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Gambling addiction – gambling thoughts

Incorrect assumptions about the probability of winning and the ability to influence games of chance favour gambling behaviour. However, the importance of such false assumptions for the development and maintenance of gambling addiction should not be overestimated. Most gamblers know that they ultimately cannot win. If the desire to gamble increases though, the usual gambling thoughts can quickly flood the mind. Therefore, become aware of your own thoughts and beliefs about gambling, as completely as possible.

Human thinking is focused on pattern recognition and on making connections between events. It tries to predict future events from these established relationships. This is a promising strategy for many situations. However, the price for this is, that connections are seen, where actually there are none. And this strategy is completely unsuitable for predicting random events.

Basically, there are 3 categories of gambling thoughts:

  1. Thoughts about gambling and how game results can be influenced. They concern the probability of winning, e.g. “The chances are not bad, there are so many ways to win!”, or opportunities to influence wins.
  2. Thoughts about the meaning of portents and omens, e.g. “Despite the losses of other gamblers, you can win by gambling yourself, it’s your lucky day!”
  3. Give yourself permission to gamble, e.g. “I deserved to gamble today. Finally, I have peace and can forget everything! “

Gambling addiction – the likelihood of winning and the ability to influence gambling

Estimating probabilities depends, among other things, on the vividness of our memories of them, and whether these memories are associated with strong emotions. What is easy to recall, is also considered to be more likely. Situations or facts, that are associated with strong feelings, are particularly well remembered. If the strong feelings are positive, the memory is even better. Therefore, winnings in gambling are well and quickly remembered. As a result, the likelihood of winnings is greatly overestimated. One example is the lottery, which, despite its popularity, is a very poor offer:

  • 98% total loss
  • Between 40% and 60% variable and relatively low pay-out ratio of 50% on average
  • extremely low probability of winning the first prize class of 1:14 million (including the risk of heavy profit sharing with other participants due to frequently chosen series of numbers).

Freedom of choice and familiarity with the game increase the so-called illusion of control. “With perseverance, knowledge and skill, you can make money with games of chance!”, “Despite the losses of other gamblers, you can win yourself at games of chance!” And “A permanently committed game of chance will ultimately be rewarded!” e.g. the slot machine player can press keys that have no real impact on profit or loss.

In the event of a gambler error, also known as the “Monte Carlo effect“, the gambler incorrectly concludes from the frequency of previous game outcomes about the probability of the subsequent events. Random events are independent. There are no signs to predict whether “Noir” will come next. How often “Rouge” came before has nothing to do with it, although it is difficult not to believe that “Rouge” will be more likely. This misinterpretation is reinforced by displaying the so-called permanences (series of the number sequence that has already arrived) both directly at the roulette table and on the Internet.

Likewise, luck cannot be derived from portents or omens, e.g. a good feeling when you get up, or your mother’s birthday, or whether the horoscope promises happiness.

Closely associated with the willingness to quickly establish cause-and-effect relationships is the tendency to suspect a certain intention behind events. A gambler who continues to lose at the slot machine can develop the conviction that the machine “is out to” specifically milk him. This can increase into a magical thinking: “I had a green wave at the traffic lights today, this is a sign that I will also be lucky when gambling”.

Near events are very seductive as well. They give the impression that winning is almost there and tempt gamblers to try again. In many everyday situations, near-events actually show us the right way. If you just miss the nail with a hammer, you need correct the next stroke just a little bit, and the nail will be really hit. Experiencing near hits shows that a meaningful interpretation in everyday life can consolidate lossy gambling. The relevant slot machines are programmed accordingly, in that more near-hits (e.g. two out of three winning symbols) occur than would actually be the case by chance. But even if when the slot machine turned almost the correct symbols, it says nothing about which symbols will come next time. The likelihood of any random event remains unaffected by previous and subsequent events.

Distorted assessment of results (“based evaluation of outcome”) refers to the processing of losses that inevitably occur in frequent games of chance, attributing gains because one’s own ability, and losses to adverse external circumstances.

Gambling addiction – entrapment

Entrapment is a term used in social psychology and business psychology describing the continuation of lossy actions despite diminishing chances of success. We encounter this behaviour in different situations, e.g. economic losses, wrong political decisions, or even in the continuation of a partnership, despite violence and / or abuse. Entrapment can be explained psychologically, among other things. through self-justification and increasing readiness to take risks, when we lose. Entrapment is therefore part of the typical “chasing” to get even after losses.

Gambling addiction – more than probabilities

From a purely rational point of view, the negative balance of gambling behaviour is a one-sided interpretation, since gambling – in addition to arousal, self-esteem, alternative role identity – also gives rise to a subjective expectation of winning, which is not realistic, but fulfilling a satisfying dream for the player . Think of the lottery player, who actually knows that he has no realistic chance of winning but can still indulge in the dream of a different life as a millionaire when filling out the lottery ticket until the drawing of the winning combination brings him back to reality .

The irrational thinking and behavioural patterns of gamblers are therefore not simply “control illusions” and superstitious rituals, but above all patterns of action when making decisions under uncertainty. The “Monte Carlo error”, i.e. the tendency to switch from “Noir” to “Rouge” if the success is frequent, cannot simply be interpreted as disregarding the independence of random individual events (as is well known, the roulette ball has no memory). When it comes to skills, for example, a change of strategy would be unreasonable. Then, if an action is successful, it will make sense to stay with it. Even in random situations, according to the law of large numbers, series of similar events will be interrupted at some point. The Monte Carlo decision thus seems sensible. It is just not possible to predict when a series of random events will be interrupted.

So even if human behaviour usually does not follow logic, the gambling thoughts remain extremely important for action control. Therefore, you should write down your ten most common gambling ideas in the first table of the Excel folder. How do you explain winnings and losses to yourself? Then arrange the game ideas according to the three categories:

(1) Thoughts about gambling and how game results can be influenced

(2) Thoughts about the meaning of portents and omens

(3) Thoughts allowing gambling

Disputation of game ideas

The relevant game ideas are then questioned on the second sheet of the folder:

“What arguments are there, that this idea is right, what speaks against it?”

“How likely or unlikely is the thought?”

“How realistic is it, is there evidence or counter evidence?”

“What will you do if you believe this thought. Where will it take you?”

“On the other hand, what will you do if you don’t believe this thought?”

Finally, you collect strategies to defuse a refuted thought and / or develop counter-thoughts.


Premper, Volker. Pathologisches Glücksspielen (German Edition). Beltz. Kindle-Version.

Deutsche Hauptstelle für Suchtfragen e.V.: PATHOLOGISCHES GLÜCKSSPIELEN Suchtmedizinische Reihe Band 6

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