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What is gambling?

Gambling is risking money or something else of value on an outcome that is determined by chance

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It might seem like something that is easy to recognise, but gambling comes in lots of different forms and some aren’t what you would traditionally associate with gambling.

What counts as gambling?

The Gambling Commission regulates the sector, and categorises six key areas: arcades, betting, bingo, casinos, lotteries and gaming machines. Most gambling within these areas have both a physical (“in person”) or an online (“remote”) form.

You may have heard people say:

  • “I’m playing the slots”

  • “Let’s have a wager” 

  • “It’s only a take” or “It’s only a bet”

  • “Accumulators” or “Accas” 

  • “Spins”

All of this refers to gambling.

There are some activities that have similar traits to gambling, such as mobile and computer games, loot boxes, skins trading, and day trading on stocks or cryptocurrency, but are not classified or regulated as gambling.

Common types of gambling

All forms of gambling carry a risk of harm, but some forms are shown to carry a higher risk than others. Important note: if you are experiencing harm from a form of gambling not listed here, that doesn’t make you unusual or different.

  • These are gambling machines that are commonly seen in pubs, arcades, and online. Slots are spinning wheels that traditionally feature fruit or items that line up in a game of chance. They have a pre-determined percentage that players will lose over time, although this is not displayed when playing the game.

  • A raffle is a game of chance where people buy numbered tickets and winners are drawn at random from a container holding a copy of each ticket sold.

  • Bingo is a game where numbers are drawn at random and players match them to a random selection of numbers on a pre-purchased card. Bingo takes place in person at a venue or event, or can be played online in bingo-type games.

  • Probably the most well-known form of gambling, lotteries are similar in design to bingo in that numbers are drawn at random and those numbers are matched to a pre-purchased ticket. Prizes can vary in size and nature.

  • Sports betting is where people bet on the outcome of a sporting event, from football to boxing. The odds are presented at the time of placing a bet. This may include accumulators (or “accas”) where a single bet is placed across multiple outcomes, all of which must happen for the bet to win. Often these come with options to ‘cash out’ early or ‘double down’ on a bet.

  • In-play betting is a form of gambling that takes place while an event is actually happening. Advancements in technology have made this form of gambling more prevalent. It is possible to bet on minor elements of events, such as such as who will win the next corner in a football match or the next point in a tennis match.

  • Card game betting is an example of people betting with a perception of skill but most forms of card games are essentially another game of chance. Commonly played card games include poker and blackjack.

  • Roulette is a traditional form of casino gambling where players bet on where a ball will land inside a spinning wheel, this could be the number it falls on or the colour.

  • This is any form of gambling that uses dice as the mechanic of chance, the most recognisable one being Craps.

  • These are electronic machines you might commonly find in betting shops that have a variety of different gambling types, such as roulette, fruit machines and bingo. They are called fixed odds because people bet against a house edge that has a simulated outcome. They are by definition fixed in favour of gambling companies.

  • This is a form of gambling where people are given odds and bet on the winner of a race. Odds are set by the bookkeeper or tote based on previous performance of runners, and may vary between operators. Major racing and betting events in the calendar include the Grand National and Cheltenham festival.

  • Versions of casino games that are accessed online. These games are commonly faster-paced than their in-person equivalents.

  • These replicate the features of in-person slot and fruit machines, but may also feature game-like elements. Spinning wheels that feature fruit or other items that line up in a game of chance. They have a pre-determined percentage that players will lose over time.

  • Scratch cards are games of chance where people scratch away a covering to reveal information or images concealed below. This gives a participatory element but has no effect on the outcome.

  • Moments of chance where players pay to gain random items related to the computer game in which they feature. Because the ‘winnings’ have no ‘real-world’ monetary value outside the game it doesn’t classify as gambling for regulatory purposes. Studies have shown there is a link between loot boxes and conditioning people to be at higher risk of gambling harms.

  • Financial trading involves the buying and selling of financial assets such as stocks, bonds or foreign currencies with the aim of making a profit. Financial trading is regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority.

    Mobile-based financial trading apps allow users to easily and frequently trade these conventional financial assets (and also often cryptocurrencies). Rapid day trading bears many similarities with gambling and carries similar risks of harm. Most high-frequency traders lose money over time due to high transaction costs. Apps associated with high-frequency financial trading include eToro, Freetrade and Fortrade.

  • A cryptocurrency is a ‘decentralised digital asset’ that is encrypted. They can be bought, sold, traded and used as digital currency for goods and services whilst affording users a high degree of anonymity.

    Day-trading cryptocurrency provides an opportunity to profit from changes in the value of cryptocurrency assets over short spaces of time, effectively betting on a momentary rise or fall in the value of the asset.  

    Some sites allow users to bet with cryptocurrencies (‘cryptocasinos’). These sites do not have affordability or identity checks in place to protect consumers who are at higher risk of gambling harms.