What Is Gambling?

Gambling is an activity in which a person risks something of value upon the outcome of a contest of chance or upon the occurrence of a future contingent event not under the control or influence of that person. This includes a bet on the outcome of a sports event or a lottery, but does not include bona fide business transactions valid under the law of contracts (e.g., the purchase of securities or commodities, contracts of indemnity or guaranty, and life, health, and accident insurance).

The act of gambling is usually associated with risk-taking, impulsivity, sensation-seeking, and negative emotionality. However, the exact mechanisms that underlie a person’s attraction to gambling are not well understood. The most common explanations include a desire to get a rush or “high” and the anticipation of a win. Despite the obvious risks, gambling is a widespread activity. Almost half of the adult population engages in it for some reason, whether playing card or board games with friends, participating in a friendly pool on a football game, buying a lottery ticket, or placing bets at the horse track or a casino.

Compulsive gambling can be devastating to personal relationships, job performance, and education. It can also erode financial security and lead to theft, fraud, or bankruptcy. It can also trigger or worsen mood disorders, such as depression or stress. Treatment for compulsive gambling is available and effective. Seek help from a trained mental health professional, and consider family therapy or self-help groups like Gamblers Anonymous.