Canadian Environmental Health Atlas

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Effects of Gambling

Effects of Gambling

Effects of Gambling
In 1972, Dr. Robert Custer coined the term “compulsive gambling”.1 A few years later, in 1980, the American Psychiatric Association categorized “pathological gambling” as an impulse disorder in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).1

For many people, gambling is a social activity that provides entertainment and excitement. For these people, socializing and building gaming skills can be viewed as beneficial.2 However, this is not the case for everyone. For many other people, gambling can lead to problem behaviours that have a negative impact on their health and well-being. Gambling may be associated with family dysfunction and domestic violence, alcohol and other drug abuse, psychiatric conditions such as depression and anxiety, and suicide.2Criminal behaviour and loss of employment as a direct result of wagering are associated with gambling, as well.

Gambling may also contribute to poverty and inequality. More affluent people spend larger amounts of money on gaming, but less affluent people spend relatively more of their incomes on these activities.3 For example, in 2008, 51% of households with income of less than $20,000 gambled and spent an average of $480, an amount representing 2.8% of their income. By contrast, 78% of households with income of $80,000 or more gambled and spent an average of $555, an amount representing 0.5% of their income.3People who are impoverished may perceive gambling as a way to change their lives. More often than not, gambling will have negative consequences and make their financial situation worse.

Consequences for Society
Even when the association between gambling and negative economic, social, and health impacts is strong, establishing causation is tricky. As Shaffer and Korn1 ask, “Do criminals gamble, or do gamblers become criminals?” But no matter what the answer, we cannot ignore the adverse effects associated with gambling.

In 2002, the Canadian Community Health Survey provided information about the social and health effects of problem gambling in Canada. The survey found that 18.9 million Canadians gambled in 2002 and 1.2 million, about 5% of the total Canadian population, had the potential to become or were already problem gamblers (Figure 1). The survey also found that the rates of at-risk and problem gambling varied by type of game played, with a dramatic one in four of gamblers playing VLTs being at risk or already problem gamblers (Figure 2).

  • 1. a. b. c. Korn DA. Expansion of gambling in Canada: Implications for health and social policy. CMAJ. 2000;163(1):61-64.
  • 2. a. b. Shaffer HJ, Korn DA. Gambling and Related Mental Disorders: A Public Health Analysis. Annu Rev Public Health. 2002; 23:171–212.
  • 3. a. b. Statistics Canada. Detailed Average Household Expenditure by Household Income Quintile for Canada and Provinces. Ottawa: Statistics Canada; 2009.