Gambling is a form of entertainment, but it can be addictive and lead to problems. It is important to understand the risks and how gambling works so that it can be enjoyed responsibly. This article will explain what gambling is, how it works and some tips on how to gamble safely.
Traditionally, gambling involves risking money or possessions on an event with some element of chance and the intention to win more than you put in. This can include playing card games, fruit machines, betting on football or other sports events, buying scratchcards and other instant wins, lotteries, and speculating on business, insurance or stock markets. Emerging technology blurs the lines to offer new ways to gamble.
The brain releases dopamine, the feel-good neurotransmitter, when you win. However, the brain continues to produce this response even when you lose, making problem gambling difficult to recognise and stop.
You choose what to bet on – it could be a football match, a horse race or a scratchcard. The choice you make is matched to odds (such as 5/1 or 2/1), which determine how much money you might win if you win your bet.
Once you have chosen your bet, the ‘house edge’ comes into play – that is, the house has an advantage over you. The more you bet, the higher the house edge, and so the more you will likely lose.
The reward schedule for gambling products is optimised to keep people playing and reduce the amount of time they spend with other activities. This is why they can be so addictive – the brain’s natural reward system makes people think they are improving and learning, when in reality, the outcome of their decisions is purely random.
Gambling can also be socially isolating, causing problems in relationships, at work or school and even leading to debt and homelessness. There is also a link between mental health issues and gambling problems, so it’s important to address any underlying conditions.
If you are worried about your own or a loved one’s gambling habits, seek help from a trusted family member or friend, or consider getting professional support. Ensure you only gamble with disposable income and not money that is needed for bills or rent. Limit the number of times you visit a gambling venue, and only stay for as long as you plan. Never borrow money to gamble, and try not to use gambling as an excuse for drinking or partying. Find other recreational or leisure activities to fill the gap that gambling has left. And never chase your losses – the more you try to win back your money, the more likely you are to lose it all again. Seek debt advice from StepChange if you are struggling with your finances. This free service is available to anyone in the UK who is experiencing financial difficulty. Call 0808 808 4000.