Gambling is an activity that can cause considerable harm to individuals, families and communities. It is essential that gambling and gambling-related harm are well understood, and that the regulation of gambling – at individual, community, industry and government levels – is well informed. Psychology, as a science and profession, has much to contribute to understanding gambling from the perspectives of theory, research and practice.

In recent years opportunities for gambling have expanded and embraced sophisticated new technologies, the scientific understanding of gambling behaviour has grown, and gambling-related harm has become acknowledged as both a public health and mental health issue. The APS has consequently developed a number of resources, including a Position Statement and Review Paper, based on major developments in understanding gambling from a psychological perspective.

Gambling is a significant public health concern associated not only with financial losses but depression, self-harm and anxiety. Also, it is estimated that for every one person with a gambling problem, five to ten other people are affected by it. We need to look at the impact of gambling on society as a whole, and what we can do to reduce the potential for gambling-related harm. The evidence shows strong consumer protection measures are needed to help people manage their gambling. Governments need to exercise their social responsibility to protect the public from gambling products that cause harm.

Key points

  • Gambling is a significant public health concern associated not only with financial losses but depression, self-harm and anxiety.
  • Of the 15 per cent of Australians who gamble regularly, about 10 per cent can be classified as problem gamblers and a further 15 per cent as facing ‘moderate risk’.
  • While psychological treatment success rates are high, only about one in ten people with a gambling problem seeks treatment.
  • It is estimated that for every one person with a gambling problem, five to ten other people are affected by it. 
  • Evidence shows Electronic Gaming Machines (EGMs) are the product most linked to problem gambling and gambling harm, with 30% of users engaged in problem gambling. Sixty per cent of the $19 billion per year spent on gambling is lost to EGMs, mostly located in clubs and hotels.
  • From a psychological perspective, the environmental conditions in venues and the design of the games themselves make it difficult for people to make informed choices about how much they spend and how long they play.

The APS recommends stronger EGM consumer protection measures such as:

  • reduction in the number of EGMs, including caps per community or location
  • alteration of the characteristics of EGMs, such as slowing machines down and lowering cash input rates
  • full provision of information to consumers about products, such as ‘cost per hour’ of playing EGMs
  • modifying the gambling environment, such as limiting access to cash and reducing hours of operating machines
  • the introduction of an effective policy of mandatory pre-commitment.

APS resources

Position Paper

Gambling-related harm (2012)

Review Paper

The psychology of gambling (Nov 2010)

These and other APS Positon Statements and Review Papers developed in the public interest can be found here.

Practitioner resources

  • How psychologists and counsellors can assist clients with gambling problems (July 2013)
    This resource was compiled by Trish Earle MAPS, a psychologist and problem gambling counsellor at Gambler's Help City Program, Melbourne Counselling Service. Based on her 15 years of working as a problem gambling counsellor, Trish is aware of the urgent need for greater awareness and appropriate support for practitioners working with people who may have gambling problems.
  • EQIP – Problem Gambling
    EQIP is an online selection of professional practice resources to support APS members in psychological assessments and treatments (APS Members only). There is a section devoted to assessment and treatment of problem gambling