What is Gambling?

Gambling is risking money or something of material value on something with an uncertain outcome in the hope of winning additional money or something of material value.

Types of Gambling:

  • Coin pushers, teddy grabbers and some lower stakes fruit machines in family entertainment centres and amusement arcades (no min. age)
  • National Lottery, lotteries and football pools, as well as some non-commercial gambling, or low stakes and prizes gambling (16+)
  • Adult gaming centres, betting shops, bingo halls, bookmakers, casinos, racetracks and online gambling. (18+)

What is a gambling addiction and how can it harm you?

A gambling addiction is defined as gambling that disrupts or damages personal, family or recreational pursuits. People with a gambling addiction are often  defined as ‘gamblers who gamble with negative consequences and a possible loss of control’.

Gambling harms are the adverse impacts from gambling on the health and wellbeing of individuals, families, communities and society. These harms impact on people’s resources, relationships and health.

Factors Influencing Gambling Habits: There are a number of factors which may influence a gambler, these include: Affordability, Accessibility, Acceptability, Age, Advertisement, Awareness. Other aspects affecting the motivations for gambling include: enjoyment, entertainment, excitement, economic reasons and escapism.

If you are concerned that you or someone you know is experiencing issues with unhealthy gambling behaviour please get in touch to speak with someone at or  - also see below for further information, advice, support and online resources.



Gambling Safety Rules

The following Gambling Safety Rules can be followed to help prevent gambling harms.

- Set a money limit and stick to it: Decide before you play how much you can afford to lose before quitting, and much you want to spend. Do not change your mind when you lose.
- Set a time limit and stick to it: Decide how much of your time you want to allow for gambling. Leave when you reach the time limit, whether you are winning or losing.
- Make it a rule not to gamble on credit: Don't borrow to gamble, including writing I.O.U.s or getting cash advances on a credit card.
- Consider any losses the cost of playing: Expect to lose and treat any winnings as a bonus.
- Do not gamble if you are feeling angry, upset or lonely: Gambling is meant to be entertainment and should not replace coping skills.
- Keep a balance in your life: Gambling should never stop you spending time with friends, family, work, or other positive activities.
- Avoid trying to win back lost money: Chances are, the more you try to win back your losses, the bigger your losses will be.
- Become educated about the warning signs of problem gambling: The more you know, the better choices you can make.

Recreational Gamblers and Gambling Addiction, what's the difference?

Gambling behaviour is usually described as part of a continuum, where gamblers may experience none, some or several gambling-related harms. Particularly, people who do gamble can be categorised into the following: recreational gamblers, at risk gamblers and gambling addicts.
When individuals begin to experience harm from gambling (i.e. negatively impacting their work, personal or social life) they would move along this continuum into the at-risk category. Gambling addicts are those at the end of the scale, who struggle to control their gambling and can experience difficulties affecting their finances, relationships and mental health.
Recreational gambler:

- Occasionally gambles
- Hopes to win but expects to lose
- Gambles for entertainment
- Sets and sticks to limits of time and money
- Knows when to walk away

Gambling Addict:
- Expects to win
- Chases their losses
- Spends more time gambling and thinking about gambling
- Gambles to earn money or escape problems
- Gambles more than they can afford to lose
- Might borrow or steal to fund their gambling

What are the common fallacies of those with a gambling addiction?

There are a number of fallacies (false beliefs and wrong ideas) that are held by people affected by a gambling addiction. These include:

- Normalising behaviour: most addicted gamblers overestimate the number of people who behave as they do, thinking “lots of other people gamble just as much as I do, so it can’t be that bad”.
- Confusing “often” with “memorable”: wins are memorable because they tend to be larger and more exciting, though less frequent, than the smaller, more regular losses. Most gamblers remember their wins better than their losses, so they often believe that they are ahead when they are actually losing.
- Superstitions: many gamblers mistakenly believe they can improve their luck by repeating superstitious habits falsely connected with past wins, e.g. wearing the ‘lucky t-shirt’ or playing their ‘lucky numbers’.
- Ignoring the odds: most people ignore that the house edge makes it mathematically impossible to win on the long term. E.g. people might buy lottery tickets because they know of someone who has won, yet they don’t realise that it took 30 billion tickets (more than 4 times the earth’s population) to produce 2,000 winners.
- Forgetting the law of averages: the more times something happens, the closer the average result will be to its true odds. It’s not unusual to flip a coin twice and to get heads both times. But it’s very unlikely for heads to come up ten times in a row. Although short winning streaks are common, long winning streaks are impossible. People who appear to win more frequently than other people—who seem luckier—have usually just played more often. They’ll also have more frequent losses than other people, but they don’t brag about the losses!
- Random events are not influenced by past history: in most real-life situations, history does help us predict the future, so people tend to look for patterns and expect events to be predictable. However, dice, roulette wheels, slot machines, bingos and lotteries are all random events: thus the outcome of these games cannot be predicted or influenced by the players.
- Early wins and occasional rewards encourage false hopes: most commercial gambling enterprises understand this principle, so they offer infrequent large wins and frequent small wins. The player will then keep gambling in the hope of hitting a big win, ignoring the true odds of the game and the presence of the house edge, which will make the player most definitely losing over the long term. Most problem gamblers had the misfortune of a big win when they first started to gamble.
- Most people take credit for success and blame failure on things beyond their control: attributing success to skill and failure to bad luck is one of the misleading thought processes of someone with a gambling addiction.
- Money does not solve all problems: people who win the lottery tend to be very happy for the first year, and then return to their previous level of happiness. Many gamblers mistakenly believe that if they become rich, their problems will be solved and they will be forever happy.

What to look out for if you or someone you know may be addicted to gambling?

A person may be at risk of developing a gambling addiction if they answer yes to any of these questions:

- Have you ever tried to stop, cut down or control your gambling?
- Have you ever lied to your family, friends or others about gambling or how much you spend on gambling?
- Do you spend a lot of time thinking about gambling or future gambling?

The more commonly used Screens are the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) and the Problem Gambling Severity Index (PGSI). These screens have scoring systems assessing the behaviours / actions of a gambler, which may include:

- Being preoccupied with gambling;
- Needing to gamble with increasing sums of money in order to achieve the desired excitement;
- Being restless when attempting to cut down on gambling;
- Gambling as a way of escaping from problems or relieving depression;
- Returning – after losing money gambling – another day in order to get even;
- Lying to family members or others to conceal the extent of involvement with gambling;
- Often spending much more money on gambling than intended;
- Having committed antisocial or illegal acts in order to finance gambling;
- Having fallen out with family, truants from school, or has disrupted schooling because of gambling.

The table below, made available by the RCA Trust (a Paisley-based organisation working closely with Gamcare and GambleAware), illustrates the gambling addiction cycle: 
(Figure 2: Gambling Addiction Cycle)

If you are looking for advice about how to access help for you or someone you know, or just want to find out more, please see the resources list at the top of this page or get in touch by emailing 

Content developed with the support of the Gambling Education Hub, operated by Fast Forward