Gambling and Its Consequences

Amid all the excitement surrounding the introduction of legalized sports betting and state-run lotteries, many people forget that gambling is a broad activity that involves a series of psychological processes and events. Although there are a number of differences between different types of gambling, there are also a few consistent features that have been identified in clinical and neurobiological literature. These features may explain why gambling is so popular and why it has such a wide range of consequences for individuals, from the pleasures that come with fantasy and wealth to the devastation and loss of personal dignity that comes with some forms of gambling.

Gambling involves placing a bet (money or other items of value) on a random event and winning something else of value. While instances of strategy are not excluded, gambling is not considered to be a form of play unless there is a chance for a win and the stakes are significant. This is true whether one is attempting to make a bet on the outcome of a scratch card or wagering with friends at the casino.

It is estimated that about $10 trillion is wagered legally worldwide each year, including in organized football pools and other lottery-like games. Although many adults and adolescents engage in gambling without problems, a smaller subset develops pathological gambling (PG), defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as a persistent pattern of behavior that causes distress or impairment.

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