Gambling is the betting or staking of something of value, such as money, property or personal effort, on an uncertain event that is determined by chance. It is considered a form of entertainment, and it has been popular for centuries around the world, from the time Christopher Columbus introduced playing cards to the Western Hemisphere to today. While pro-gambling advocates claim that it promotes fantasy, wealth and moments of grandeur, it is a major source of pain and loss for many people. In the past, gambling has made millionaires and helped a few countries develop, but it also contributed to financial collapses, bankruptcy, crime and family breakdowns.

The reasons for someone to gamble can vary – it could be for socialization, coping with mental health issues or for the thrill of winning. The media portrays gambling as fun, glamorous and fashionable and for some people this can be a motivating factor. For others the lure of winning is a way to escape from reality or to relieve boredom or stress.

Regardless of the reason, people can become addicted to gambling. While there is no universal definition of a problem gambler, the literature has grouped problem gamblers together into four categories: for coping reasons, for fun, to make money or as an outlet for negative emotions. Understanding why a loved one is doing what they are doing can help us to understand their behaviour and support them in finding healthier ways to cope.

For those who are not problem gamblers, gambling can be a fun pastime that helps to keep the brain active and provides an enjoyable diversion from daily life. There are a variety of games available, from casino table games to online gambling websites. While some people do overindulge, most can control their gambling and limit their losses. Nevertheless, there are serious risks associated with gambling and it can affect self-esteem, relationships, physical health and work performance. It can also have a harmful impact on family, friends and communities.

In terms of positive impacts, the research to date has primarily focused on economic costs and benefits, with a few studies examining the effects of gambling on gamblers’ significant others. It is therefore crucial to fill gaps in research into the positive impacts of gambling by incorporating a public health approach. This involves using health-related quality of life (HRQL) weights to calculate per-person burdens on quality of life and to identify hidden costs that have not yet been included in calculations of the economic benefits and costs of gambling. This will provide a basis for a common methodology on the public health impact of gambling. This will in turn facilitate the development of appropriate gambling policy.