Gambling Harms – A Functional Definition of Harm

Gambling is a behaviour that can lead to harmful consequences for the person who gambles, their family and friends, and the broader community. It can lead to feelings of anxiety, depression and irritability, loss of control over one’s life and increased risks of criminal activity.

Harm minimisation is an important feature of public health approaches to gambling. This includes reducing the harms that occur through gambling and supporting people to manage those harms. However, it is important to define harm in a way that allows for consistency of interpretation across treatment providers, policy makers and researchers.

This project aimed to develop a functional definition of harm that could be operationalised and measured in a manner consistent with standard epidemiological protocols used in public health. This was achieved through the development of a conceptual framework that captured the breadth and experience of harms experienced by the person who gambled, their affected others and the broader community.

The harms were classified in a number of thematic domains including:

Financial (general)harms

These were identified as harms that occur when people who gamble have to limit their spending, restrict purchases, or rely on more expensive credit products to make ends meet. They also included harms relating to the impact of poor credit ratings and financial vulnerability which can lead to further financial and social harms over time.


Relationship harms were consistently identified, including a lack of trust in the relationship and a sense of inequality in the amount of engagement or effort a person who gambled would put into a relationship. These were both primary and secondary or further order harms which often exacerbated the impact of other harms such as emotional distress.