Social Practices and Gambling


Gambling involves wagering something of value on a random event with the intent to win something else of value. This is a major international commercial activity involving an estimated $335 billion in legal wagers in 2009. While the act of gambling has been considered by various observers to provide evidence of recreational interest, diminished mathematical skills, poor judgment, cognitive distortions, mental illness and moral turpitude, researchers are increasingly approaching the question from a more socio-cultural perspective. This shift in focus has emerged from research into a range of social practices.

A growing body of research has shown that gambling activates the brain’s reward system in the same way that alcohol and certain drugs do. These changes in brain chemistry are believed to be one of the causes of problem gambling. In addition, research has indicated that the pleasure from gambling can become less satisfying over time, meaning that people gamble more to get the same feeling of pleasure.

Regardless of the type of gambling, all forms of gambling carry some risk of harm. The most common form of gambling-related harm is money loss, although there are many other types of harm associated with gambling as well. These include emotional distress, anxiety, depression and relationship problems. In addition, there are many health problems associated with gambling, including heart disease and stroke.

It is important to understand that problem gambling can affect anyone, regardless of age, race, religion or economic status. It can affect individuals in small towns as well as in large cities. Individuals with a gambling disorder may develop it as a result of financial difficulties, stress, boredom, illness or other problems. They may start gambling to escape their problems and find a new source of pleasure. Some people also feel that gambling offers an opportunity to have fun and be surrounded by different sights, sounds and emotions.

As a social practice, gambling is enmeshed in a web of other social activities and routines. It is often bundled with other activities like drinking, socialising and watching sport. In addition, there is a long history of associations between gambling and ideas of glamour and celebrity. Moreover, the recent globalisation of the gambling industry has made it even more interwoven with other practices and societal values.

A social practice theory approach to gambling can help develop increased understanding of how all of these elements interact to produce outcomes. This is particularly relevant given the fast-changing nature of the gambling environment in which political economy through neoliberalism, globalisation and liberalisation, markets and marketing, products and services, technologies and social structures all shape gambling. Further, a social practice theory approach can help understand how power and agency influence gambling by looking at how different forces frame the nexus of practices that constitute gambling.