Gambling involves placing an investment of money or other valuables on an event with an uncertain outcome. Whether the event is the roll of a dice, the spin of a roulette wheel or the outcome of a horse race, gambling involves risk and uncertainty. Gambling activities can be enjoyable, but they also carry risks that may have negative effects on gamblers and significant others. The underlying uncertainty of gambling is a major reason why it is hard to classify as an activity with low or no harms.

Many people who gamble do so as a way to relieve unpleasant emotions, unwind or socialize with friends. However, other ways to relieve those feelings exist and are healthier than gambling. Some examples include exercising, spending time with friends who do not gamble, taking up new hobbies or practicing relaxation techniques.

Some people gamble to experience the excitement of winning. Whether it is betting on their favourite football team or buying a scratchcard, the anticipation of ‘winning big’ fuels gamblers’ behaviours. Despite the high probability of losing, many gamblers maintain stable gambling behaviors by focusing on the thrill of the action and the possibility that they could win.

In some cases, the enjoyment of gambling can have positive impacts on society. For example, it can stimulate tourism and increase economic growth. However, other studies have shown that gambling can lead to declining quality of life and a lack of social cohesion. These findings highlight the importance of using a holistic approach to measuring gambling harms, including examining monetary and non-monetary costs.