Gambling involves wagering something of value (money, items, or services) on an event whose outcome is determined by chance, rather than by skill or effort. There is a long history of legal prohibitions on gambling, often motivated by moral or religious grounds, to preserve public order where disputes are associated with gambling activities, or to prevent people from wasting their time and energy on gambling instead of more productive activities.

While there are some societal benefits of gambling, the majority of its impacts are negative and can have severe health and social consequences for gamblers, their significant others, and society. To better understand these costs and benefits, it is important to look at gambling in a holistic manner. This article proposes a conceptual model for doing so, drawing on existing research to form a structure for the analysis of the various gambling impacts, from a public health perspective.

The simplest way to do this is through a comparison of personal and interpersonal and society/community level external impacts, both monetary and non-monetary. For example, monetary costs are easily quantifiable and include the cost of the bet itself (which could be the price of a ticket to a football match, or the amount on a scratchcard) and the opportunity cost of the gambler’s time, which is lost by betting. In addition, psychological costs can also be quantified by assessing the occurrence of gambling-related mental health problems, such as compulsive or pathological gambling.