Why do people gamble?

11 Aug 2022

Did you know 70% of the Queensland population participates in gambling?

People gamble for many reasons, but some behaviours and motivations can be warning signs for gambling harm. 

In this blog post, we’re going to discuss three common pathways to gambling harm: behavioural, emotional, and biological.

These are a reference point to help understand why some people might have a higher risk of experiencing gambling harm.

“It’s important to note that not all people with these factors will experience gambling harm,” Gambling Help Community Educator Amy explains, “but it can help to acknowledge the different factors that can lead to gambling harm.”


Risk Factors for Gambling Harm

There are many pathways, factors, and situations in life that can lead to gambling harm, and this list is not conclusive.

But being able to identify some of the common significant factors that can increase the risk of gambling harm can help us better understand gambling harm and reduce further harm.


Behavioural Conditioning Factors

Just being exposed to gambling - by chance, through family and friends - can be a pathway to gambling harm. Growing up around friends or parents who gamble or normalise gambling is one of the biggest factors that can put someone on the behavioural pathway to gambling harm. Seeing peers or family gamble will likely impact someone’s own attitudes to gambling.

For this group, gambling may start out as entertainment or fun but then turn into a habit. They may have distorted or incorrect ideas about the likelihood of winning or make poor decisions around gambling. Gambling may also be a big part of their social life, which could lead them to spend more time and money than they realise.

Emotional Factors

Emotional factors can also increase vulnerability to gambling harm. For example, someone who has experienced trauma or negative life events might turn to gambling as a way to escape or cope.

Mental health conditions such as anxiety and/or depression can also increase someone’s risk of experiencing gambling harm.

Our coping strategies and personal belief systems can also be an influence. Someone who has a hard time working through stressful feelings/events and doesn’t have healthy coping strategies in place may be at higher risk of gambling harm than someone who has found other ways to cope, or who has a support network to turn to in tough times.

Biological Factors

There are a minority of people who are at-risk of gambling harm because of biological factors. This may result in shorter attention spans or the need for high-stimulation environments.  

People in this group have a lower tolerance for boredom, and are more prone to impulsive behaviour particularly when under stress, which can make it hard to think about the consequences of actions or make it more difficult to delay urges (see our blog post about tips for delaying urges).


Reasons gambling could become harmful

There are many reasons people gamble, such as for entertainment, to socialise, or to win money.

But taking in the influential factors above, those who gamble more heavily may have different motivations to gamble, increasing their risk of gambling harm.

These might include:

  • Having experienced a big win in the past
  • Fighting boredom
  • Managing stress
  • Avoiding feelings of loneliness
  • Connecting with workmates
  • Experiencing a loss and chases those losses
  • Seeking to escape reality
  • Coping with stressful situations
  • Creating excitement.

If you feel frustrated or angry with a loved one’s gambling, it’s important to remember that when someone develops harmful gambling habits, they did not choose to. These factors may help to create an understanding of what motivates yourself, your friend, family member, or co-worker to gamble and why it can be hard to stop.


Where to Get Help

It’s important to get help and put steps in place to manage your risk factors at the earliest signs of gambling harm. This can help you manage and prevent gambling harm and take control of your situation.

If you’re not sure where to start, taking the self-assessment tool to check your gambling can be a good first step.

Wherever you are on your journey, you deserve all the help and support you need. If you identify with any of the points above or know someone who does, please know that help is available. You can contact us at the 24/7 helpline: 1800 858 858.

If you need some extra support, talking to a counsellor can help. Our experienced counsellors can help you explore your concerns and possible solutions in a safe, confidential, and supportive environment.

You can learn more about our gambling and our service here, or call 1800 858 858 to make an appointment.


Contact us

If gambling is impacting your life or a loved one's life, it's okay to reach out for help. It’s free and confidential.

Call the 24/7 Gambling Helpline on 1800 858 858

Face-to-face counselling locations