Researchers in New Zealand say many of the costs of gambling are hidden and a substantial amount of gambling is related to crime, is 'invisible' and is not reported to the authorities.
There are many everyday opportunities to gamble and while for most people the occasional 'flutter' is no more than a bit of fun and entertainment, for others gambling can become a problem and have serious consequences, causing suffering for everyone in the family.
Gamblers come from all walks of life and sections of the community and gambling becomes a problem when it goes beyond being a pleasurable activity and becomes a problem for both the gambler and family members.
A joint study by researchers at Auckland University of Technology (AUT) and the University of Auckland examined the relationship between gambling and criminal activity and is one of the first research projects to explore the link between gambling (including problem gambling) and unreported crime.
The pilot study, conducted on behalf of the Ministry of Health, was undertaken by the Gambling and Addictions Research Centre in AUT's National Institute for Public Health and Mental Health Research, and the Centre for Gambling Studies at the University of Auckland and set out to investigate the links between gambling and crime, particularly unreported crime and the resulting harms experienced by individuals, families and communities.
Dr. Maria Bellringer, Co-Director of AUT University's Gambling and Additions Research Centre says there are possibly two categories of crime-committing gamblers, exhibiting different chronologies of gambling and criminal behaviour.
Earlier research by Dr. Bellringer and her team conducted with prison inmates in 2000, found that criminal behaviours were committed in order to gamble or pay gambling related debts - gambling caused the crime - but for some, their crimes caused their gambling, or they gambled instead of committing crime.
Dr. Bellringer says the same trends amongst gamblers who are not incarcerated are now being seen - almost two-thirds of the 33 study participants said their first gambling-related crime was in the same year as, or just a few years after, starting regular gambling - while for those already engaging in crime, criminal behaviours started a few years prior to commencement of regular gambling.
Dr. Bellringer says 85% recognised that their gambling had caused harm to others, including family or extended family and there is substantial unreported gambling-related crime which is 'invisible' to the authorities.
Dr. Bellringer suggests that this raises the possibility that there may be significant economic and social costs associated with gambling, due to unreported crime committed by gamblers who have not previously been factored into economic and social impact analyses of gambling.
Problem gamblers gamble for very different reasons from other gamblers - they lose much more than they can afford to escape anxiety, loneliness, depression, sadness and grief, to cope with stress, relieve boredom, feel accepted in a group, to cope with unhappy relationships and as a way of solving all their problems.
Problem gambling can affect relationships, create family problems and have a negative impact on children, cause family break-up through separation and divorce and can also cause or exacerbate health issues such as depression, headaches and physical ill health.
Problem gambling can cause absenteeism at work or the loss of employment and legal problems as a result of criminal activity, as well as financial hardship which can in some cases result in bankruptcy.
Gambling is a problem if you think about gambling more than anything else, spend more money than planned when gambling, gamble to win back losses, lie about gambling to family and friends, borrow money to gamble, worries those near you and hurt and create problems for your family.
Professor Max Abbott, fellow Director of AUT's Gambling and Addictions Research Centre, says gambling-related crime is one of the more significant ways in which excessive gambling has highly toxic effects on individuals, families and the wider community.
Professor Abbott says some gambling related crimes such as embezzlement of trust funds, harm large numbers of victims and the study highlights the importance of identifying problem gamblers who are at risk of committing crimes to support their gambling, and encouraging them to seek help from agencies such as the Problem Gambling Foundation, Salvation Army Oasis Centres or the Gambling Helpline before they offend.