Gambling is the wagering of something of value on an event whose outcome is determined by chance, where instances of strategy are discounted. It requires three elements: consideration, risk and a prize. Some gamblers are happy to take chances and enjoy the rush of winning or losing, but others struggle to control their gambling and have a more negative experience. This can result in a variety of problems, including addiction.

Research has shown a reliable pattern of brain activity in humans when they receive monetary wins, especially in a region called the striatum. This part of the brain is a crucial component in a reward circuit that also responds to natural reinforcers like food and sexual stimuli, and drugs of abuse such as cocaine. In ongoing research, Dr Luke Clark at the Wolfson Brain Imaging Centre at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge is measuring activity in this reward circuit as volunteers experience near-miss and choice effects during a gambling task.

There are a wide range of reasons why people gamble, from enjoying the thrill of a win to gaining a sense of achievement. Gambling can also provide social settings where people meet people and interact in a more informal way. For example, it’s common for sports fans to gather in casinos or racecourses to watch their favourite teams and horses compete. This type of gambling can be beneficial to a local economy as it can attract tourists and generate revenue for the community.