The Gambling Spectrum

All gambling carries risk. We can think of this risk as a spectrum - people whose gambling behaviour fits certain patterns are more likely to experience harm than others. The illustration below shows potential behaviours associated with levels of risk of gambling harm.

People can move up and down the spectrum, or overlap at points, depending what is happening in their lives and the behaviours they are experiencing.

Low level harm
Moderate harm
High level harm

Low level harm

  • Fun
  • Entertaining
  • Spending within your limits
  • Social
  • Gambling occasionally
  • Expecting to lose

Moderate harm

  • More frequent gambling
  • Chasing losses
  • Overspending
  • Hiding gambling
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Becoming more isolated
  • Feelings of guilt

High level harm

  • Relationship breakdowns
  • Struggling to control gambling
  • Criminality to fund gambling
  • Impacting mental health
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Impact on finances

The main purpose of The Gambling Spectrum is to understand that gambling related harm is more of a spectrum of harm, as opposed to traditionally accepted categorisations of gambling behaviour: safe and responsible and harmful.

Legacy harms are longer-term consequences from gambling that may be experienced even once a person’s engagement with gambling stops.

  • Lifecourse harms are legacy harms that substantially change
    a person’s life such that they may never return to a state of full recovery. For example, losing a job, divorce, or bankruptcy.
  • Intergenerational harms are legacy harms that affect future generations. For example, a child missing parental engagement due to their parent’s gambling who then experiences developmental impacts that affect their school, career, and lifetime potential.

When talking to someone you are supporting about their gambling, you can look at this Spectrum together to encourage an open conversation about the levels of harm and behaviours that are experiencing in the varying levels of risk categories.

People’s perceptions of their own gambling can potentially show the levels of gambling harm they may be experiencing.

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When speaking to someone about their gambling remember to take into account the perception gap.

A person who is experiencing harm from their own gambling, or the gambling of someone close to them, might see these activities as a form of entertainment and deny any harm. The perception of someone close to them (such as a friend, family member of support worker) might be very different - they may perceive these activities differently and see the harm that their gambling is causing. This difference in perception is known as the perception gap.