Friday 7 October 2022

What is gambling-related harm?

In the ongoing process of turning gambling into a 'public health' issue, it is necessary to identify some harms to be addressed. This is not as easy as it sounds since gambling per se does not cause any harm to health. On the contrary, it can improve wellbeing, as Public Health England acknowledged in its evidence review:

‘The highest levels of gambling participation are reported by people who have better general psychological health and higher life satisfaction. And people who have poorer psychological health are less likely to report gambling participation.’

Moreover, whilst pathological gambling is a mental health problem by definition, it does not directly harm health. 
This week, the Gambling Commission drew up a list of 27 gambling-related harms. Some of them are relatively severe impacts associated with problem gambling, albeit indirectly, such as:
  • loss of sleep
  • feelings of stress and anxiety
  • incidence of self-harm 
  • needed assistance from mental health services or help with your physical health
  • had thoughts of taking your life or made an attempt to take your life.
  • divorce, ending or loss of a relationship
  • experiencing social isolation
  • experiencing violence or abuse (including physical, emotional and financial abuse)

Some of them are pretty trivial...
  • feeling like a failure
  • increased consumption of alcohol and tobacco 
And some of them are ridiculous. For example...
  • reduction or loss of spending on recreational expenses such as eating out, going to the cinema or other entertainment
What?! This 'harm' comes about when you spend your money on literally anything. If you go to the cinema, you will suffer a 'reduction or loss of spending on recreational expenses such as eating out'. In a world of finite resources any expenditure on X means less expenditure on Y. The question is whether you'd rather spend money on X than Y. 
The same principle applies to the following alleged 'harm'... 

  • spending less time with the people you care about
I suppose that if you go to the casino on your own, you are using time that could be spent with your children, but maybe you don't want to spend all your time with your children. The school system means parents spend less time with their children but no one would describe that as a harm (if anything, it's a benefit).

The implicit message here is that gambling - not just problem gambling, but gambling in general - is a waste of time and money. If we're going to start redefining opportunity costs as harms there will be no end to the 'public health' campaign against gambling. 'No safe level' here we come...

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