The Psychology Of Gambling

Gambling is a way to have some fun with your friends, compete with successful gamers and earn yourself a bit of extra cash (or lose all you have to own depending on your luck!). With the growth of technology and gambling being able to enter the online world, it has become massively more accessible to anyone and everyone. You can literally play 24/7- on the bus to town, walking around Tesco doing your weekly shop, sat at your desk at work…but the hours do begin to add up, your bank account does eventually take a hit and it can eventually become an addiction if you aren’t careful…

Just under 600,000 people are believed to be living with a gambling addiction in the UK, many of them keeping it to themselves. But why is this number so high? It’s not a drug, it’s not something you can physically do to yourself…

It’s just a game, isn’t it…?

Gambling has the power to become addictive due to the fact that it creates a natural high within the body, similar to one created by taking drugs- but without taking any illegal substances. This feeling is an enjoyable one and so many want to replicate this feeling time and time again! So what is it that creates this natural high? Well, it’s all down to the thrill of the game, the thrill of gambling, the 50/50 chances you have, risking your money, etc all give a great sense of anticipation, nerves and excitement wrapped up in one experience – and this creates a natural high that human beings crave.

But enjoying a natural high doesn’t cause an addiction. So what is it that pushes someone past the point of enjoying a game here and there, a night out at a casino with friends on the weekend?

How can we start to define addiction?

When we gamble, we start small, maybe just spending a fiver, a tenner max. When that money is lost, oh well, it’s not too much and nothing worth stressing over. But when we see that money double or triple itself as you win a game, you feel thrilled, happy, successful even! So you decide to start spending more money, and whilst you don’t always win, when you do you feel on top of the world. This is a desirable feeling of course, and so encourages us to play on and on in a desperate attempt to relive that feeling. This is how the addiction starts- chasing a feeling that lasts seconds but can cost a life.

Casino’s don’t help a person either…

Any time spent away from a casino, be it online or physical, they begin to fill up your inbox inviting you back to continue playing. Whilst some messages may just contain text saying “we miss you, come back” and such, some will even offer you a small amount of cash to spend on their behalf, offers, vouchers and free prizes, all to reel you back in. And often, it works, because who doesn’t love free stuff? However, this only allows someone to stay hooked on the game, furthering an addiction.

Task design. The slot machine task presents two reels, with the six identical play icons displayed on each reel, and a horizontal payline across the center of the screen. On trials with a white screen background (as displayed), the volunteer selected one icon on the left reel, using two buttons to scroll through the icons, and one button to select. On trials with a black screen background, the computer selected the play icon. Following icon selection, the right hand reel spun for a variable duration (2.8–6 s), and decelerated to a standstill. During outcome (4 s), if the right reel stopped on the selected icon (i.e., matching icons were aligned in the payline), the subject was awarded £0.50 (approximately $0.80); all other outcomes won nothing. Following the outcome phase, there was an intertrial interval of variable duration (2–7 s). On intermittent (1/3) trials, two ratings were acquired using an on-screen visual analog scale: following selection, subjects were asked “How do you rate your chances of winning?,” and following outcome, subjects were asked “How much do you want to continue to play the game?” Source:

Of course, then a gambling addiction can lead to other things- some commonly linked with gambling are alcohol addiction, fraud and theft. Many people suffering a gambling addiction go unnoticed as it’s not a “real” addiction in comparison to drugs or alcohol. Many gambling addicts don’t know themselves that they have an addiction. And so they fall into these other traps of theft and fraud to obtain more money and go to prison- all the while actually needing some help!

All of this makes gambling sound very negative…

As long as you play responsibly and sensibly, there is nothing wrong with gambling. Everyone likes to take risks sometimes, try and earn money and feel lucky- that’s why people participate in raffles, the lottery and lucky draws! They too all produce a natural high much like gambling, because it’s just a sense of achievement when you win! It’s learning to manage that natural high, keeping it tamed and sticking to a sensible routine that separates those who play for fun and those who are addicted.

How Casino Owners Use Psychology on Gamblers

We all know the basics of how a casino makes money – the odds are stacked towards them, and against you, and so on average the house always wins. But it doesn’t end there. The lengths that a casino will go to in order to make you part with even more of your cash than you planned to are incredible.

1 – They make losing your money a rewarding experience

Regular gamblers who lose huge amounts of cash on every visit to the casino are cash cows. They keep these guys coming back by making sure that every single aspect of their trip – aside from the huge dent to their bank balance – offers up rewards that trigger the pleasure centres in the brain.

The biggest losers get booked into the most expensive suites before they’ve even arrived – that feels like a win. They’re given as much free food and drink as they want – that feels like a win. They even get given free cash to spend in the mall – that feels like a win. And all of these help them conveniently forget just how much money they’re losing every hour they’re on that casino floor.

Louis Theroux’s 2007 BBC documentary set in Las Vegas shows just how calculated this entire process can be. If you start to lose money more slowly than expected, those ‘perks’ will be cut down to size too.

2 – They make sure you lose track of time

Ever wonder why the only numbers you see in a casino relate to the amount of money you can win? There are no clocks, and whether it’s day or night the lighting remains the same.

The longer the casino can keep you playing, the more of your money they can take from you.

Many online casino licenses require the licensed casinos to display the current time on the websites next to the casino games. This is why you see a little clock at all times in the bottom right corner on the casino window when you’re playing.

3 – Even the layout of the casino is a calculated move

There are two schools of thought when it comes to the casino layout. Older casinos put the machines in the front and at the centre so that you’re tempted by them even when you’re checking in. In these casinos, all paths lead back to the casino floor – so they can take even more of your money.

In newer casinos, the layout isn’t nearly so controlling – but even this is a calculated move. According to psychologists, we are more likely to make big, risky bets when we don’t feel trapped. So that illusion of freedom makes us even more likely to hand over more money to the casino than we planned.

4 – They make sure we hear about other peoples wins, not their losses

When someone wins the jackpot, the entire casino floor hears about it – lights flash, buzzers sound – you really can’t miss it. But when you don’t win, you’re the only one who knows. This leaves us all with the impression that those big wins are more common than they really are – and that everyone else is winning much more than we are – motivating us to bet more and more, convinced that our own lucky streak must be just around the corner.

5 – They make their statistics sound much more impressive than they are

If you saw two slot machines, and one had a sign that read “95% payout rate”, while on the other a sign said “you’ll lose 5% of all the money you put in” – you’d obviously go with the first. But the two machines are identical – the casinos are simply rephrasing the statistics in a way that makes it sound like we’re more likely to win than lose.

6 – They even use smells to send us to our happy place

This last one isn’t yet common practice – but a study back in 2006 showed that introducing smells the majority of people rated as ‘pleasurable’ meant that people stayed in the casino for longer, and placed higher bets while they were there.

The researchers assume that the smells evoked a sense of nostalgia, which then subconsciously linked the present moment (being in the casino) to those happy memories.

Let’s hope this doesn’t become commonplace any time soon – or we’re going to have some pretty funky smelling casinos!