Virtually any human activity have at least some drawbacks and has the potential to cause some harm, especially if it is repeated excessively. Such harms may of course be transient and minor, but that applies also to some of the harms relating to “low risk” gambling. Thus, in my view the Browne et al report presents a very interesting study but it raises questions regarding the concept of “low risk” gambling and its harms.



The following article, published on March 13, 2017, critically discusses some of the recent studies on harm, including the Browne, et al. 2016 study in Victoria:
– Delfabbro, P., & King, D. (2017). Prevention paradox logic and problem gambling: Does low-risk gambling impose a greater burden of harm than high-risk gambling? Journal of Behavioral Addictions, Advance online publication. doi:10.1556/2006.6.2017.022

The main arguments and results from the Browne, et al. 2016 report are now presented in articles:
– Browne, M., Greer, N., Rawat, V., & Rockloff, M. (2017). A population-level metric for gambling-related harm. International Gambling Studies, Advance online publication. doi:10.1080/14459795.2017.1304973
– Browne, M., Rawat, V., Greer, N., Langham, E., Rockloff, M., & Hanley, C. (2017). What is the harm? Applying a public health methodology to measure the impact of gambling problems and harm on quality of life. Journal of Gambling Issues, Advance online publication, doi:10.4309/jgi.2017.36.2

A study of gambling harm in New Zealand have used the same approach as the Browne et al, 2016 Australian study:
– Central Queensland University and Auckland University of Technology. (2017). Measuring the burden of gambling harm in New Zealand. Wellington: Ministry of Health.

Another report from New Zealand “assess experience, knowledge and opinions about gambling harm among New Zealand adults, both overall and among different social and population groups (as defined by gender, ethnicity, neighbourhood deprivation level, risk of gambling harm, type of gambling participation, and number of gambling activities participated in over the past 12 months)”:
– Holland, K., Tu, D., Gray, R., Hudson, S., & Li, J. (2017). New Zealanders’ knowledge, views and experience of gambling and gambling harm: Results from the 2014 Health and Lifestyles Survey. Wellington: Health Promotion Agency Research and Evaluation Unit.


    • Matthew Browne on July 27, 2017 at 6:38 am
    • Reply

    Hi there,

    Matthew Browne here – I stumbled across this blog post whilst researching a book chapter I’m writing on the subject. Thanks kindly for the mentions our recent articles. I also recommend Delfrabbro & King’s article as an interesting and informative read.

    I mainly just wanted to mention that I agree that it would be very interesting to compare gambling to other entertainment activities. As I say at the beginning of my chapter draft,

    “Gambling is often represented as a commercial recreational activity; i.e. similar to going to the cinema, playing a computer game, or watching professional sporting events. It is fair to say that it provides similar benefits to participants, in providing opportunities for entertainment, social contact, and the alleviation of boredom. However, gambling is fundamentally different from most alternative entertainment options in the degree to which it fosters excessive consumption and behavioural addiction, which can lead to harm. ”

    I’ve imagined a similar methodology looking at harm from watching sporting events or computer games, but it’s hard to imagine the harms would be on a similar order of magnitude as gambling!

    best wishes,


    1. Hi Matthew,

      Thanks for the comment. I agree that excessive gambling and gambling addiction causes severe harm to a larger extent than most or all other “recreational” activities. No doubt about that. However, the minor harms or inconveniences – as defined in the 2016 study in Victoria – following from “low risk” gambling would be interesting to compare with those of other recreational activities. I’m looking forward reading your book chapter on the subject of gambling harm.

      Best regards,


        • Matthew Browne on July 29, 2017 at 1:33 am
        • Reply

        Yes, I do agree.

        The interesting thing about harms is that for the most part they are not necessarily gambling specific, and one can imagine them as being a consequence of other things: excessive alcohol use, or ‘behavioural addictions’ like computer games or pornography. Potentially a few of them can occur from ‘benign’ activities also.

        The Li et al paper lists the IRT severity scores for each harm, so readers can easily identify the milder harms.

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