Gambling is a common activity that can be enjoyed by individuals and groups for various reasons. Some people are driven to gamble by the thrill of winning and others are motivated by the social interactions and other psychological factors associated with gambling. Some people are unable to control their gambling and may end up in financial hardship, emotional distress and even depression. Gambling is often considered a vice, yet many have found that it can be an enjoyable and rewarding activity when it is done responsibly.

The definition of gambling has undergone a profound change from the time when it was viewed as an activity with adverse consequences, to today’s perspective that it is a mental disorder with similar symptoms and signs to addictions such as alcoholism and drug addiction. This change in understanding of pathological gambling has also impacted the way that these individuals are treated. The term “problem gambling” was coined in 1980 and has become a part of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (called DSM), published by the American Psychiatric Association.

There is a wide range of activities that fall under the category of gambling, including playing card games such as poker or blackjack in a public setting; placing bets on sporting events or horse races, either on television or in person; participating in a state lottery; and betting with collectible items like marbles, Pogs or Magic: The Gathering game pieces. Some of these activities are regulated by law, while others are not. Some states, such as New Hampshire, run their own gambling operations to raise money for government programs.

Although the majority of studies of gambling have focused on its costs, a few scholars have examined both the benefits and the externalities associated with gambling. These externalities are categorized as personal, interpersonal and community/societal. These include costs and benefits involving the gambler, his/her significant other(s), and others in society. Personal and interpersonal level costs are non-monetary and invisible to researchers, while societal/community-level externalities are largely monetary and include general costs/benefits of gambling, costs/benefits related to problem gambling, and long-term costs/benefits.

A key challenge is developing a common methodology for assessing the social impacts of gambling. This is because the social impacts are usually non-monetary and can be difficult to measure. They can also impact multiple individuals at the same time and create a lasting change in life situations.

In addition, it is important to consider how different stakeholders view the social impacts of gambling, because research scientists, psychiatrists, other treatment care clinicians, and policy makers often frame issues differently depending on their disciplinary training, knowledge and background. This article proposes a framework for considering these diverse perspectives, and offers a set of questions to guide future research. Ultimately, the framework presented here could be used to build a common conceptual model for assessing the social impacts of gambling and help to inform public health policy.