While most people who gamble know how to play particular games, many don’t understand how the games really work or why they will eventually lose over time. Whether the game is blackjack, roulette, video poker or others, the following factors apply:
House Advantage (or House Edge)
House advantage is the mathematical advantage the house or gambling operator has on most wagers made by the players. House advantage is built into the games so the casino/gambling operators will make money in the long run. House advantage comes in various forms, including paying the “casino odds” on winning bets rather than “true odds” for most games, charging a commission on winning bets (e.g. baccarat) or ensuring that the rules of the game are in its favor (e.g. players can bust before the dealer takes any cards in blackjack). The casino odds, or pay-off odds, are not the true odds of the game. For example, in roulette, there are 37 numbers on the wheel. The true odds of picking the right number is 1 in 37 but, if players win, they are only paid 35 to 1. This difference gives the house an advantage, ensuring that it will make money over time. In the short run, the players might find themselves ahead through sheer chance, but the longer they play, the more likely it is that they will lose money due to the house advantage. The other forms of house advantage, such as commission on winning bets or the rules of the games, have the same effect as paying less than true odds for the players. Some games have greater house advantage than others, but virtually all casino games have house advantage built into the games. Some players don’t fully understand these facts and feel they are being cheated after losing money over time. In fact, casinos don’t need to cheat or rig games — they already have the house advantage system built into their games to make sure they will make money in the long run. What these players have experienced only reflects the reality of gambling games.
Another important fact is that casino games are based on random events. Casinos make sure that all their games are random and unpredictable, making it impossible to figure out a system for predicting what will happen next. For example, electronic gaming devices (e.g. slots) have a computer chip called a Random Number Generator that continually produces random numbers, even when no one is playing the game. When a player pushes the deal or spin button, it’s like blindly putting a hand into this river of numbers, pulling one out and putting it on the screen. If this number is a “winning number” (a winning poker hand or line-up combination),the player wins. If not, he or she loses. Unfortunately, there are always more losing numbers in the river than there are winning numbers. In games such as roulette, the spot on the wheel where the ball lands is completely random. In a blackjack game, no one knows for sure which card will turn up next from the deck of cards. For most casino games, as players become more familiar with a game, it’s natural for them to notice patterns. However, even if they notice what it seems to be a pattern a few times, this “pattern” still only reflects what happened in the past. What will happen in the future will occur on a random basis — the next event is unpredictable and no one can know for sure what future outcomes will be.
Independence of Events
Another fact about casino games is that each event in a game occurs either totally or partially independently from all other events in that game — what’s already happened has little or no effect on what will happen next. For example, in roulette, each time the ball lands on the wheel is totally independent from another time. The ball has no memory of earlier spins and lands at any one spot on the wheel on a random basis. Games such as blackjack are not totally independent because, once a card is played, the composition of the remaining deck changes, thus affecting the future outcomes of the game. While events in blackjack partially depend on each other, the multiple decks of cards used and the casino’s rules of game mean that players are still unable to make reliable predictions on the outcomes of the games. Independence of events and randomness are important concepts. If misunderstood, distorted and faulty beliefs about gambling games (e.g. “winning or losing streaks” or “near miss beliefs”) can arise. Research shows problem gamblers tend to have a poorer understanding of these concepts, making them more likely than non-problem gamblers to have faulty beliefs. Frequent irrational thinking, myths and beliefs provide problem gamblers with “reasons” to continue gambling despite experiencing problems in one or all areas of their lives. Gamblers who hold these faulty beliefs may be more susceptible to excessive gambling. Here are some examples:
Problem gamblers spend a lot of time, energy and money gambling. After losing for a while, they begin to regard their expenditures as an “investment” rather than the cost of playing. Instead of walking away and accepting losses, the gambler continues to gamble in order to win back the money lost. This thinking creates a vicious cycle that entraps the gambler, resulting in persistent gambling despite mounting losses.
Illusion of control
Gamblers begin to believe that wins are produced by their own efforts (e.g. how they throw the dice or push the button) rather than by the random operation of a gambling device or cards.
The gambler’s fallacy
This is the belief that if something has not happened for a long time, it is bound to happen. For example, some gamblers believe that if a coin has flipped heads nine times in a row, it is likely that the next flip will be tails. In reality, the chance of getting heads is exactly the same as it always is — 50/50. The notion that tails are due is just a common error that many people make regarding the randomness concept.
Periodicity of luck or belief in “streaks”
Some gamblers believe that events happen in streaks. They gamble beyond their limits because they feel they are “doing well” or “in a lucky streak.” The truth is, events are random and unconnected. What they recognize as a “streak” is an erroneous belief, not the reality of the game.
Gamblers believe that, by learning a certain system of betting, they can over- come the house advantage (doubling up, for example). While in the short run they might win by pure chance, in the long run they would still lose money, as no system can beat the house advantage.
Near miss beliefs
This is the belief that a gambler is about to win because his or her bets appear to get “close” to the winning number/bet. In reality, there is no such thing as “getting closer” to the winning number because in gambling games, each event in a game has little or no effect on the next event. The belief that someone is “almost winning” is just a part of the gambler’s faulty perception.
This is the attitude that money lost by gambling has not really been lost because it can be recovered through further gambling.
Superstitions and rituals
Some gamblers begin to believe that certain objects, events, actions or supernatural forces may be helping or hindering their gambling wins.
Some gamblers choose to remember only the times they win, but do not acknowledge — or they “forget” — the times they lose.