GAMBLING

(Investigator 34, 1994 January)


BIG SPENDERS

Poker machines, dice, lotteries, raffles, horse racing, roulette, football pools, bingo, cards, casinos. All have their addicts!

"Compulsive gamblers" who seemingly can’t control "the urge" number up to 500,000 in Australia and up to 10 million in the United States!

Yudihishthira who lived in India about 1500 BC gambled away 100,000 slaves, his kingdom, his brothers, his wife and finally himself. Emperor Nero (37-68 AD) staked the modern equivalent of about $500,000 on single throws of the dice. Ancient Germans lost wives, families, houses and even their own limbs on a roll of the dice. Ancient Chinese similarly wagered their toes, fingers, limbs – and this before the days of anaesthetics!

Today many people have occasional "flings", lose a few weeks wages, kick themselves and berate themselves and learn their lesson. Others, however, go on and on, losing and losing. When they lose to the extent that it destroys their life and they still don’t slow down we call it "compulsive gambling".

Compulsive gambling can lead to cheating or lying to raise money for another bet, marriage break-up, job loss, passing bad cheques, embezzling, loss of house, stealing, robbery, starvation, imprisonment and suicide. Some gamblers have been known to steal and sell their kids' Xmas presents in order to place one more bet!

AGAINST SCIENCE

To think you can beat the odds and make a fortune is virtually an expectation for a paranormal event – one contrary to science, in this case the science of mathematical statistics and probability theory. Gambling including the hope of winning is contrary to the ethics of various religions as well.

Of course most gamblers win occasionally but rarely do they recover their losses. Sometimes, however, there will be a gambler who does "stay ahead".

This is because there are exceptional cases in every activity pursued by millions of people.

If a million people, for example, buy lottery tickets some have to win. If the winners keep buying more tickets eventually some of those winners will win again. If the twice-over winners continue to be among the ticket buyers some will again be among the winners. And so on.

The longer the series of wins we look for the more the original 1 million lottery participants get whittled down. If we look for people who have won 10 large prizes in 10 years we will find few or even none from among the original 1 million.

There is no way of predicting who will come out ahead in one game of chance or in a series of games.

The claim, hope or belief that it will be YOU is paranormal nonsense. The assertion "My luck has to change; one more try and I'll strike the big one" is superstition. You cannot by wishful thinking control the dice, the horses, the numbered balls in lotto, or the cards. What you can control – we’ll see later – is yourself. You can be a winner by choosing restraint and saying "No" to gambling and in that way have cash left over for better things!

The science of statistics that calculates theoretical probabilities, as distinct from hazy notions of "luck", began at about the same time that the science of astronomy separated from the superstition of astrology.

In 17th century Italy some gamblers turned to Galileo (1564-1642) for advice on placing bets. In France gamblers turned to philosopher/mathematician Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) for the same reason. Galileo wrote a treatise about dice. Pascal formulated the theory of probability. Other great researchers into statistics followed including Bernoulli (1667-1748), Laplace (1749-1827), Gauss (1777-1855), Galton (1822-1911), Pearson (1866-1921).

None of the research of these men ever uncovered any lucky influences such as good luck charms, lucky numbers, lucky stars, etc, or clairvoyant insight whether via crystal ball gazing or otherwise which changed the results of probability calculations!
 

WHAT IS GAMBLING?

Sometimes a gambler excuses his habit by saying: "Life is a gamble." And a century ago many people regarded insurance as a wager.

Clearly, life is not a gamble in the sense that before birth each fetus places a bet and hopes to win a lot of money when he dies. Nor do people usually seek insurance with the intent of making a big win from it. If we insure property the intent is to recover our losses in the event of the property being stolen, lost, or accidentally destroyed.

"Gambling" in its ordinary meaning is to bet on the results of lotteries, sporting events, cards, raffles, poker machines, and other events where the result is unpredictable with the idea of making a profit and/or inflicting a loss on someone else. If dice, cards, coin tosses, etc, are used to help in a decision such as to decide who does a certain job it’s not gambling but rather a decision "by lot".

Gambling is not necessarily taking place merely by seeking insurance or by merely being alive
 

GOODBYE TO GAMBLING

Gamblers Anonymous began in the USA in 1957, Australia in 1961 and in Britain in 1964. G A sees gamblers as immature, living in a dream world, rejecting responsibility, and needing to make changes in his personality and values. G A offers a 12 step recovery program similar to Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous.

Other methods of getting gamblers to give up gambling have included psychotherapy, religious conversion, electric shock therapy and marriage. The last is the least successful.

Many, perhaps all, human activities and behaviors are influenced by our genes. In 1988 the Archives Of General Psychiatry had a report indicating that pathological gambling has a genetic component. Gamblers were found to have higher levels of norepinephrine – a neurochemical in the urine and the spinal fluid.

The fact that some compulsive gamblers manage to change and give up gambling is proof that the genetic component of the conduct is not so strong as to over-ride the influence of environment and choice.

What if you've started gambling, your losses are increasing, and you find yourself excited over your next planned effort to recuperate your losses? Well, perhaps you have more of that genetic component which predisposes to gambling than other people have. Prevention is easier and better than cure! It's time to stop! Remember, what you have control over is yourself – not the dice, cards, roulette wheel, or lotto numbers!
 

WHY DO THEY GAMBLE?

It's contrary to science, contrary to many religions, contrary to rational behavior, self-defeating and stupid. We hear of gamblers having an "irresistible urge" or "compulsion" or of being "sick". Some observers see gamblers as "callous", "inhuman", "weak willed" or morally "degenerate"

Why do some gamblers gamble on and on though lives are wrecked?

Conscious motivations may include:

Hope of a quick return for a small outlay;
Relief from boredom and tension;
The thrill and excitement;
Desire for self-esteem and attention which follows a big win;
Wanting to feel in control of fate and fortune;
Search for a sense of omnipotence;
Hope or certainty of winning;
Feeling that "My luck is about to change";
To recuperate previous losses;
To experience the social life.

Psychological theories and explanations include:

Unconscious aggression;
Expiation of guilt;
Masochistic relief when "punished" by losing;
Unconscious desire to lose as self punishment;
Displacement activity for sexual tension;
Reversion to childish conduct;
Obsessional neurosis;
Substitute activity for compulsive masturbation;
Expression of an instinct for self destruction;
Reaction to domineering, moralistic parent.

An important component in gambling is that occasional wins do occur and this reinforces the behavior.

Mice, monkeys and other animals trained to press a lever to get a food pellet keep pressing the lever even when the pellets come every 10th, 20th or 100th press. The lever-pressing behavior is strongest and most resistant to extinction if the reward, the food pellet, was previously received at irregular intervals.

A bad, poorly rewarded, habit can be maintained by occasional, intermittent, small rewards which in turn promote irrational striving for unobtainable bigger rewards.

(B M)


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