Have you ever lost a bet? Or won? With the dawn of legal sports betting, gambling’s popularity has skyrocketed—hopes of winning big are just one click away. But behind the thrill lies a deeper question: Is the allure of gambling merely harmless fun or a risky gamble with real-life consequences?

Like many common risky behaviors, gambling is not inherently harmless or harmful; its impact largely depends on various individual factors. For some, it is a form of recreation, while for others, it can lead to addiction and financial or emotional distress. So, what makes gambling good for some or bad for others?


Positive Effects of Gambling

An increase in gambling has led to an increase in awareness of its potential positive impact on individuals and communities.

Legal gambling establishments, like casinos, often serve as hubs of entertainment, social interaction, and economic growth. Through responsible gaming practices and regulation, legal gambling can fund education and infrastructure, promote tourism, and create employment opportunities.



Gambling can generate significant revenue for specific regions through taxes and tourism. According to the American Gaming Association, commercial gaming revenue in the United States reached $60.42 billion in 2022, representing a 13.9% increase over 2021. This increase is in part due to expansion of legal sports betting and iGaming.

Further, in 2023, commercial gaming operators contributed $14.42 billion in taxes to local and state governments solely from gaming revenue. This revenue can fund public services such as education (e.g., gambling research), healthcare, and infrastructure development.

Casinos and gambling venues also generate tourism. For instance, Las Vegas, Nevada, is one of the most visited places in the United States, specifically because of its history of casinos and gambling. Tourism also accounts for an increase in revenue in popular cities.



In areas where gambling is legal, casinos and associated businesses can stimulate economic growth by attracting visitors, increasing demand for local goods and services, and, therefore, fostering entrepreneurship.

As a result, the gambling industry creates jobs in multiple industries, which include hospitality, entertainment, tourism, and administration. Overall, the United States gambling industry employs more than 1 million people.

Regions with casinos, racetracks, or other gaming establishments create a wide range of jobs. Some thriving regions include:

  1. Las Vegas, Nevada, USA
  2. Atlantic City, New Jersey, USA
  3. Macau, China
  4. Biloxi-Gulfport, Mississippi, USA
  5. Singapore
  6. Monte Carlo, Monaco: Home to the famous Casino de Monte-Carlo


Fun and Excitement

Neuropsychologically speaking, the brain recognizes rewarding or fun experiences. These experiences activate dopamine, which motivates a person to engage in that behavior again. Of course, more fun means more dopamine and more behavior. In other words, dopamine uptake in certain parts of the brain influences reward-related circuitry and may produce positive effects, like greater excitement among individuals who gamble (Clark et al., 2013).

This neurobiological action happens with anything experienced as fun, thrilling, or generally positive. Research also shows that sensory or reward-related stimuli (e.g., casino lights and sounds) can be learned cues that signal a reward might be coming; think Pavlov ringing the bell before offering a dog food. If gambling is rewarding and fun for someone, cues related to gambling create an exciting environment for individuals who gamble and enhance the likelihood of gambling (Cherkasova et al., 2018).

Additionally, people gamble not just for the thrill but also for the possible reward of winning money. The possibility of winning money means potentially solving financial demands or problems or purchasing something previously unobtainable.

Lastly, for some individuals, gambling provides an opportunity for socialization and connection with others in a fun and exciting environment.


Negative Effects of Gambling

While gambling can offer fun entertainment and economic benefits, it is essential to acknowledge its potential adverse effects. Beyond the allure of jackpots and flashing lights lies a darker reality: problem gambling, financial strain, and social repercussions that harm individuals and communities.


Mental Health Effects

Upset man standing in window after gambling losses


Gambling may be fun and exciting due to the behavior being a way to escape negative or challenging aspects of a person’s life. We tend to engage in activities that help us regulate negative emotions. So, individuals may gamble to cope with boredom, sadness, loneliness, anxiety, and stress or situations like problems with work, family, relationships, and financial strain.


Anxiety and Depression

Research has shown that gambling problems commonly lead to an increase in depression and anxiety, as well as experiencing physical stressors. Additionally, those with a gambling problem may use gambling as a coping mechanism for depression and anxiety.

Therefore, the relationship between gambling and anxiety/depression is multifaceted, with each exacerbating the other in a vicious cycle. The act of gambling can create a cycle of highs and lows, as winning can temporarily boost mood and self-esteem, but subsequent losses can lead to feelings of guilt, shame, and despair, further perpetuating the cycle.

Because it is cyclical, it is difficult to pinpoint what factors contribute to mental health problems in those with gambling problems. Seeking professional help and accessing support resources is essential for individuals experiencing these challenges. Since anxiety, depression, and gambling addiction often co-occur, simultaneously addressing all these disorders is crucial for effective treatment and recovery.


Cognitive Distortions

Due to the fast-processing speed of the human brain, individuals may see connections between experiences that might not be real. Ideas, like hot machines and lucky charms, lead us to link two causally unrelated things and mistakenly believe we can predict what will occur. This phenomenon is called cognitive distortion.

Gambling cognitive distortions are a psychological feature of gambling that may contribute to developing and continuing engagement in harmful gambling (Goodie et al., 2019). Specifically, gambling cognitive distortions refer to the irrational beliefs about an individual’s gambling behavior, such as overconfidence in skills or illusion of control, which consequently influences gambling engagement despite gambling losses (Raylu & Oei, 2004; Steenbergh et al., 2002).


Financial Impact

One significant difference between gambling disorder and other addictive behaviors is the direct negative financial consequences. While substance use disorders like alcohol or drug misuse can also lead to financial strain, gambling disorder uniquely involves the loss of money as a central component.

On an individual level, approximately 19% of individuals with problem gambling behavior file for bankruptcy as a direct result of problem gambling behavior.

On a community level, the increased demand for healthcare services to address these issues can strain healthcare systems and lead to higher healthcare costs for individuals, employers, and governments.

According to the National Council on Problem Gambling, the estimated national social cost of problem gambling is $14 billion annually. This cost includes job loss, healthcare service, criminal justice, bankruptcy, and more.



Problem gambling behavior is linked to discord in interpersonal relationships, where approximately six individuals are directly affected by an individual with problem gambling behavior (Fong et al., 2005; Goodwin et al., 2017; Hing et al., 2022; Koomson et al., 2022; Lorains et al., 2011; Stevens et al., 2019).

Individuals who are experiencing problem gambling behavior may try to conceal or hide the severity of their gambling from family, significant others, and friends, thus resulting in discord in interpersonal relationships. For example, individuals may withdraw from social activities to spend more time gambling, leading to feelings of loneliness and alienation. Further, social isolation and strained relationships are known risk factors for anxiety and depression.

Research shows that partners of individuals with problem gambling behavior experienced a wide range of negative effects (Holdsworth et al., 2013). Partners revealed that gambling-related debt contributed to a loss of savings, homes, belongings, and established ways of living. In addition, partners reported that concealment of problem gambling behavior created distress and loss of trust, which for many resulted in separation or divorce (Holdsworth et al., 2013).


Gambling is a Personal Choice

The decision to gamble is personal, as adults can weigh individual factors like preference, values, and circumstances. For some, gambling may provide entertainment, socialization, and the possibility of financial gain, while others may choose to abstain due to personal beliefs or concerns about potential negative consequences.

At the same time, it is essential to acknowledge that gambling is an activity that carries inherent risks, including the potential for addiction, financial loss, and social harm. While some individuals may have no problem gambling responsibly, others may struggle with compulsive behavior that manifests in gambling and negatively affects themselves and those around them.

From a societal perspective, gambling activity regulation plays a significant role in balancing personal freedoms with the need to protect vulnerable individuals. By implementing measures such as age restrictions, responsible gambling initiatives, and support services for problem gamblers, communities can strive to minimize harm while still allowing for individual choice and enjoyment.


How to Gamble Responsibly

Understanding the odds of winning, setting realistic expectations, and recognizing the signs of problem gambling are vital aspects of responsible gambling. Further, individuals should use tools to minimize the risk of problem gambling behavior and gambling harm.

Set Limits: Responsible gamblers set clear limits on their gambling behavior, including limits on time spent gambling, money spent, and frequency of participation. Setting and sticking to these limits can help prevent excessive gambling and mitigate the risk of financial harm.

Budget: Responsible gambling requires creating a gambling-specific budget based on disposable income and financial priorities. This tactic involves allocating a specific amount of money for gambling purposes and refraining from chasing losses or exceeding the established budget.

Avoid Gambling While Under the Influence: Gambling while under the influence of alcohol or drugs can impair judgment and increase the likelihood of making poor decisions. Responsible gamblers avoid gambling when intoxicated to ensure that they can make rational choices and maintain control over their behavior.

Seek Help When Needed: Recognizing signs of gambling behavior and seeking help early on is essential to minimize gambling harm. Seek help from resources available for individuals experiencing problem gambling behavior, including helplines, support groups, and mental health treatment programs.


Help with Gambling Habit

If you need help with problem gambling, here is a list of resources that provide services to those who need them.


The National Council on Problem Gambling Helpline (NCPG)

The NCPG has a 24-hour toll-free and confidential National Problem Gambling Helpline Network. The network consists of both the phone helpline and ways to chat or text with NCPG representatives as well:

  • Call: 1-800-GAMBLER (1-800-426-2537)
  • Text: 800GAM
  • Chat: www.1800gamblerchat.org


The NCPG website also includes state-by-state information about how to find programs for individuals with problem gambling behavior programs and treatment facilities, screening tools, and information for both gamblers and gambling providers about responsible gambling.


Gamblers Anonymous

Gamblers Anonymous is an organization that provides access to support groups and other forums among individuals who are experiencing problem gambling behavior. The organization requires no fees or other costs, explaining that its “only requirement for membership is a desire to stop gambling.” Among the methods employed by the organization is a 12-step recovery program similar to the model used by Alcoholics Anonymous.



GamTalk is an online community that assists individuals who are experiencing problem gambling behavior with a 24/7 online peer support program.


The Gambling Clinic: Gambling Addiction Treatment in Tennessee

The Gambling Clinic specializes in providing one-on-one, evidence-based cognitive behavioral therapy. The clinic also offers a flexible approach that can accommodate an individual’s goals, whether that may be gambling abstinence or a reduction in current levels of involvement.


An anonymous online test can help you evaluate your gambling habits.

Educational resources that are accessible, engaging, and evidence-based.


For free and confidential phone consultations, including the loved ones of those who struggle with gambling:

Call: (901) 678-3531

Email: tgc@memphis.edu


Works Cited

Cherkasova, M. V., Clark, L., Barton, J. J. S., Schulzer, M., Shafiee, M., Kingstone, A., Stoessl, A. J., & Winstanley, C. A. (2018). WIN-concurrent sensory cues can promote riskier choice. Journal of Neuroscience, 38(48), 10362–10370. https://doi.org/10.1523/jneurosci.1171-18.2018

Clark, J. J., Collins, A. L., Sanford, C. A., & Phillips, P. E. (2013). Dopamine encoding of Pavlovian incentive stimuli diminishes with extended training. Journal of Neuroscience, 33(8), 3526–3532. https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.5119-12.2013

Fong, T. W. (2005). The biopsychosocial consequences of pathological gambling. Psychiatry (edgmont), 2(3), 22-30.

Goodie, A. S., Fortune, E. E., & Shotwell, J. J. (2019). Cognitive distortions in disordered gambling. Gambling disorder, pp. 49–71. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-03060-5_4

Goodwin, B. C., Browne, M., Rockloff, M., & Rose, J. (2017). A typical problem gambler affects six others. International gambling studies, 17(2), 276–289. https://doi.org/10.1080/14459795.2017.1331252

Hing, N., Lole, L., Thorne, H., & Rockloff, M. (2023). NSW Youth Gambling Study 2022.

Koomson, I., Churchill, S. A., & Munyanyi, M. E. (2022). Gambling and financial stress. Social Indicators Research, 163(1), 473–503.

Holdsworth, L., Nuske, E., Tiyce, M., & Hing, N. (2013). Impacts of gambling problems on partners: Partners’ interpretations. Asian Journal of Gambling Issues and Public Health, 3, 1-14. https://doi.org/10.1186/2195-3007-3-11

Lorains, F. K., Cowlishaw, S., & Thomas, S. A. (2011). Prevalence of comorbid disorders in problem and pathological gambling: Systematic review and meta‐analysis of population surveys. Addiction, 106(3), 490–498.

Raylu, N., & Oei, T. P. (2004). Role of culture in gambling and problem gambling. Clinical psychology review, 23(8), 1087-1114. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cpr.2003.09.005

Steenbergh, T. A., Meyers, A. W., May, R. K., & Whelan, J. P. (2002). Development and validation of the Gamblers’ Beliefs Questionnaire. Psychology of addictive behaviors, 16(2), 143. https://doi.org/10.1037/0893-164X.16.2.143

Stevens, M., Gupta, H., & Flack, M. (2019). Northern Territory Gambling Prevalence and Wellbeing Survey Report, 2018. Menzies School of Health Research. https://industry.nt.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0010/959176/2018-nt-gambling-prevalence-wellbeing-survey.pdf