Psychology of Gambling

assorted gambling chips scattered on a blue table

People like to gamble for fun and entertainment, however there are some who starts gambling compulsively and sees gambling as something similar to other  pleasurable activities such as drinking or smoking.

Any gambler knows the well-known adage “the house always wins”, yet instead of walking away, players insist on trying their luck.

So why do people engage in gambling knowing it may lead them down the rabbit hole of possible gaming addiction?

Let us learn the effects of gambling in the brain and how the brain’s reward system works.

The Science Behind Gambling

Whenever we engage in an enjoyable activity, our brain releases the feel-good neurotransmitter dopamine, which gives us a rewarding pleasure sensation.

In gambling, you never know what the outcome will be, and because your brain is hardwired to enjoy activities that leave you no clue as to what may happen, this increases your craving for more gambling.

Gambling also comes with potential rewards including winning money, social participation, and enjoyment. Most people are able to walk away when they start losing money on the casino table, but some may continue to gamble to win back the money they’ve lost—a phenomenon also known as chasing losses. These are the individuals that are prone to developing bad gambling habits. 

Whenever a player experiences a win, the brain releases dopamine, which generates exceptionally good feelings. Once you’ve felt that rush, you will crave that same amount of pleasure again. However, when you gamble often, the brain starts to build up tolerance to the effect of the dopamine. The brain’s reward system gets overused, and it gets harder to achieve that winning feeling when you’re betting the same amounts. This will lead to more craving of dopamine and cause you to take bigger and bigger risks just to feel that same level of pleasure. Before you know it, gambling has become a habit and an addiction.

Stimuli and Responses

Casinos know how to push customers to keep gambling way past their bet limits. They make use of specific game designs, layouts, and stimuli such as sights and sounds to nudge players to gamble more. The abundance of flashing lights and wide-range of fun sound effects and music, both in land-based casinos and online casinos, increase dopamine release. Both the uncertainty of the reward system and these stimuli create a synergistic effect to cater to the brain’s craving.

Near Misses

Because near misses are almost wins, it stimulates areas of the brain that responds to wins. It offers a strong incentive to keep playing because it tricks the brain into thinking that they might win in the next round. Near misses are highly motivating to increase a player’s commitment to the game, making even the most average players stay at a game longer than is intended.

Online Gambling

The gambling industry continues to evolve and adapt for it to be more accepted and accessible globally. This is why the industry has shifted online and there is continued digitalization of gaming in casinos. Due to the accessibility of this newer form of gambling, it may greatly impact the prevalence of pathological gambling.

Now that you have some understanding of the brain activity associated with pathological gambling and how addicting casinos can be, you now know the dangers of compulsive gambling. If you or someone struggles with pathological gambling, you can read our Responsible Gaming page for more information.

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