Distinguishing between gaming and gambling activities in addiction research

Daniel L. King, Sally M. Gainsbury, Paul H. Delfabbro, Nerilee Hing, Brett Abarbanel

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

56 Citations (Scopus)
4 Downloads (Pure)


Background and aims: Gambling and gaming activities have become increasingly recognised as sharing many common features at a structural and aesthetic level. Both have also been implicated as contributing to harm through excessive involvement. Despite this, relatively little attention has been given to the fundamental characteristics that differentiate these two classes of activity, especially in situations where the boundaries between them may be particularly hard to distinguish. This is evident, for example, in digital games that incorporate free and paid virtual currencies or items, as well as the capacity for wagering. Such overlaps create problems for regulatory classifications, screening, diagnosis and treatment. Is the problem related to the gambling or gaming content? Methods: In this paper, we review the principal sources of overlap between the activity classes in terms of several dimensions: interactivity, monetisation, betting and wagering, types of outcomes, structural fidelity, context and centrality of content, and advertising. Results: We argue that gaming is principally defined by its interactivity, skill-based play, and contextual indicators of progression and success. In contrast, gambling is defined by betting and wagering mechanics, predominantly chance-determined outcomes, and monetisation features that involve risk and payout to the player. A checklist measure is provided, with practical examples, to examine activities according to features of design and function, which may inform guidelines for policy makers, researchers and treatment providers. Discussion and conclusions: We suggest that, in some instances, using category-based nomenclature (e.g., "gambling-like game") may be too vague or cumbersome to adequately organise our understanding of new gaming/gambling hybrid activities.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)215-220
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Behavioral Addictions
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 21 Dec 2015
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Article labelled with "open access" and CC BY NC logo


  • Behavioural addictions
  • Convergence
  • Gambling
  • Gaming
  • Structural features


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