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Understanding the risks of gambling

Understanding the risks of gambling

All gambling carries some risk, but some types of gambling carry more risk than others. This page provides information about which types of gambling are most commonly linked to gambling harms or problems. You’ll also find support services and information on the signs to look out for if you or someone you care about is struggling.

Which types of gambling can be harmful? 

Gambling harms, or problems, can be anything that negatively impacts the life of the person gambling, or the life of those around them. Harm from gambling can take many forms, including financial difficulty, mental health issues, relationship problems, and trouble at work. 

Experiencing harm as a result of gambling is more common than many people think. Research shows that more than 1 in 5 people who gambled in the last year are experiencing problems related to gambling (1). 

Some types of gambling are riskier than others. Studies have shown that games with an element of luck involved are harder for people who gamble to keep track of, making it more likely that they could lose control or experience gambling related harm (2).

Below are some examples of higher-risk games:

Online sport betting

Betting on football games online is one of the most popular forms of gambling in the UK, but research shows that more than 2 in 5 of the people who do this are likely to experience problems related to gambling (1). Live betting (also known as ‘in-play’ betting) has been shown to be particularly high-risk (3).

Online casino games

Almost 2 in 3 people who play online games like slot machines, roulette and ‘instant win’ games experience problems related to gambling (1). Their repetitive, fast-paced nature and quick outcomes make it easy to spend a lot of time and money without meaning to.

Machines in bookmakers, pubs and other locations

Physical gaming machines are used less often than online alternatives, but they are still strongly linked to risk of gambling harms. More than 3 in 4 people who use these machines at a bookmakers’ experience problems as a result of gambling (1).

Scratch cards

Scratch cards are one of the GB’s most common forms of gambling, but as many as 3 in 10 people who use them will experience some problems (1). The public feel they’re one of the most addictive gambling products on the market (2). 


What are the potential harms that gambling can cause?

When we talk about gambling harms, or problems, most people think about financial losses, or work and relationship difficulties. But gambling can also impact our mental and physical health, as well as other areas of life.

Money and finances

When someone is gambling too much, they might start struggling to pay their bills, or taking out loans and overdrafts to cover their spending. This can lead to financial stress. It might be tempting to try and chase your losses, but this often leads to even bigger losses. Gambling companies are designed to make money from the players, not the other way around. In 2022, UK gambling businesses made £14 billion from their customers (4).

There are many tools and organisations available to help you if you’re experiencing financial difficulty as a result of gambling. You could look into self-exclusion as a way to take control of your spending and take a break from gambling. You can also access free, confidential and personalised support 24/7 from the National Gambling Support Network. 

If you’d like more information on budgeting and finances you can check out our page on financial support

Work, relationships and social life

When someone is gambling, it might start to impact their performance at work, their personal relationships, and their social life. Gambling has the potential to become an addictive behaviour. This means it can lead people to act in ways that might seem ‘out of character’ or feel hard to explain. 

If any of this sounds familiar, there are specialist organisations that offer confidential, non-judgmental advice and support. If you need to talk, need help bringing up the issue with a loved one, or you want practical advice on how to move forward, you can find help suited to your needs here.  

Mental health and emotional stress

Gambling can have an impact on how you feel, regardless of how much you do it. People who experience gambling harms often feel like they have little or no control over it, which can lead to feelings of guilt, shame and low self-esteem. They might also worry about how their gambling is affecting others, experience feelings of anxiety or depression, changes to their sleeping pattern, and mood swings. In the worst cases, people might even feel suicidal. 

If you’re worried that gambling is affecting your mental health or you’re struggling to cope emotionally, it’s important to get help. You can get free, non-judgemental advice and support from any of the below resources:

  • The National Gambling Helpline is available 24/7 for free support and advice on 0808 8020 133 or via live chat.
  • You can call the Samaritans who will listen and let you chat through whatever you need to talk about. It’s free and available 24/7 on 116 123, or find out other ways to contact them here.
  • You can speak to your GP who will be able to refer you to specialist support should they feel you need it.

Trigger warning | Gambling and suicidal thoughts

Research has shown a strong link between harms associated with gambling and suicidal thoughts.

Early detection and support are essential in helping people who are at risk from experiencing these thoughts and feelings. The stigma associated with gambling harms and talking about finances, coupled with the fact that gambling harms are often hidden, can mean that problems go undetected and can be devastating to some. 

If you have self-harmed or had suicidal thoughts, please seek help as soon as possible. You can speak to your GP and seek NHS support, or you can contact the Samaritans. 

Samaritans helpline is free and confidential, and open 24/7. They're here to listen, and they're waiting for your call on 116 123. You can also call then if you're worried about someone else, or find out more at: www.samaritans.or

If gambling is affecting any areas of your life, take a look at this page to find out about the support services available to you.


What are the signs that gambling is becoming harmful?

There are some common signs to look out for that might indicate someone is experiencing gambling harms.

If you’re gambling, the most common signs of harm are: feelings of guilt, trying to win back losses, and hiding gambling.

If you’re worried about someone close to you, the early warning signs are: being withdrawn, spending lots of time on their phone, or the internet, and never seeming to have any money

If any of these sound familiar, please consider accessing support for yourself, or for them, before things become more serious. Read our spot the signs page to find out more.


If you're worried about how gambling is making you or someone else feel, try our self-assessment quiz.

Our quiz takes only a few minutes to complete and will help you understand how gambling might be affecting you or someone you care about. Your results will include tailored support and services that might be helpful, should you wish to contact them. You can take our quiz here




Internal analysis by GambleAware of the 'Treatment and Support Survey' by YouGov, combining data from 2020, 2021 and 2022 . The analysis is not publicly accessible, but you can access the Annual GB Treatment and Support Survey (PDF) from 2022.

Annual GB Treatment and Support Survey

Gambling stigma polling conducted in 2023 by Ipsos on behalf of GambleAware. Not yet published.


Industry Statistics. Published in November 2022 by the Gambling Commission.

Official statistics and research from the Gambling Commission