Gambling Cognitive Biases

Psychology studies the human mind, including behaviors and mental processes associated with gambling cognitive biases. Gambling addiction is a serious concern related to addictive behaviors and problem gambling that often derives from cognitive bias like the gambler's fallacy.

We'll cover various examples of common cognitive biases problem gamblers may experience on a continuum to a varying degree.

Then, we'll discuss the numerous responsible gambling tools available to online players. These tools can help reduce the chances of developing negative habits associated with problem gambling and avoid them altogether.

CONTENTS

WHAT IS THE GAMBLER'S FALLACY?

The gambler's fallacy comes from a cognitive bias associated with predicting future outcomes based on random events. One of the most famous examples of the gambler's fallacy occurred in the early 1900s at a casino in Monte Carlo.

The same outcome happened 26 times in a row at a roulette wheel, with the ball landing on black each time. Gamblers repeatedly made betting mistakes by continuing to place wagers on red since they believed it was "due."

False beliefs related to past outcomes led many gamblers to lose millions from their cognitive bias. While the ball consecutively landing on black 26 times was rare (1 in over 60 million), each spin of the roulette wheel should've offered the same odds for either black or red.

Whether wagering on casino games, sports betting, or even tossing a coin, gamblers should be aware of the gambler's fallacy before they place bets in person or online.

Cognitive distortions can impair the ability to think realistically about odds and probabilities, leading to risk-taking and unrealistic optimism. Individual events do not determine the outcome of future results at any game, like blackjack, roulette, or sports betting.

OTHER COGNITIVE BIASES IN GAMBLING

There are many distorted beliefs associated with the decision-making processes of gamblers in hopes of winning money. Problem gambling behavior for one person might influence other players differently.

We'll cover some cognitive biases in gambling to help you learn about them in greater detail. These examples of confirmation bias can teach you how to exert better self-control and make more well-informed decisions based on reality when you bet.

RECENCY BIAS

Also known as an availability heuristic, this bias occurs when gamblers rely only on the latest information when placing their wagers. For example, if football or soccer teams win two or three games in a row, sports bettors might be more inclined to bet in favor of those teams.

However, the influence of small sample sizes doesn't accurately reflect the odds of a future outcome. Those teams could've had losing streaks beforehand, and a winning streak doesn't mean those teams will keep winning, which is a bias associated with problem gambling.

HOT HAND FALLACY

The hot hand fallacy is also associated with winning streaks in a short period. A craps shooter may experience a 'hot streak' when continually rolling the point number or a seven on the come-out roll, while a newbie at blackjack could beat the dealer three or four times in a row.

In sports betting, a team could 'catch a hot streak' right before the playoffs to achieve a home advantage. However, they could lose the first game, leaving gamblers feeling like it should've never happened.

While a favorable outcome for gamblers might be momentarily exciting, relying on a decision-making process associated with a streak of wins or doing well in the short term is not logical.

CONFIRMATION BIAS

An example of confirmation bias in gambling might be a sports bettor who wagers on their favorite team. If an important player on that team gets injured, and the bettor refuses to change their opinions based on bias—that could lead to negative consequences.

Confirmation bias at casino games or lotteries might influence a gambler to bet on the structural characteristics of a roulette tote board or personal preferences. These personality traits are the signs of pathological gambling, and gamblers should avoid betting based on cognitive bias.

THE ILLUSION OF LUCK

Gamblers with a tendency to believe in "luck" may engage in improper gambling behavior. For example, a sign of problem gambling might be when a person wears their "lucky" hat or shirt to the casino. That could lead to pathological gambling or a reduced aversion to risk based on superstition and not reality.

THE ILLUSION OF CONTROL

The illusion of control could lead to someone developing a severe gambling addiction. Gambling addicts might believe that they are in control of guessing the correct outcome of a bet. Pathological gamblers may also feel like they can "turn things around" even while they continue to lose.

OUTCOME BIAS

Bias about a desired outcome in gambling is closely related to the illusion of control. Addictive behaviors attached to the outcome of a slot machine or blackjack table might surface when players refuse to leave the game. A gambler with a strong bias about the future outcome may lose control and engage in more risk.

THE ILLUSION OF EXPERTISE

Problem gamblers or gambling addicts might incorrectly assume that they are privy to "expert" knowledge to help them win when betting. However, professional gamblers, like seasoned sports bettors, know they will lose money almost as often as they win.

OPTIMISM BIAS

An optimism bias relates to the illusions of being an expert or other confirmation biases. While the tendency to be optimistic might often be more beneficial in real-life situations, it may be a sign of a gambling disorder. Optimism may cause players to falsely assume they can win when betting and take on an increased risk, leading to problem gambling habits.

HINDSIGHT BIAS

Problem gamblers might experience hindsight bias in sports betting after a game. While professional sports bettors aim to win around 55% of their wagers, a problem gambler might expect to win more often by using hindsight to adjust their betting styles (i.e., "Oh, it was cold in Buffalo last week. That's why they beat the Miami Dolphins. I'll bet on the Bills at home next time.")

THE BEST RESPONSIBLE GAMBLING TOOLS

Players can use various responsible gambling tools, whether sports gambling or betting at online casinos. To avoid and prevent problem gambling, online casinos promote a Responsible Gaming (RG) initiative to educate about the signs of problem gamblers and offer resources to help players stay in control.

WAGER LIMITS

Players can set daily, weekly, and monthly limits on deposits and spending through an account dashboard. Once those limits get set, if you reach them, you will have to wait until the end of the period to continue betting.

LOSS LIMITS

Players can set daily, weekly, and monthly limits on how much they're willing to lose. Reaching those limits will prevent players from betting again until the end of the loss limit cycle.

TIME LIMITS

Players can control how much time they spend each day gambling. Use a time management tool from your account dashboard to restrict your gaming sessions for wagering online.

TIME OUT

You can request a timeout from the online casino that you use. The timeout tool allows players to request a brief timeout for 72 hours or up to 12 months. (Players cannot deposit or make any bets during a timeout.)

SELF EXCLUSION

You can enter a self-exclusion program to prolong your timeout or temporarily remove yourself from online gambling in your state. Players can also make a permanent self-exclusion request in person at a relevant gaming enforcement agency.

GAMBLING COGNITIVE BIASES AND THE IMPORTANCE OF RESPONSIBLE GAMING

In-state regulatory agencies require legal online casinos and sports betting companies in the U.S. to designate significant portions of their revenue to help problem gamblers. Responsible Gaming protocols educate casino employees and gamblers about the signs of gambling problems.

Learning about risk and staying in control when playing games and placing bets is essential when gambling online.

Research shows that players who continually remind themselves of the randomness of events can avoid cognitive biases when gambling.

FAQS ABOUT GAMBLING COGNITIVE BIASES

You can read the FAQs we've compiled below to learn more about biases associated with problem gambling.

WHAT IS A GAMBLING COGNITIVE BIAS?

A gambling cognitive bias is a "mental shortcut" known as an availability heuristic. Rather than engaging in logical reasoning, some gamblers may be more prone to making impulsive bets based on false beliefs.

IS THERE A GAMBLER'S FALLACY?

The gambler's fallacy incorrectly assumes a higher probability of a future outcome based on a previous one. However, the same probability exists for any independent random event.

IS SPORTS BETTING SAFE?

For the safest user experience when sports betting, we recommend using a sportsbook licensed in the U.S. There's always risk involved when wagering on sports. Even professional sports bettors lose around 45% to 47% of their bets.

IS GAMBLING A COGNITIVE DISORDER?

Players concerned with developing a gambling disorder may refer to The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition. Studies show that pathological gambling often involves cognitive conditions associated with impulsivity and erroneous beliefs.

WHAT RESPONSIBLE GAMBLING TOOLS CAN I USE?

Responsible gambling tools at online casinos and sportsbooks include setting daily, weekly, and monthly limits on spending, losses, and time. Players can also request a brief timeout from 72 hours to 12 months. Voluntary self-exclusion programs can ban in-state players from iGaming for one to five years or permanently.

HOW DO I KNOW IF I GAMBLE TOO MUCH?

Online casinos offer questionnaires for players to learn about the signs of problem gamblers. Symptoms of problem gambling may include:

  • Sacrificing time from family or work to gamble.
  • A lack of self-control.
  • Lying or hiding your gambling habits.