The Psychology of Gambling Explained: Professional, Mobile and Lottery Gambling Studies

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Gambling is an activity that people take part in for entertainment. The main goal is to have fun while gambling, but for certain people it can become a compulsive activity that they find difficult to control. The excitement people feel while gambling makes them feel happy even when they aren’t winning big amounts. Gamblers often describe this as a feeling of a “high” or a “buzz”. The human body produces endorphins and adrenaline during gambling, which is why bettors feel happy when they gamble and why they want to keep playing, coming back for another buzz.

Psychology of Gambling cover

This can lead to developing an addiction of gambling. Gambling is also a social activity, because it allows for social interaction between players. The social interaction aspect of gambling is particularly dominant in land-based casinos, but it is also present in online multiplayer card games and social network gambling games. Another interesting aspect of betting is that successful gambling, in a psychological context, can be a sense of achievement even when the player is losing. A player may win less than what is wagered and still their brain can detect this as a win.

Psychological addiction of gambling is further supported by mobile technologies. Now there are new studies in the field of mobile gambling psychology, studying how mobile casinos affect the psychological status of gamblers. In countries where online gambling is legalized, online casinos and sports betting websites offer mobile apps which trigger the same types of neural processes as with internet casinos and land-based casinos.

A distinction can be made between professional and amateur gamblers. Professional gamblers are known to have a focused mindset, they bet when they have an edge and they track their bets, manage their risks through data analysis and sophisticated models. Ultimately, professional gamblers use their bankroll cleverly. Amateur gamblers bet on hunches or feelings, they have a social gambling mindset that views gambling as entertainment and bets are experienced as means to getting a rush of excitement. Lottery and games of chance like bingo can also lead to addictive gambling behavior. Gambling addiction doesn’t have to occur in a casino or at a poker table, as people who regularly buy lottery tickets are also running a risk of developing an addiction.

Studies have shown that pathological gambling is an addiction similar to an alcohol or drug addiction. The 5th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), published in 2013 by the American Psychiatric Association includes “Gambling Disorder”. A gambling disorder is a behavioral pattern in which a person feels the urge to keep gambling and take greater risks, much like drug addicts who crave for the next dose and increase it over time to satisfy their urgent need for a particular substance.

Which are the latest studies Regarding Psychology of Gambling?

The latest studies in the field of the psychology of gambling are presented below:

  • Vegni Nicoletta, Melchiori Francesco Maria, D’Ardia Caterina, Prestano Claudia, Canu Massimo, Piergiovanni Giulia and Di Filippo Gloria published an article in 2019 under the name of “Gambling Behavior and Risk Factors in Preadolescent Students: A Cross Sectional Study”, focusing on gambling behavior in younger population and characteristics that could lead to identifying risk factors.
  • Månsson Viktor, Wall Håkan, Berman Anne H., Jayaram-Lindström Nitya and Rosendahl Ingvar published an article in 2021 called “A Longitudinal Study of Gambling Behaviors During the COVID-19 Pandemic in Sweden” in which they investigated changes in gambling behaviors during the COVID-19 pandemic in Sweden.
  • Russell, A.M.T., Browne, M., Hing, N. et al. published “Stressful Life Events Precede Gambling Problems, and Continued Gambling Problems Exacerbate Stressful Life Events; A Life Course Calendar Study” in 2021. In this study, they wanted to determine if stressful life events cause gambling addiction, or if gambling problems evoke a stressful life.
  • Will Titterington and Quincy Miller published a summary of new findings on the psychology of gambling in 2021 Leanbackplayer. The research compiled findings from 41 studies from 17 different journals in the period of the past 5 years.

Psychology of gambling is a field of continuous research, and these recent studies reveal different aspects of scientific evaluation of gambling. Some studies have focused on specific gambling territories such as Italy or Sweden, and also specific periods of time and conditions such as Sweden’s first two waves of the COVID-19 pandemic. Other studies are more comprehensive and aim to explain how experiences in younger years affect gambling habits or they compile conclusions from past studies into relevant findings over longer periods of time.

The Titterington and Miller compilation includes findings that confirm that online casinos have advantages over land-based casinos, findings that confirm that gambling uses the power of uncertainty to literally reprogram the brain and also findings that indicate that gambling addiction may be connected to the supplementary eye field (SEF), a region of the brain that controls eye movement but hasn’t yet been studied enough.

Are there psychological differences upon Gambling Types?

Psychology of Gambling differences

Yes, there is a difference between problem gamblers engaging in different types of gambling, but studies have also shown that gambling involvement and its intensity also have a major influence in potentially developing gambling addiction. Specific forms of gambling can be more conducive to problem gambling behavior than others. For instance, casino gamblers like slot players are more likely to experience problematic gambling behavior compared to those who play the lottery. The more gambling formats an individual participates in, the higher the possibility of developing gambling addiction – this is referred to as high involvement.

What are the specific sides of Psychology of Betting?

The unique sides of the psychology of betting are reflected in the aspect of investigating the risk-taking mentality of bettors. Successful bettors typically realize in time that gambling will not make them rich in a moment. Most experienced bettors will advise other players to keep their emotions in check when making bets on sports events or at casinos, because if they succumb to an emotional crisis they are bound to fail.

As a psychological phenomenon, gambling is the object of extensive research which focuses on how psychological processes affect betting activities. Thanks to psychological findings, it is known that a positive mood leads to taking risks. Another psychological occurrence is named after gambling – gambler’s fallacy. This psychological process refers to the belief that if one event happens repeatedly, a different event is imminent. The belief is inaccurate, because any particular event has the same odds of happening every time (for example, if a roulette wheel stops on red seven times in a row, that does not mean that the eighth time it has to stop on red, as the chances of red or black are always the same each time the roulette wheel spins).

The bandwagon effect is another psychological phenomenon, observed in the case of lottery gamblers. It describes the event of increased purchases of lottery tickets when the jackpot reaches record levels and the media attention is high. People start buying lottery tickets at that moment because they don’t want to feel left out.

What are the specific sides of Psychology of Sports Betting?

The unique sides of the psychology of sports betting are reflected in the psychological approach to gambling on sports. In that sense, men are more likely to participate in sports betting than women. On the other hand, sportsbooks are known to exploit human psychology to take advantage of novice sports bettors.

Sports betting psychology includes various phenomena and events, such as the sports betting confirmation bias, sports betting hot hand fallacy, the ostrich effect, the overconfidence bias, herd mentality etc. Herd mentality is when a sports bettor is affected by what others are saying or doing because our brain has a tendency to conform. Odds and lines offered by bookmakers are also influenced by the herd mentality of the customers.

What are the unique sides of Psychology of Tables Games?

The unique sides of the psychology of table games can be reflected in how players tend to use psychology to defeat their opponents at the casino table. For instance, poker players rely on psychological tells to beat their opponents, especially skilled poker players who know that someone will subtly give away that they have bluffed because it is in our nature to show off how smart we are. Poker players are also prone to tilting and psychology also investigates this tendency to tilt. Avoiding it is considered a psychological skill.

Table games are predominantly games of skill, which also involves a certain level of control left in the hands of players themselves. In blackjack or poker, the games give the player a choice of actions, therefore they have an illusion of control which increases their desire to play for longer.

What are the unique sides of Psychology of Casino?

The unique sides of the psychology of casino can be seen in the tendency of casino venues to fascinate their patrons. The environments of casinos are intentional, designed purposefully to make players feel good even when they are losing money. Casinos typically don’t have windows and clocks because they want to deprive players of a sense of time. They can’t keep track of the time passing, not knowing when it is time to stop gambling and go home. Even for online casinos, sounds and colors are chosen carefully to excite our nervous system.

Slot machines in casinos are designed around the near-miss effect which causes us to think that we are not losing – we are almost winning, because we’re missing just one symbol in a winning combination. Randomness overall is something our brain refuses to accept. We tend to impose order on random chance, which is why lucky numbers exist and meaning-making behind everything we face in a casino game. Casino players think short-term, they keep playing to defend against the psychological experience of losing, and this can evolve into compulsive gambling.

What is the relation between Gambler’s Fallacy and Gambling Psychology?

Gambler’s fallacy is a belief that is not correct, but happens often with problem gamblers. Gambler’s fallacy is when a person expects that an event is bound to happen because it did not happen in a long time. For instance, when a person flips a coin and it lands on tails ten times. The eleventh time, the person will expect it to land on heads, even though past flips have no influence on the next one. Gambler’s fallacy makes bettors believe that they will have better chances of winning the more they gamble.

Another example is the roulette wheel, or lottery numbers. If a roulette ball falls on red several times, the player will hope for it to land on black. The truth is that every spin is a completely new game with equally random results. Gambler’s fallacy is also a cause of failure for players who notice patterns in their winning and losing streaks. For instance, someone might play blackjack and win every third day in a certain period of time. The loss on the next third day will come as a surprise to the player because they expected to win. Seeing patterns in past gambling history is not causally connected to the probability of winning in the future. Gambler’s fallacy is a result of our brain trying to make things predictable when they are not.

Gambler’s fallacy is described as a psychological bias in human behavior in various research papers, including “The Gambler’s Fallacy and the Hot Hand: Empirical Data from Casinos”, written by Rachel Croson and James Sundali and published in 2005 in The Journal of Risk and Uncertainty.

How does Gambler’s Fallacy affect Gambler’s Conceit According to Gambling Psychology?

Gambler’s conceit is also a form of psychological bias that manifests itself often in casino gambling. Behavioral economist David J. Ewing described this phenomenon as the situation in which a gambler thinks they have self-control. Gambler’s conceit is when players believe they will quit while they are ahead. In reality, gamblers rarely quit while they are winning, as they believe they will keep winning and that luck is on their side which can lead to losing all winnings. Gambler’s fallacy and gambler’s conceit are typically related and work in tandem. The player believes they have the freedom to quit whenever they want, but their desire to keep gambling only grows bigger. Being aware of the existence of gambler’s fallacy and gambler’s conceit is helpful to regaining control over one’s gambling habits.

How does the Design of Gambling Games’ Affect Gamblers’ Psychology?

Psychology of Gambling and casino games

Knowing human psychology and the psychology of gamblers is of much use to casino games designers. Gambling is an immersive environment in which everything is important, including visual and audio signals. Games of chance offered at online and offline casinos have the purpose to hook players and make them gamble longer. Gambling games succeed in hooking players by providing them with a false impression of skill.

Although game results are random, the mechanics behind the outcomes are carefully designed. For example, multi-line slot machines produce more enjoyment among players because they feel like winners and believe they have won, even though they earned less than they wagered due to losing on some lines and winning on others.

Slots are designed to trigger our brain’s reward system by offering small rewards that keep players engaged. Visual and audio cues are incorporated into the design of a casino game to make plays memorable and significant. Combining symbols to form a winning combination creates a near-miss effect that deceives the player, making them think the win is just about to happen. Players also have an illusion of control when they get to adjust certain settings in the game, their bet size and then using the play button over and over. Each time they use the play button, they believe they are making a personal choice while gambling, same as with choosing lottery numbers. Similar psychologically supported tricks are used in the design of online casinos. This subject is researched in “Digital Gambling: The Coincidence of Desire and Design” by Natasha Dow Schull published in 2005 in The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science.

Design psychology that makes bettors gamble more usually relies on:

  • Colors: Colors are used to generate visual stimuli for gamblers and it is one of the most common tactics used in the context of gambling game design. The most used colors in casino games have psychological effects. For example, yellow attracts attention and evokes optimism, blue means trust, green relaxes and is typically associated with money, orange is a call to action, whereas black evokes a sense of power as it is typically used to promote luxury items.
  • Sense of immediacy: Immediacy is also something game developers use to attract gamblers, especially in progressive jackpot games, adding counters that indicate that if you don’t take part in the game the big reward will be gone soon.
  • Interactive Controls: Controls are carefully designed to give players power and authority over the game, more precisely an illusion of control and power. The fact that the reels of a slot spin every time a gambler hits the button creates an effective feedback loop that the brain vires as a positive and encourages the player to disregard the uncertainty of winning.

What are Some Gambling Superstitions in the Mind of a Gambler?

People suffering from a compulsive gambling disorder are likely to rely on superstitions to win, such as four-leaf covers, lucky pennies or horseshoe charms. Scientists have found a connection between impulsivity and believing in superstitious rituals in problem gamblers. Superstitions in psychology are known as flawed reasoning. Compulsive gamblers not only perform superstitious rituals, like carrying a lucky charm, but they also explain their losses in a superstitious manner (having bad luck or playing on a “cold” slot machine).

Creating superstitions around gambling and maintaining rituals is just our need to have a sense of control over something that is coincidental. Having the desired result after performing a superstitious ritual (which is a coincidence) reinforces the superstition, which further propels the problematic behavior, in this case compulsive gambling. There are many casino superstitions, including those that are believed to bring bad luck, like lending money to another player, betting on number 13, turning the chair while at the betting table or counting money while playing at a casino. Gambling superstitions can also be a cultural thing. For example, people in China believe that wearing red while gambling brings good luck or that washing their hands in the middle of a winning streak can reverse their good fortune.

How does Emotion Control affect Gambling Frequency?

Gambling can originate from a need to cope with stress or otherwise overwhelming feelings. It is known that emotions have an influence over our decision-making. In the case of someone who is a compulsive gambler, emotions can lead to reckless gambling behavior and the opposite of rational thinking. Neuroimaging has provided insight into how emotionally aroused states increase impulsive decision-making. In the presence of negative emotional states, gambling can serve as a coping strategy and lead to a gambling disorder and addiction.

If someone’s mood is low, their enjoyment motivation to gamble will be reduced, according to Lloyd J, Doll H, Hawton K, Dutton WH, Geddes JR, Goodwin GM, Rogers RD. “How psychological symptoms relate to different motivations for gambling: an online study of internet gamblers”, Biol Psychiatry. 2010. In the same vein, elevated moods will increase the enjoyment motivation, but the danger lies in dysphoric states that may open risks for psychiatric diagnosis such as depression. Biological determinants can help with further studies about gambling behavior, especially the release of dopamine.

Does the Operant Conditioning Chamber (aka the Skinner box) explain Psychology of Gambling?

Yes, the operant conditioning chamber gives relevant insight for the benefits of the psychology of gambling. Also called the Skinner Box, the operant conditioning chamber is frequently used in gambling game design, particularly slot machines. The name comes from a famous experiment conducted by psychologist B.F. Skinner in the 1960s, in which he put pigeons in a box and made them press a lever to receive a pellet of wood.

During the experiment, Skinner altered how the box worked making the pellet appear on random presses, not every single one. Operant conditioning is now used in gambling games as a mechanic – it uses random chance to increase the engagement and spending of gamblers. The Skinner box in gambling devices reinforces the betting behavior through unpredictability and curiosity, making the subject work more persistently to obtain rewards after receiving a certain sum of money, expecting to receive even more in the future. Winning money has a similar effect as winning food for the pigeons in Skinner’s original experiment.

What is the Bandwagon Effect for Gamblers?

You may have heard the expression “to jump on the bandwagon”. It means to join something, to start doing something that many other people are doing. In the context of gambling, the bandwagon effect often appears in situations when players start betting just because a lot of other people are doing it and they do not want to be left out of the event. It is in human nature not to enter into conflict against the majority, so we conform. An example would be betting on the Super Bowl just because this gets a lot of attention from the media even if you’re not a sports betting fan, or buying a lottery ticket when the prize is huge and the buzz about it is massive.

What is the psychological description of gambling addiction?

Gambling addiction cover

The American Psychiatric Association (APA’s) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, fifth edition (DSM-5), includes gambling addiction as a progressive disorder that can have negative psychological, physical and social consequences. Compulsive gambling can be detrimental to one’s life, which is why it is important to admit the problem exists and seek out help. The National Problem Gambling Helpline Network provides assistance to problem gamblers in England, Scotland and Wales. They can also reach out to Gamblers Anonymous UK, the National Centre for Gaming Disorders or the NHS Northern Gambling Service. ConnexOntariohas a gambling helpline open 24/7 for problem bettors in Canada and points out to organizations such as Gamblers Anonymous and Gam-Anon.

Is there a predisposing characteristic for Psychology of Gambling?

It is not yet clear whether predisposing (genetic) characteristics for the psychology of gambling exist. Family studies have shown that harmful gambling is significantly more common in the relatives of problem gamblers, but the extent of genetic inheritance in this case is not exactly determined. The question of genetic inheritance versus environmental influences is not yet answered in the context of contribution towards developing problem gambling. A link has been established between having a gambling disorder and having experienced sexual or physical abuse as a child. In other words, adverse childhood experiences are risk factors for developing problem gambling.


Is there a psychology to gambling?

Yes, there is. Gambling like any other human activity is based on our psychological state.

Are there studies explaining the psychology of gambling?

Yes, there are numerous studies giving us insight into gambling.

Should I trust the findings from the professional gambling studies?

Yes, you can be sure that the studies are based on coherent data and analyses.

Where can I find an up-to-date list with studies on gambling behaviour?

Silentbet should be your go-to site regarding the latest publications for gambling.

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    Author: Katerina Gadzheva
    Certified Betting Expert
    Katerina Gadzheva
    Katerina has 10+ years of experience in iGaming. She has been a player long before that. Using her skills as a content writer and first-hand knowledge of the online gambling industry, she reviews and compares online casinos for Silentbet.