Win and Loss of Gambling

Nobody likes losing-even pathological gamblers. And yet they continue to bet. If the house ever wins, then why roll the dice again? People addicted to gambling often report the buzz keeps bringing them back to the card table or online slots, despite losses stacking up.

“I just tried to play,” one former addict told Scientific American in 2013. “I hated it— I loved the high I got.” Most lately, one Wall Street banker admitted defrauding $100 million from families, friends and others to fuel his dependency.

“Feeding a gambling addiction was just a way for me to get money,” he told the court.

But if someone ultimately loses money–possibly even loses their job or house as a result of nursing their addiction–how can that high possibly outweigh the sacrifices?

The first thing to notice is that people are not just gambling for winning prospects. Mark Griffiths, a psychologist who specializes in behavioural addictions at Nottingham Trent University, points out that gamblers list a wide range of motivations for their habit.

The biggest influence in a study of 5,500 gamblers was the promise of a chance to “win big money.” But the “because it’s fun” and “because it’s exciting” closely followed.

“Even when you lose when playing, your body still releases endorphins and adrenaline,” he says.

“People are buying movies.” This is confirmed by a 2009 survey by researchers at Stanford University in California that found that around 92 percent of people have “performance rates” at which they would not go. Nevertheless, their general appreciation of the event did not necessarily affect the fact that they lost money after attending a casino, for example.

“People seem satisfied with relatively small wins and will tolerate even smaller losses,” said Narayanan, co-author at the time. “They tend to be aware that they’re more likely to lose in the long run than to win.” And losing could actually, at least momentarily, boost the positive response to a win. This is because of the way gamblers ‘ winning standards change during a losing streak.

Robb Rutledge, a neuroscientist at University College, London, and his colleagues conducted an experiment with 26 participants whose brains were examined while making a series of decisions, each of which could result in either a likely or an uncertain outcome-a bet. After each second or third go, participants were also asked to rate their sense of happiness. Additionally, more than 18,000 people performed a similar experiment–including brain scans–through a smartphone app, The Great Brain Trial.

Amid various interesting results the team discovered that their reaction to winning equivalent prizes was increased when participants had a lower expectation that they would win. This was demonstrated by both the subjects ‘ own reports of how satisfied they were, and the fMRI scanning results. These scans showed increased activity in a brain area linked to dopamine neurons. In this case, dopamine, a complex neurotransmitter, could be linked to changes in emotional state.

“When people lose a lot and their hopes are reduced, this will boost their satisfaction when they finally win,” Rutledge says.

That alone is alluring.

“If a few bad things happen to you in a row and your hopes go down-but then you actually get some good results, you’re probably going to be happier,” he says.

“Though at this point you should probably walk away.”

Yet, are tools such as gambling machines still deliberately manipulative? Griffiths has written about the signals players are offered by electronic gaming machines. Much is still unclear about how their nature influences player behaviour, but many machines and casinos are using red and related colors, for example–considered more entertaining. Then, there is the sound part. Griffiths wonders if the taunts of the famous referencing tool The Simpsons have an antagonistic effect on the players.

For example, when a player loses, the character Mr Smithers can say, “You’re gone!”This could make the computer game machine more appealing, in line with theories that affirm frustration theory and cognitive remorse,” writes Griffiths in one article.

How often players will make bets is a key factor in how addictive some form of gambling could be. Because the availability of gambling incentives is related to the degree of problem gambling in a given community, Griffiths claims that motivating pathological gamblers is the number of potential bonuses-not real rewards or even the form of betting.


Furthermore, games and computers are often designed to keep players interested by providing alternative prizes, such as additional credit or the possibility of winning bigger than average next time, after a defeat.

“When you put in lots of small incentives that aren’t inherently financial, people will react,” Griffiths says.

Yet, surprisingly, there are occasions where gamblers can try to develop a “pseudo-skill” as a kind of excuse for pursuing certain potential rewards. Griffiths gives the example of UK gaming machines that are built for elastic logic, so they could cost more than they would receive from consumers over a certain period of time, during which they would return to a less forgiving scheme. This means certain players are trying to search (or “skim”) computers that have been holding back jackpots, expecting to be there when the tide turns.

All this leads to the fact that a lot of gaming isn’t all about money. It’s about the betting process itself – and all the factors that make it fun. While it is not possible to explain addictive gambling too clearly–there are often several explanations why an addiction may form in a person–it is definitely interesting to explore how the thrill of a flutter might be related to the nature and function of whatever game is played.

And even if it’s not a problematic obsession, gambling still seems to entertain those with empty pockets going home. Do you have to put all that on red or black? Well, it probably doesn’t matter.