, Volume 15, Issue 4, pp 289-365

Gambling and the Health of the Public: Adopting a Public Health Perspective

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Abstract

During the last decade there has been an unprecedented expansion of legalized gambling throughout North America. Three primary forces appear to be motivating this growth: (1) the desire of governments to identify new sources of revenue without invoking new or higher taxes; (2) tourism entrepreneurs developing new destinations for entertainment and leisure; and (3) the rise of new technologies and forms of gambling (e.g., video lottery terminals, powerball mega-lotteries, and computer offshore gambling). Associated with this phenomenon, there has been an increase in the prevalence of problem and pathological gambling among the general adult population, as well as a sustained high level of gambling-related problems among youth. To date there has been little dialogue within the public health sector in particular, or among health care practitioners in general, about the potential health impact of gambling or gambling-related problems. This article encourages the adoption of a public health perspective towards gambling. More specifically, this discussion has four primary objectives:

1. Create awareness among health professionals about gambling, its rapid expansion and its relationship with the health care system;

2. Place gambling within a public health framework by examining it from several perspectives, including population health, human ecology and addictive behaviors;

3. Outline the major public health issues about how gambling can affect individuals, families and communities;

4. Propose an agenda for strengthening policy, prevention and treatment practices through greater public health involvement, using the framework of The Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion as a guide.

By understanding gambling and its potential impacts on the public's health, policy makers and health practitioners can minimize gambling's negative impacts and appreciate its potential benefits.