There is an obvious question remaining: why do people like to gamble?
Look around you: we have state lotteries, casinos, sports betting, the stock market, charity bingo …
Let’s investigate what is known.
Psychologists, as well as the casinos themselves, have done vast research on the topic.
The first group because they have to deal with gambling addiction, the casinos because they want to create as much profit as they can regardless of the ethical question involved: should people be subconsciously encouraged into more gambling?
Opinions differ and of course, casinos will not publish the ‘deliberately create a gambling addiction’ strategy they use. Most psychologists claim gambling is so successful because it appeals to a primitive biologic craving for excitement and dealing with risk.
The caveman used to hunt and face the elements of nature on a daily basis. When he returned home from his exciting journey, he had a sense of accomplishment:
He faced risk and if he managed to evaluate the situation successfully the reward was survival for himself and his community.
Biologically there are two major chemicals involved: adrenaline (which is produced when you find yourself dealing with an exciting situation) and serotonin (which is released after facing a challenging situation successfully).
If there is a balance between both, a human has a sense of well being. Humans are sensitive creative beings: playing games and wondering about the best approach, directly appeals to our biology.
But we deal in different ways with the primitive urge to get our literally mind-altering chemicals flowing: some will literally risk there lives in extreme behavior (driving over the speed limit, extreme sports), others do so in a more accepted social way (competing in a business), while gambling introduces an entertainment fashion of dealing with risk.
Of course, human genes differ: one person may find satisfaction in occasionally putting the pedal to the metal while driving, others seek accomplishment in destroying a competitor in a business situation, while a majority will find a small thrill in playing for a dollar on a state lottery.
In general modern man’s life offers a lot of routine behavior: if you are financially dependent chances are high your daily job doesn’t quite offer you the satisfaction you seek. Most occupations demand routine behavior and on most occasions you are only a small part of the chain gang. The biological essential connection between effort and result is increasingly lost in modern society.
For instance, if you would work in a fast-food chain: everything comes in prepared and the cook has no personal accomplishment putting the same exact ingredients together all day.
Wealth is very unevenly spread: while some may gain enormous fortunes by appearing in a Hollywood movie while flashing a toothpaste smile, others literally have to work long hours for small wages which will be just enough to survive and pay the bills.
The difference in income can no longer be conceived to be reasonable. While a nurse working long shifts in a hospital would only receive a very moderate income for doing often unpleasant and psychologically demanding work (being faced with misery all day), a manager on top of a company which produces not as essential services (like the nurse) to the community may make the tenfold.
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This is the second major component to our urge to gamble: to escape from daily life and reality in which things often can become bleak. No working class man could ever gain such fortune, not even in a hard working lifetime as picking the right combination in the state lottery.
The reward for a good gamble offers money and excitement in the process.
Depending on the stake, if a player is on a winning streak one could gain the equivalent of several days pay checks in only a couple of minutes or hours.
And, in contrary to ordinary jobs one doesn’t have to wait a month to get paid: all casino games offer immediate payout.
But, there is a dark side to the pleasure gambling offers: adrenaline narrows the mindset to focus on the present situation. While gambling, you probably won’t be thinking about ordinary life: the only thing which matters is drawing the right card, picking the right numbers, determining the stake, hoping for the best.
While gambling, you are in the core of a biochemical rush. In the process of lengthy sessions most players will loose the connection between the plastic chips and the money they represent.
If you gamble, you are relatively confident you have a chance to win: you’ll determine the strategy, the stake, the risk, all the while hoping you can pull it off. If there is success, serotonin will be released: you went thru an exciting situation and now your brain counteracts with chemicals which make you feel good.
You feel a sense of accomplishment: after all it was you who determined the strategy, placed the bets and your guess turned out right. You felt a buzz of adrenaline (excitement) along the way. By the way, increasing the production of serotonin in the brain which is vital for the well being of humans is also the goal of most anti-depressive pills.
When playing long sessions, the constant interaction between adrenaline and serotonin can make a player feel numb. One will become less aware of the risk, and the human mind goes into a cocoon: the only thing that matters is the outcome. The financial risk for the player increases: one is less inclined to think about the consequences if the gamble turns out wrong.
You might spend more time and money gambling than you planned to. A similar thing happens to the workaholic in daily life: at first he’ll feel good because working restricts him of thinking about things he might be missing in his spare time, but after a while a feeling of numbness ‘burnout’ sets in.
Suddenly what seemed most important in his life ‘working’ is stripped of meaning. It is no different for the addicted or compulsive gambler. After all, let’s face it: watching a ball spin around, pushing a jackpot button, or seeing cards flipped then reshuffled for hours on end can hardly be called a creative way to spend one’s time: the very act is hypnotising because it is repetitive and finally a feeling of numbness and loss of reality will set in.
Especially, if your daily life does not give you satisfaction, finding pleasure in gambling can present a major financial hazard. All commercial gambling games offer the organizer a better mathematical chance to win in the long run. A player, who experienced a good run, may forget that the odds were against him for achieving such a positive result, and when one starts loosing there will be temptation to raise the stakes, chasing losses.
Losses are mathematically inevitable; unless you would play a game in which betting all possible outcomes would give better odds to the player in the long run.
The chemical rush in itself is addictive: when you find pleasure in escaping reality while gambling, you will be more likely to play long sessions and return frequently. The losses which might occur, making you feel bad (no serotonin release) might increase the craving for the excitement and sense of well being you felt before after a successful session. You might take larger risk, playing with higher stakes (more adrenalin) to gain back your losses or win even more (more serotonin). When the vicious circle isn’t stopped in time you might find yourself in serious debt.
While we were sitting at the bar, an older man approached us and introduced himself in English with a heavy accent. For a moment, I was worried that he was one of the casino staff who was turning to us to shame us away. While the Martingale System is not prohibited by the rules of casinos around the world, no casino likes to lose, and certainly not by a method.
People deal in different ways with the primitive urge to get our literally mind-altering chemicals flowing: some will literally risk there lives in driving over the speed limit, extreme sports, others do so competing in business, while gambling introduces an entertainment fashion of dealing with risk.
According to , they discovered that in the brain chemistry of a pathological gambler, “near misses” actually caused the same brain activity as if they had won.
Nature itself of these chemicals is addictive: after all, when you felt good after experiencing a successful gamble you will feel the urge to repeat the situation. If you lose, this only increases the urge to feel good again.
It might seem very confronting but the regular gambler is no different than a junkie craving for a mind-altering drug. For instance, a smoker knows cigarettes are bad for his health, but if he lights up a cigarette in the short run the reward is a release of the longing for a cigarette. Of course, smoking the cigarette itself will only extend the addiction.
‘Kicking off’ a gambling addiction can result in a serious test for the nerves (lack of chemicals being released), sleep deprivation If you are in a situation in which your financial losses are seriously increasing you should stop gambling and seek professional help. You have just become one of the many victims of the increasingly vicious gambling industry.
Gambling addiction is no different than being addicted to cigarettes, alcohol, tranquilizers, and drugs in general: the essence is a biochemical addiction and the root is most often you simply don’t feel at ease with daily life in general.
We do understand this reflex fully and have no prejudice why many humans do not feel at ease with life and turn to gamble for financial or social reasons or a combination of both.
Some humans are even genetically predetermined to be more sensitive to addiction than others. Others, depending on their life situation will feel a greater urge to escape reality.
If you want to find out if you are a compulsive gambler go the 20 questions test.
Please, seek help for your own benefit and those who surround you: there are many humans just like yourself around.
In any case, the casino industry is a major contributor to gambling addiction because a casino will do everything in its legal power to ensure players would play more, longer, and will deliberately psychologically challenge them into making larger bets. You should be at all times very aware of the psychology casinos will use against the player to make a profit.
These are facts which you’ll find in any psychological scientific research concerning gambling.
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