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Statistics and research release

Problem gambling vs gambling-related harms

An explanation of the difference between problem gambling and gambling-related harms.



Problem gambling

‘Problem gambling’ means gambling to a degree that compromises, disrupts or damages family, personal or recreational pursuits. We currently measure problem gambling prevalence rates via a number of screening tools including the Problem Gambling Severity Index (PGSI). This screen measures the number of problem gamblers, moderate risk gamblers and low risk gamblers in a population. On this screen:

  • Problem gamblers are defined as ‘gamblers who gamble with negative consequences and a possible loss of control’.
  • Moderate risk gamblers are defined as ‘gamblers who experience a moderate level of problems leading to some negative consequences’
  • Low risk gamblers are defined as ‘gamblers who experience a low level of problems with few or no identified negative consequences’.

However, there are a number of limitations relating to ‘problem gambling’:

  • No screen for problem gambling is perfect
  • ‘Problem gambling’ refers to the gambler only. Prevalence estimates do not take into consideration the effects that gambling can have on others such as gamblers’ friends and family
  • The term ‘at-risk’ can imply that people who are classified as low or moderate risk gamblers on the PGSI are not experiencing harm now but will do in the future when in fact they are showing some signs of problematic behaviour now but remain below the threshold for ‘problem’ gambling.
  • The term ‘at-risk’ can also imply that people who are classified as low or moderate risk gamblers on the PGSI will progress up the scale to a ‘problem gambler’ however evidence from existing longitudinal studies (such as the Quinte Longitudinal Study of Gambling and Problem Gambling (opens in new tab) and the New Zealand National Gambling Study (opens in new tab)) suggests that some do and some don’t.

Despite their limitations, the existing practice of measuring problem gambling prevalence rates do provide useful, if narrower, information on the scale of the problem.

Gambling-related 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.

Negative effects can include loss of employment, debt, crime, breakdown of relationships and deterioration of physical and mental health. At its worst, gambling can contribute to loss of life through suicide.

Harms can be experienced not just by gamblers themselves. They can also affect their children, partners, wider families and social networks, employers, communities and society as a whole.

Why it’s important?

It is important to move from simply identifying the numbers of people classified by screening tools as problem gamblers, moderate risk gamblers and low risk gamblers and consider how we will measure the real personal and societal costs which result from gambling.

Understanding and measuring gambling-related harms is therefore one of the Gambling Commission’s top priorities in order to make better and faster progress to reduce gambling harms. This will allow us to demonstrate the scale of gambling-related harms, understand what types of action is required if they are to be reduced, and monitor progress over time.

The current practice of assessing the extent of gambling-related harms by problem gambling prevalence rates can be misleading. Prevalence rates fail to capture a number of important dimensions of harm, including those experienced by others than gamblers themselves (affected others). This means they are potentially underestimating the scale of the problem.

Where do we want to get to?

Ultimately, we need to move towards a fuller understanding of how people are affected by gambling. The terms ‘problem gambler’ and ‘at risk’ represent an individualising concept and we therefore recommend the population affected (including affected others) should be referred to ‘those harmed by gambling’.

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