A Practice Theory Approach to Gambling

Gambling is an activity in which participants place bets with the intention of winning money or other goods. It can take many forms, from playing cards and board games for small amounts of money with friends, to participating in a friendly sports betting pool or buying lottery tickets. It can also involve larger sums of money and be a full-time occupation for professional gamblers, who understand the odds and use strategy to increase their chances of winning. While gambling can be an exciting pastime, it is important to recognise the harms that can arise from it and set limits on how much you play for.

Gambling can cause harm through a range of different ways, including health and social impacts. Health-related harms include stress, anxiety and depression; financial difficulties; family breakdown; and reduced productivity at work or study. Social harms can include increased crime and antisocial behaviour, and can lead to problems with relationships and children’s wellbeing. There is growing consensus that gambling is a public health issue, and governments are starting to invest in research to reduce its harms.

Despite this, research into gambling is still dominated by approaches that focus on individual cognition and behaviour. As a result, policies and programmes to reduce gambling harm are often framed through models of addiction, behavioural change and rational choice, rather than considering socio-cultural factors that may contribute to problematic gambling behaviours. Harm reduction strategies could focus on addressing socio-cultural constructs such as rituals, mateship, status and success, thrill and adventure, hedonism and sexuality in gambling marketing and advertising, promoting alternatives sources of emotional fulfilment to gambling, or providing gamblers with the mental acuity to resist the urge to gamble.

A practice theory approach can offer a new way to understand how complex, embedded behaviours such as gambling become habitual and routinised within specific contexts. It is a theoretical framework that incorporates the notions of bodily and mental activities, materials, knowledge, language and discourse, norms, social structures, spaces and places, power and individual and collective agency that are all utilised in the routine performance of a particular activity such as gambling.

A practice theory perspective can provide a more holistic understanding of how and why people engage in particular gambling practices, as well as the potential impacts of these on individual and collective well-being. It can also help to move beyond the narrow, disciplinary boundaries of existing research on gambling and consider how it is entwined with other social practices such as drinking, socialising and enjoying sport. Moreover, the practice theory approach can allow researchers to consider how these nexuses of practices may be impacted by socio-cultural factors and wider globalisation processes. This includes examining how neoliberal ideology and processes of globalisation, marketisation, liberalisation and commodification can suffuse these nexuses of gambling practices. This can be complemented by longer-term, longitudinal research that examines changing connections between these nexuses over time. Ultimately, this perspective can help to develop more effective strategies for reducing the harms of gambling.

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