Gambling 101

What is Gambling?

Gambling is the act of betting or risking money or personal belongings on an outcome that is uncertain or depends on ‘skill’ or chance. Inherent in gambling is the risk associated with losing something of value on a game’s outcome. Moving beyond a dictionary definition, gambling can be further defined by type, activity and venue.

Types of Gambling

Gambling Activity

Pari-mutuel: Gamblers are essentially wagering against one another, and the odds for the wagers are a function, at least in part, of the distribution of the total dollars wagered over the set of betting options available (horse, dog and sports betting).

Lotteries: Total prize pool is made up of the amount bet (less 5% for operator costs) as in pari-mutuel betting; however, the odds of selecting a winner are determined by the structure of the game rather than by the wagering patterns of the other players of the game.

Casino Gaming: Here the players are wagering against the operator. An individual player might make some money in the short term, but the casino operator expects to make money by extending the duration of play and maximizing the volume of play of the gamblers (slot machines, blackjack, poker and craps, roulette).

Charitable Gaming: Charitable gambling encompasses any of the three above, but it is distinguished from the others in that the gambling activity is being run for the benefit of a non-profit organization (state lotteries, church bingo, raffles by student organizations, poker nights, etc.).


There are three primary places where gambling activity takes place:

Types of Gambling Behavior

Like many behaviors, gambling behavior cannot be put into simple categories such as gamble or not gamble. Rather it can be assessed on a continuum ranging from people who do not gamble at all to people who are pathological gamblers.

Casual social gambling can be defined as a person who gambles infrequently and uses gambling as one of many forms of entertainment.

Serious social gambling can be defined as a person who uses gambling as a major source of entertainment; plays regularly at one or more gambling activities and does so with great absorption and intensity.

Problem or compulsive gambling is a progressive behavior disorder in which an individual has an uncontrollable preoccupation and urge to gamble and an emotional dependence on gambling. There is an increasing drive to gamble associated with a loss of control which typically interferes with normal daily functioning. A compulsive gambler gets the same effect (a high) from gambling as someone else might get from drinking alcohol, taking a tranquilizer or taking cocaine.

The terms problem gambling, compulsive gambling and pathological gambling are often used synonymously in the literature. However, the terms "problem" and "disordered" gambling encompass the full range of gambling problems, from mild to severe. The terms "compulsive" and "pathological" gambling refer to a serious mental disorder characterized by out-of-control gambling resulting in severe negative life consequences.

Who is the most ‘at risk’ of developing a gambling problem?

A typical problem gambler is a high school or college male who is achievement oriented, a risk taker, sociable, a weekly or daily user of alcohol or illicit drugs, has a relatively high disposable income, and who was raised by a parent with a gambling problem. It is also important to point out that problem/compulsive gamblers are disproportionately represented among males, fraternity/sorority members, binge drinkers and those obsessed with video games.