Attitudes towards gambling vary quite a bit around the world. In many countries, gambling is a prevalent pastime both online and in land-based casinos. In those societies, gambling is generally not frowned upon. It is seen as a fun activity where the payoff is a good time, even when players lose money.
But there are still some countries (I am looking at you, United States) where there is still a very closed mindset regarding gambling. Gambling has become more widespread in the US over recent years, but still is often looked at as if it is a social ill or irresponsible personal vice.
I could argue all day about the stigma surrounding gambling, but I feel that a more productive response is to share some ways in which gambling can teach important life lessons. Here are 10 truths about life you can learn at a casino.
You Cannot Ignore Probabilities
One important life lesson you pick up from gambling is a basic understanding of probabilities. In fact, gambling is so good at teaching these principles that I recall it being used as the basis for examples to teach probabilities back when I was in secondary school.
We often go through life however without really evaluating probabilities in a rational fashion. There are a couple ways that this can manifest.
First of all, if we have optimistic dispositions, we may sometimes overestimate the likelihood of a good possibility panning out and underestimate the likelihood of a bad one. This can cause us to rush headlong into situations which would be better avoided.
In fact, if we coldly considered the actual probabilities in terms of numbers, we might realize that we would never place that bet at a casino, at least not with a lot of money at stake.
The opposite can happen as well if we happen to have a pessimistic frame of mind. Recently, two people pointed out to me that as a person with OCD, I am irrational in how I assess probabilities in day-to-day life. My OCD “logic” tells me that the worse a possibility is, the more probable it is.
Of course, the laws of nature and mathematics do not share my subjective feelings about different possibilities. As such, it should be clear to me that my emotions do not affect probabilities.
One of the best ways for me to ground myself when I find myself doing this is to think in casino terms about events.
If for example a doctor tells me, “There is only a 1 in 100 chance that you would have this disease,” instead of fixating on the “1” as I feel predisposed to do, I remind myself that wagering on that 1 is something I would never rationally do in Vegas. This helps soothe my anxiety.
Are there gamblers that never learn how to think rationally about probabilities? Of course. But many gamblers do learn to think mathematically and plan their wagers accordingly. You can see how that kind of perspective could serve you in all areas of life.
At the Same Time, 1 in 10 Chances Do Happen
Ironically, as a gambler, you do end up learning the opposite lesson as well, particularly if you bet frequently. Say that you are taking a bet that you should reasonably have a 9 in 10 chance of winning. Those are great odds, right?
Then you find yourself losing the bet. For a moment, you might question how that is even possible. “9 out of 10” can make you feel invincible. But “9 out of 10” is not “10 out of 10.”
To take an example, let’s say that 10 people are placing the same type of bet, and that bet has a 9 out of 10 chance of success.
That means on average over enough iterations (where each iteration consists of a group of 10 people placing the bet), 9 people would win the bet, and 1 person would lose it.
Could 10 out of 10 people win sometimes? Sure. Other times, maybe 7 or 8 people will win, and a couple will lose. There may even be outliers where half or more of the gamblers end up losing. But over time, it will average out.
The bottom line is that a small risk is not no risk, and sometimes you do end up being that 1 out of 10 person who loses an “easy” gamble. If you do not prepare for that, and act like you are taking no risk at all, it can really bite you hard.
At the same time, not taking a solid bet like that because you are terrified of being that 1 person who loses is not logical. If you place enough bets that are likely to win, over time with enough iterations, you will probably see good results.
Again, this is more perspective on risk. Translated to other areas of life, it is a reminder to be cautious even when you are looking at a good opportunity, and never to take a win for granted. At the same time, it is also a reminder that unnatural fear calculated risks is not profitable.
The Gambler’s Fallacy is, Well, A Fallacy
For me, one of the biggest life lessons I learned from gambling was while playing my first rounds of roulette and betting on red or black. The game was easy to understand, at least at first glance. For this reason, it was one of the first casino games I ever played.
Like many other players who are new to the game, every time I would have a losing streak, I would say to myself, “Just one more spin. I should have a roughly 50/50 chance of winning (ignoring the 0 of course). Since I have lost so many times, that must mean that I have to win soon. Otherwise, how can it be 50/50?”
Sometimes I would win, but often I would simply lose again. I quit the game feeling very frustrated that day. It was not until later that night but I finally logically understood my misperception.
I am not sure exactly how the epiphany finally came to me, but I finally realized that each and every time I had spun the wheel could be looked at as the “first” time. The sense that there were some continuity to the whole was simply my illusion. To the wheel, only the present existed.
That was how I learned of the Gambler’s Fallacy, which is the belief that if something has been happening with a reduced frequency, its frequency should increase in the future, and vice versa.
For an example of the Gambler’s Fallacy in another area of life, consider the writings of Pierre-Simon Laplace in 1796 concerning childbirth. Laplace talked about how parents would often think that the sex of their next child could be predicted or influenced by unrelated events.
That might sound odd, but the fallacious logic goes like this:
“Well, we have had six daughters. Surely the next one has to be a son.”
Of course, said family probably ended up with six daughters because they believed each subsequent child after the first was more likely to be a son in the first place.
Obviously, their expectations did not pan out. And because they kept investing in their irrational hope, they actually found themselves in a situation which was economically more challenging than the one they were in before.
Laplace even described some expecting parents worrying that they would be less likely to have a son if other couples in the area had recently produced an abundance of sons.
While the second error in logic probably stands out, the first one is pretty easy to understand. Some people still make this faulty assumption while planning their families today. They then end up with more kids than they can handle, because they keep holding out hope that the next one will be the son or daughter they desire.
The Journey Matters More Than the Destination
Moving away from matters concerning probabilities, let’s look at some other ways in which gambling can teach you some essential truths which may be valuable to you in other areas of your life.
People who frown upon gambling often made the mistake of thinking that the main motivation for gambling is to make money.
It is true that some people do unrealistically expect to beat the house through pure luck, and may be mainly motivated by such a pipe dream.
But your average gambler has an understanding of the fact that a large jackpot is not a likely outcome. The main reason that he or she sits down to play is simply for entertainment.
In essence, gambling is a journey where you are unlikely to make it to your intended destination. Setting out, you know that. But the real value is not the money which you occasionally get back from the slot machine, it is the fun you have pulling the lever.
In other areas of your life, this teaches you that a pursuit is worthwhile if it brings you joy, even if it does not result in an unlikely payoff of another kind. You find intrinsic delight in your activities, rather than attributing value only to instrumental outcomes.
Imagine for example that you love to write, and dream of someday becoming a bestselling author. If you have experience gambling and knowledge of the professional writing space, you know that becoming a bestseller is about as likely as winning a mega-jackpot.
Accepting this from the start allows you to enjoy the process without becoming bitter about unfulfilled expectations. Learning to derive joy from the intrinsic worth of a pursuit can help you enjoy a much happier existence.
Your Gut Won’t Make You Rich (at least for long)
Sometimes your instincts may be right, and you may end up winning. But just as often (or more often), you will discover that they are wrong. So even if they give you some short-term gains from time to time, over the long term, if you rely on them instead of using real strategies, they will drain your bankroll.
Learning this lesson in the casino can save you from learning it in a harder way elsewhere. For example, if you decide to invest in the stock market, you will skip that newbie phase of believing your instincts can turn you into a rich trader.
Instead, you will go right to working on developing a reliable strategy, and you will have a much better shot of actually getting rich.
Budgeting is Essential
It is remarkable how few individuals actually take the time to log their income and expenses each month so that they can budget their lifestyle. But this is an essential life skill, especially in a time when a lot of people are struggling to get by.
Gambling can help you learn both how important budgeting is and how to do it. When you are playing poker or blackjack or another game where you are aiming for a profit, how you manage your stakes may make the difference between whether you go home a winner or not.
But even if you are playing roulette or slots or keno, how you budget your bankroll can make a difference in terms of how many rounds you can play before your bankroll is depleted.
With slots, you also have pay tables to consider. These tell you which coin sizes are available to play as well as which coin sizes you need to play in order to put yourself in the running for specific jackpots and prizes.
Because you often have to play the largest coin size in order to qualify for the largest jackpot, you will find there are some slot games you can afford and others that you cannot (because they will deplete your bankroll too quickly).
This teaches you more about budgeting as well. You learn both how to restrain your spending in order to get more value (in the form of more rounds and more fun), and also how to be selective about your activities (by choosing slots you can afford).
If you take those same lessons and you apply them to the rest of your life, you should find yourself slowing down and thinking carefully about your purchases. You will actually do the math before you spend money. In doing so, you will manage your cash more wisely and give yourself a better shot at winning the financial game of life.
Flow Is a Delightful State of Mind
Have you ever noticed how when you sit down to play slots, you can easily lose track of time? You may think that ten minutes have passed, then look at the time and see that you have actually been playing for an hour.
You spend that hour in a state of mind where you are totally focused on the game while being less aware of your surroundings and yourself.
Psychologists sometimes refer to this state of mind as “flow.”
Flow is often discussed with reference to athletic performance or job productivity. People in a state of flow often can become very efficient and effective at their tasks.
Of course, that does not really apply with slots, because you cannot play slots with skill.
But flow has some other positive effects as well. Most people find flow to be a deeply enjoyable, relaxing frame of mind. When you are in a flow state, you can more easily forget your worries for a while. You do not think as much about what has happened in the past or what might be in store in the future. You just exist in the moment. This means that flow has a “meditative” quality.
Once you recognize the value of flow, you can look for other activities which induce the same state. You may find that these do a lot to soothe anxiety and contribute to your happiness.
You also may find the flow concept useful at your day job. It can be harder to induce flow with a task you are required to do than one which you are doing by choice, but it is sometimes still possible. It helps if you reduce interruptions or task-changing, since it takes time to establish flow (if you keep switching to other tasks, you will never achieve it).
If you do manage to get into a flow state at your job, you may manage to accomplish your tasks more quickly and with fewer errors. You might also discover that flow improves your creativity and adaptive responsiveness to evolving situations.
Emotions Lie a Lot
Gambling is a pastime which tends to summon up a lot of emotional highs and lows. You can feel everything from despair to anger to fear to hopefulness to mania.
Human beings are highly emotional creatures on average, and tend to act based on what they feel. Hypothetically, our emotions do exist to tell us when something is important, so this is not always a bad thing.
Emotions are not a very accurate system, however. We often feel fear when we are in little or not danger. We sometimes engineer hope when we should walk away. We may enjoy pursuits which are harmful to us, and we may feel bored with things which are working in our favor.
Gambling teaches this lesson quickly and effectively. Going back to my example previously with roulette and the Gambler’s Fallacy, it wasn’t just faulty logic which was leading me on. It was also my emotion of hopeful expectation. But that hope was misplaced.
In poker, players who do well typically are those who can recognize their own emotions, evaluate them with care, and set them aside when they need to. They also are experts in recognizing emotions in other players. They can tell when someone is nervous or excited, and they can capitalize on that.
The perspective you get on emotions while you are gambling can help you to become less reactive in other areas of your life. Once you realize how often emotions lie, you can put less stock in them and learn to value logic as a tool for making sound decisions.
It Takes Hard Work and Perseverance to Succeed at Anything
For the majority of gamblers, casino games are a way to unwind and have some fun, but there are some ambitious players who imagine themselves playing poker or other games for a living.
If you share such an ambition, you will discover quickly that half-measures are not enough to get you the profits you are dreaming about. You will find that you need to put in a startling amount of time and effort to build the necessary expertise to win with consistency.
Once you learn that, you will know that such a dedicated approach is needed to become a real specialist in any field.
Before you dream of achieving greatness with a new pursuit, you will ask yourself, “Am I really ready to put in the hours to make this happen?” If you are not, you will move on and find something better worth your while. But if it is worth it to you, you will put your nose to the grindstone and possibly achieve some amazing results.
Some Rewards Are Worth the Risk
Despite the fact that I love gambling, I am actually by nature a pretty risk-averse person. If I can avoid taking a risk, I usually will. I am easily stressed and prefer to keep uncertainty in my life to a minimum.
What gambling has taught me is how to form a healthier relationship with risk. I have found that by becoming a bit more risk tolerant, I can participate in an activity which brings me a lot of enjoyment, and which I could not otherwise (by definition) benefit from.
Plus, over time I have become better and better at poker. I still am not winning often enough to say I am “profitable” overall, but I do sometimes have some nice winning streaks. Getting a little extra income from time to time is awesome, and again something which would not be possible without some risk.
Will I ever get to be good enough that I could make a living from the game? I doubt it, but it is not impossible. Some people do achieve that, and even get rich. Their lifestyles would literally be out of reach if they were not willing to face risk on a regular basis.
Is every reward worth taking a risk? Of course not—but there are some rewards which are inherently tied to risk. The two cannot be separated. Not all who dare win, but those who choose not to are guaranteed to lose.
What Are Some Things We’ve Learned
Of all the truths that gambling can teach you about life, this may be the most valuable.
Being willing to engage with risk in your job may be the only way to get a promotion.
Being willing to risk heartbreak in your personal life could be the only path to a rewarding relationship.
Being willing to take a risk and make an investment could be the only way you will be rich enough to retire.
Gambling Can Help You Become a Better Version of Yourself
People who do not gamble often find it easy to condemn those who do. They take examples of problem gamblers (who are by far in the minority), and use those to claim that the effects of gambling are always negative.
But gambling can have many positive effects so long as it is approached with moderation and a clear head. At the casino, you can gain perspective on the probabilities, risk factors, emotions, budgeting issues and states of mind which affect your everyday life.
As the old saying goes, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t get him to drink.” That goes for this too. Ultimately, you are the one who will determine the impact gambling has on your psychology.
So try and open yourself up to learning these valuable truths. If you do, you will get more out of your gambling and your other pursuits.
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