Win or Lose

Win Lose at the Casino

Win or Lose Time and Money

The exploration of three gambling settings demonstrates how gambling encounters in each setting structure meaning and management of time and money. These structures provide a semantic map for the regulation of time and money, which, in turn, define the gamblers’ relationships to chance.

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First, private gambling encounters with friends are framed around the control of financial expenditures in an encounter where measures of time almost dissipate. A microsystem of rules and strategies around money transactions is negotiated between players for the occasion. Friendly games focus on the enjoyment of each player and socialization between players rather than on winning or losing money.

Poker tournaments with rules concerning the entrance fee are preferred as they allow players to reach that goal. Indeed, private games of skills such as poker have been previously associated with recreational gambling. Although concerns for expenditures are secondary to players in this form of gambling encounter, a minimum bet is necessary to keep the game fun and to maintain players’ full attention.

The clear definition of who the players are, what their gameplay style is, and how the money will be transacted grant this gambling encounter a sufficiently sustainable frame to allow for the euphoric function of the game to unfold.

Second, gambling encounters at casinos consist of a delicate balance between keeping the game pleasurable through good financial management of betting and the containment of recognized risks and dangers of losing in a setting of greater indeterminacy.

Compared to a friendly game of poker where the outcome of the game does not lie at the center of the experience, casino play often involves losing (or winning) against an enigmatic opponent: ‘‘the house.’’

Although the rules of the game and the probabilities of winning in a casino are ‘‘theoretically knowable’’, they cannot, however, be negotiated between players or with the house. In this setting, the ambiguity regarding one’s opponent and the allocation of a loss to an outside party result in a form of uneasiness that limits the potential for euphoria.

Third, students feel uncomfortable playing online because large amounts of time and money can potentially be invested in these forms of gambling encounters. However, these feelings of discomfort are tempered by players’ subjective evaluation of his or her skills and calculation of the probabilities.

Gamblers may find it difficult to define the boundaries of a gambling encounter when the Internet provides such constant availability and proximity to games. In addition, compared to the friendly game of poker or casino playing, the opponent and the outcome of an online casino game maybe even more elusive, somewhat free of social markers, making online gambling an unnerving encounter.

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The anonymity and privacy provided by online gambling can represent for gamblers a form of risk as well. The game’s outcome may be too unexpected or out of reach to make it compelling for moderate-risk and problem gamblers.

To remediate for the difficulty of defining a relevant and tangible frame that would allow for the engrossment of the player in the game, skills may be solicited by student gamblers to keep enjoying the game and to limit the risk of stepping out of frame.

The gambling encounters experienced by students are similar to other players without gambling problems. However, two marked differences can be observed.

First, for casino gambling, like private poker games is perceived as a social leisure activity. The group might agree with this understanding of casino gambling, but also highlighted the greater risk for financial expenditures leading to uneasy feelings in this form of play. With few exceptions, online gambling is distrusted to the point of being almost discredited as gambling for gamblers. Such distrust translates into uneasiness.

A private poker game with friends provides definiteness, finiteness, and effectiveness: the rules in this form of encounter are unambiguous and immediately applicable.

Gambling at a casino and online gambling do not offer the same potential for a pleasurable encounter. On the contrary, there seems to be imperfect information. Players do not have complete knowledge of the game state and feel powerless in affecting the outcome of the game.

It has been argued elsewhere that gamblers tend to spend more in settings where gambling is the sole activity, therefore losing the euphoric function of the game. In the current paper, shared experiences by college student gamblers seem to indicate a greater difficulty in defining a sufficiently finite and malleable membrane to adequately frame casino and online gambling into meaningful and relevant experiences. The addition of individual rules may be necessary to make the ambiguity of such encounters bearable.

Some have defined these unfit evaluations of the odds and to some extent these attempts of controlling them as distorted cognitions or erroneous beliefs. These efforts should instead be understood as rules to contain anxieties felt towards the ambiguity in the gambling dynamic and to maintain the necessary level of permeability (or impermeability) of the frame delimiting the encounter.

The indeterminacy of the outcome of the game seems to be of little consequence for friendly private games, possibly because of the presence of well-defined rules for expenditures and gambling partners, or since a level of trust and feelings of belonging are created in this setting. However, this contingency becomes a source of stress when gambling at a casino and online casino, which requires cautious management of money to limit the potential time-consuming chase of wins or losses. The definition of managerial rules of time and money seems to make this situation more bearable as it allows gamblers some form of power over their experience and the progress of the game.

The negotiation of ascribed meaning as well as determining set amounts of time and money to be spent at a game balances the risks of losing and potential for enjoyment. Such negotiations are central in sustaining the engagement of players within the three gambling encounters presented here.

Indeed, the perception of benefits in gambling is a significant predictor of gambling problems. Higher levels of perceived benefits led to higher SOGS scores. On the other hand, risk perception was negatively correlated to regular gambling patterns only. Consequently, the perception of the benefits rather than the perception of the risks could represent a relevant indicator to consider in predicting potential gambling problems. Sensitization of the risk or benefits of gambling can serve as a preventive tool to sustain healthy gambling habits.

However, can there be a risk of having too much fun? Previous research with college student gamblers has shown how previous wins may determine subsequent reckless behaviors. Larger wins in experimental horse racing, or as this study demonstrates for online gambling, can reinforce these gambling patterns as it prolongs the gambling period.

Nonetheless, considering the current study results, it would be more appropriate to argue that the gamblers’ perceptions of risks versus benefits alone are not enough to identify potential risk for gambling problems. Rather, students’ narratives in this study reveal that the experience of skewed tension between levels of risk and benefits foster feelings of stress and can lead to a loss of touch with an encounter. The risk, therefore, lies in this disconnectedness with the encounter.

Pushing the argument further, gambling is much more than just about risk and fun. It is about human interaction and generated affective states that collectively define the rules and meanings structuring the management of time, money, chance and fun in each gambling encounter.

The decision to play must be coherent with the gambling encounter as jointly defined and experienced by those participating in the game. Time and money invested in a game only make sense when understood through the lens of the gambling encounter and represents a risk for feeling distressed when their meanings fail to harmonize with the context of the game. On a larger scale, excessive engagement in gambling contradicts Western normative discourse that a game must be just a game and therefore leads to feelings of anxiety. This Western normative discourse indeed maintains that a game should be separate from everyday life, of reduced consequences, and pleasurable. Although gambling is no longer morally discouraged and part of modern society’s entertainment, any excess in gambling is nonetheless socially and medically considered as inappropriate or abnormal