1.2 Taking a public health approach to gambling harm

Gambling is a risk-taking behaviour – it carries a risk of harm for the person who gambles, for the people close to that person, and for the society they live in.

Gambling harms are the adverse impacts from gambling on the health and wellbeing of individuals, families, communities and society. These harms impact on people’s resources, relationships and health.

The Scottish Gambling Education Hub advocates taking a public health approach to gambling and gambling-related harms.1 This involves looking at how gambling harms affect the whole population, and how harm can be prevented. It also involves determining who is most at risk of experiencing gambling harm (e.g. young people), and targeting interventions and resources to minimise health inequalities.

Unfortunately, it can be difficult to accurately measure the scale of gambling harm in a society. This is because many gambling harms are indirect (e.g. losing sleep due to worry about a loved one’s gambling), or don’t happen right away (e.g. lack of progression at work or study due to preoccupation with gambling).2

As a result, much of the existing research uses screening tools to survey the population, to identify people who gamble who are the most likely to be experiencing severe harm. These tools assign people who gamble into categories, with those scoring over a defined threshold categorised as ‘problem gamblers.’ This language has been challenged by people with lived experience of gambling harm, as it may be stigmatising, or imply that blame for gambling harms rests on individuals.

We do not want to contribute to any stigma around experiencing gambling harm by continuing to use problematic language. For that reason, we have chosen to use person-centred language (e.g. 'person experiencing...') and ‘harmful gambling’ language, rather than ‘problem gambling’ language.

Wherever possible, we have focused on broader measures of gambling harms, which give a more accurate picture of how gambling harms can impact a population.