Gambling involves wagering something of value, with consciousness of risk and hope of gain, on an uncertain event. This can include games of chance that are purely random, and activities such as sports betting or horse race handicapping in which skill can reduce the chances of losing. Even the purchase of life insurance can be considered gambling, because the premium paid to one’s family is a bet that they will die within a specified time period.
Although many people enjoy gambling, it can be addictive and result in financial and social problems. For some, it may also trigger mood disorders such as depression, anxiety, or substance abuse. Gambling problems can also interfere with relationships and work performance. In addition, they can lead to bankruptcy. A few studies suggest that a small percentage of individuals develop a pathological gambling disorder (PG), which is characterized by persistent and recurrent maladaptive patterns of gambling behavior. This is a severe form of gambling addiction and can have devastating consequences.
Despite the negative impact of gambling, it is important to distinguish it from other forms of entertainment that are not related to chance or luck. For example, theater, movies, and television offer a wide variety of plots and themes that are not necessarily based on chance. These entertainment forms are often influenced by personal preferences, such as the preference for specific genres or actors.
Some scholars have suggested that gambling is a behavior that is motivated by sensation-seeking, similar to the way that people may seek out complex or varied stimulation. Zuckerman’s theory of sensation-seeking suggests that people may engage in behaviors such as gambling for the positive reinforcement generated by states of high arousal during periods of uncertainty and for the enjoyment of the feeling of achieving a jackpot win. This view is consistent with Cloninger’s (1987) theory of hedonic and behavioral pleasure.
It is important to note that while some studies have linked gambling to underlying mood disorders, it is not clear whether these disorders cause or are caused by the gambling behavior itself. A major limitation in current research on gambling is the lack of longitudinal data. Such studies would allow researchers to identify factors that moderate and exacerbate an individual’s gambling participation and thus help to determine causality.
Various models of problem gambling have been proposed, with varying degrees of success in predicting who will develop a gambling disorder and what treatments are most effective. Research scientists, psychiatrists, other treatment care clinicians, and public policy makers frame questions about gambling from a variety of perspectives, depending on their disciplinary training and world views. The result is that a great deal of confusion and controversy surrounds the nature and causes of gambling problems. For example, different observers consider poor judgment untainted by illness to be the cause of gambling-related problems, while others ascribe these problems to recreational interests, diminished mathematical skills, cognitive distortions, mental illness, or moral turpitude. Moreover, different conceptualizations of pathological gambling have shaped the development of integrated and hybrid treatments.