The Role of Practice Theory in Gambling Prevention and Harm Reduction

Gambling is a behaviour that involves risking something of value on an uncertain outcome. This outcome could be money or possessions but it could also be something less tangible like a chance to socialise or escape worries and stress. People gamble for many reasons and for most of the time it is harmless but there are a number of cases when gambling can become harmful. It can damage relationships, finances and work and it can cause mental health issues. If you have a problem with gambling it is important to get help as soon as possible and there are many resources available to offer support.

There is a wealth of research in the field of gambling focusing on individual behaviour, addiction and cognitive impairment, but there is a smaller but nascent corpus of knowledge considering the wider socio-cultural, regulatory and commercial environment that shapes and influences this behaviour [14]. Harm reduction strategies would benefit from broadening this perspective to acknowledge both these individual and social factors.

The concept of ‘gambling’ is complex and the term can refer to a number of different things, including social games such as poker or bridge with friends where participants wager small amounts of money for fun and enjoyment, betting on sporting events like football or horse racing and online gambling. However, a more precise definition of gambling is usually given as an activity that entails the risking of money or material goods on an event whose outcome is based on luck and randomness. This is because the element of chance and uncertainty is fundamental to the nature of gambling.

These social constructs lend themselves to a practice theory framework as they encompass such things as rituals, mateship, the thrill of winning and success, and hedonism and sexuality. These are a number of factors that are often marketed to the public by casinos and other gambling establishments in their marketing campaigns and they can have a significant influence on how people gamble.

Another area that can be explored using a practice theory lens is how spaces and places shape gambling practices. This is because it has been established in the literature that the spatial dimensions of gambling can have a major influence on how these practices are performed. For example, the existence of power hierarchies within friendship groups can have a significant effect on how people decide to bet and how they spend their winnings.

A practical application of this theory is that it can be used to design interventions to reduce the harm caused by gambling. One approach is to restrict the spaces and places in which gambling can take place. This can be achieved through policy restrictions and public discourse and media campaigns. A second approach is to use the principles of practice theory to develop strategies that can reshape the structures that shape and influence gambling practices. It is hoped that this will offer an alternative to the existing harm reduction approaches that focus on individual behaviour and risk.