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Editorial: Psychology of gambling

Gambling psychologyWhy do people love to gamble? It's a question non-gamblers have been asking for centuries. Lives have been changed and even lost over dice, cards, horses... As sites like BetUS recently proved when they introduced betting options for the National Spelling Bee, if people can gamble on it they absolutely will. But why?

Organizations like Gamblers Anonymous have collected data that suggests that gambling addiction is pathological, but is the same true for controlled enjoyment of the game? While some gamblers may be subconsciously motivated to play, we believe that others simply enjoy the game, and still others are having an obvious response to positive stimuli. Ask a dozen casino patrons why they love to gamble, and you could very well get a dozen different answers, but in our experience the excitement stems from three basic sources.

Money

By far the number one reason that people love to gamble is the potential to win money. Why else would millions of people repeatedly buy lottery tickets when they know they are more likely to get struck by lightning than to win? While everyone hopes to hit the jackpot, for most people a small win is enough to keep them coming back. On a psychological level, this phenomenon of hope/expectation is best explained by famed psychologist B.F. Skinner's theory on operant conditioning.

Gambling falls under Skinner's category of positive reinforcement and more specifically intermittent reinforcement on a variable interval schedule. In English, that basically means that winning every once in a while (even when we lose far more frequently) is all the positive encouragement that gamblers need to keep playing. If you've ever played a slot machine, then you probably know what we're talking about. Even after you've lost $100 playing slots, you still get a little thrill when three single bars hit the payline and you get $30 back.

Competition

The thrill of competition is an especially strong draw in skill-based games like poker where players are pitted against each other instead of the house. This gives gamblers a double shot of excitement. When they win, not only are they winning money but they get the added bonus of beating other players. Call it king of the mountain syndrome, but watch even the pros playing at the WSOP and you can see that the rivalries are about more than the money.

Thrill of the Unknown

Everyone likes a good surprise, and that's another way that gambling creates appeal. Players that come to the casino with a logical understanding of the games expect to lose which makes winning all the more enjoyable. Add in the charged atmosphere and the big hullabaloo over even the smallest of wins, and you've got a good recipe for an exciting Saturday night. Which beats the pants off the 9-5 drudgery that gamblers know they'll be going back to on Monday. Whether they are beating other players or just beating the odds, it's nice to feel for even a moment that luck is on their side.


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02-Jul-2009, 19:14


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