The Practice of Gambling


Gambling is the act of placing a bet on an outcome with an uncertain chance of winning. For most people gambling is a fun and entertaining way to spend time but for some it becomes an addiction that negatively impacts their life and the lives of those around them. Those with an addictive personality are prone to developing gambling problems, as it alters the brain’s natural reward system in much the same way that alcohol or drugs do. This change in brain chemistry leads to an overstimulation of the reward system, leading the individual to gamble more and more in an attempt to experience that pleasure they are seeking.

It is important to realise that the urge to gamble is often a response to emotional or psychological triggers such as boredom, depression, grief, stress, or simply not wanting to think about one’s current financial or personal issues. Furthermore, the media often portrays gambling as fun, sexy, glamorous and fashionable and for many individuals this is a positive reinforcement of the idea that they could potentially be lucky enough to win.

Currently most gambling research is focused on the behavioural and cognitive dimensions of problem gambling and the reduction of its harms. However, the broader social context in which gambling is situated can also be of interest and has the potential to inform more holistic and effective strategies for gambling harm reduction. A practice theory approach can be useful in this regard, as it recognises the multifaceted and situated realities of routinised behaviours. It focuses on the everyday enlistment of different elements such as bodies, materials, knowledge, language and discourse, rituals, norms, social structures, spaces and places, power, and individual/group agency in the emergence of specific practices [42].

In the case of gambling, this would mean recognising that the everyday use of casino products, services, technologies, and marketing techniques shape particular ways of engaging in that activity. For instance, the emergence of online casino gaming, mobile phone gambling, and a proliferation of advertising and promotions that utilise visuals, colouring and messaging to appeal to socio-cultural constructs such as hedonism, social status, winning and success, mateship, thrill and adventure, and sexuality lend themselves particularly well to a practice theory framework.

These different elements are incorporated into a person’s gambling practice in the form of routine, habitual, and routinised actions. A practice theory lens can therefore help to identify and explore how they interact, in a dynamic process of engagement, to shape gambling.

The best way to prevent gambling harm is to set limits on how much money you are willing to lose and stick to those limits. Avoid chasing your losses by leaving the table when you have reached your set limit, whether you are losing or winning. Make a personal rule not to gamble on credit or with borrowed money, and balance your gambling with other activities such as friends, family, hobbies, work, and physical exercise. Take regular breaks, and try not to gamble when you are tired or distracted.