The psychology of gambling

psychology gambling

We easily picture what a gambling addiction looks like, but hardly any of us really understands what it is. A person seems to have no self-control: they continue gambling even though they know that the odds are not in their favour, and they do nothing else but harm themselves and those around them.

According to the survey results provided by, people have three main reasons for playing real money pokies

or other casino games: dreaming and hoping for a lucky turn of events, making money, and entertainment.

Many sociologists confirm these ideas claiming that gambling has several ethical premises. First, it benefits the economy, and every citizen wants their country’s wealth to boost, right? The global gambling revenue is worth hundreds of billions of dollars, and it keeps growing year by year.

There’s a social aspect to gambling: people get together, interact, and play games. Visiting a casino might turn into a memorable event and brighten a mood.

Gambling gives people hope and helps them not to lose the ability to dream. It may sound like an unnecessary exaggeration, but the majority of the survey respondents mentioned dreaming about winning as the main reason to play casino games for real money. If we turn to psychology, we’ll find out that hope is a vital and enriching thing that all humans need to sustain healthy living.

Looking at gambling from this perspective, we may admit that it doesn’t seem a worse or more dangerous recreational activity than others. Restaurants are also fun, social, and cost money, don’t they?

The real problems start when gambling stops being recreational. A person turns to it to make money instead of just hoping to win unexpectedly. And just like that the love of poker, Roulette or One-Arm Bandits becomes a breeding ground for problematic behavioral patterns.

Gambling has a huge potential for turning into an addiction: it triggers the very same reactions in our brain reward circuitry as drugs and alcohol. Enjoyable activities like fine dining and wining or sex cause a dopamine release at the very moment when the brain anticipates a potential reward. The same reaction takes place when a reward or any pleasant event is uncertain: that’s why gambling is so attractive. Plus, some studies have shown that gambling uncertainty impacts a human brain in the same way long-term alcohol or drug abuse changes it.

Constant exposure to gambling uncertainty may transform a player’s attitude to losing. Very soon, the brains of problematic gamblers will release almost as much dopamine when a person loses money as it would if they had won. This reaction makes the player gamble more even though the loss amount is dramatically growing. A sound mind in this situation will experience disappointment and stop the activity.

Just like a drug or alcohol addiction, compulsive gambling isolates a person from society and leads to anxiety growth.

Compulsive gambling is a recognized mental disorder that requires medical treatment. The symptoms of excessive gambling include:

  1. ‘Tolerance’ – constant gambling bankroll growth: a player is looking to increase the thrill. There’s no satisfaction or excitement in risking the same amount again and again.
  2. ‘Chase’ – players can’t accept their losses and keep gambling to win the money back.
  3. ‘Impaired control’ – players try to quit gambling repeatedly but never manage to end it for good.
  4. ‘Emotional bond’ – players get agitated when something or someone interrupts their gambling.
  5. ‘Looking for happiness’ – people gamble when they are feeling down: depressed, guilty, helpless, stressed, etc.

Can we say that all the responsibility lies on the players’ shoulders, even though blaming someone (yourself or another person or organization) is never a healthy approach? We have to remember that in addition to the ‘House always wins’ rule, which means that the gambling odds are already disadvantageous for a player, casinos and game developers have no scruples about using human nature against casino lovers. Flashing lights, compelling sounds, addictive PC or smartphone designs – all of that plus near-misses and multiple paylines at slots, aka ‘losses disguised as wins’… These techniques hit all the gamblers but make a much stronger impact on those who have problematic behaviour patterns.

real money gambling

Does it mean that all the people who are used to playing a few rounds of Blackjack every Saturday evening will succumb to the addiction at one point? Certainly, no. That’s not the case. A person who knows how to stay in control is more than capable of avoiding it.

Here we have three principles for keeping your gambling safe:

  • Do not treat gambling as the way to make a living. It’s a game, a recreational activity, a way to have fun and spend an evening with your friends, no more.
  • Do not spend money or time on gambling meant for some other commitments. Set financial and time limits and never break them.
  • Do not let gambling become a disproportionate part of your life.