The Weird Relationship Between Gambling and Emotion

| August 8, 2019 9:50 am PST
How Emotions Can Affect Gamblers

I remember stepping into a busy casino for the first time. I can only describe it as like taking the first sip of a cocktail of emotions.

I’m sure most of you would feel the same way.

First of all, the bright lights and loud sounds stirred up an initial sense of excitement. Once the response to the novelty of it all set in, the anticipation that came with placing my first bet on the roulette table took over.

This, in turn, changed to the excitement and sense of accomplishment that arrived with winning $350 on number 23.

This didn’t last long.

By the time I had finished my third drink — suitably enough, my third cocktail — I had run my bankroll into the ground. The bitter feeling of having lost more money than I had hoped to set in, and — look, I’ll admit it — I felt a little stupid.

The emotional response was accurate, even if it was something I couldn’t really control. You see, upon reflection, I had made stupid calls and decisions. I was trying to show off a little and allowed emotion to get in the way.

The next day, I thought long and hard about what happened and promised myself to never make the same mistakes. If I was to lose like that again, it wouldn’t be on account of emotional responses.

A tough lesson for the younger me but one that was more valuable than the sum of money I lost that night. A lot more valuable. 

Gambling and Emotion

Whether you like it or not, gambling and emotions are linked.

I can’t count how many times I have heard the term “poker face” in a business context. The idea here is that emotions and business don’t work well together.

You see, allowing your emotions to influence anything where there is money to be made or lost is a big no, and this should also apply to gambling. After all, the basic tenets of gambling are winning or losing money, right?

Still, it’s easier said than done.

Many casual gamblers take to sports betting sites for emotional reasons.  For example, if your team has made it to the Super Bowl for the first time in your life, you’ll be driven by the desire to see them win.

Placing a fat wager on your favorite players to earn their first rings might even make it feel as though you are part of the success. However, if they lose — and you lose money on that bet — the emotional response to it all could be a bitter one.

You often see emotional bets when it comes to tournaments like the FIFA World Cup in soccer or the Rugby World Cup. In other words, international tournaments. After all, what gets national pride more stirred up than playing bitter rivals from neighboring countries?

Pride, competitiveness, jealousy, shame, the fear of losing… what do all of these emotions have in common when gambling?

The Dangers of Emotional Gambling

Put simply, the emotional responses above are all hindrances when placing bets or taking to the tables in a casino.

Yes, it’s natural to be proud of winning, much like it is normal to be afraid to lose. However, if you cannot control these emotions, they get out of hand. If they get out of hand and are not kept on a short leash, they will control you.

Like business, intelligent gambling relies on your ability to control the situation. As you do not have the ability to control how the boxer in a fight does or what cards are drawn in a poker game, you should consider what you can control.

For one, controlling your bankroll is absolutely crucial to limiting big losses and avoiding dangerous habits. 

You should only ever play with money that you can afford to lose. Putting your mortgage repayment on the Lakers to beat the Celtics because you blew your savings is not the smartest way to do things, is it?

Once again, anyone who acts in this way is giving in to their emotions. The fear of losing that money, the hurt pride of losing the bet, and the anxiety of trying to explain to their partner why they lost in the first place can lead to this type of behavior. 

Emotional gambling is dangerous for many reasons. Gambling, by nature, can be disastrous if not treated with the respect it deserves.

After all, a food blender is a pretty innocuous household item. It only becomes dangerous when you decide to put your hand in to see how fast those blades can turn.

Understanding Your “Gambling Personality”

The personality of a gambler might invoke particular emotional responses in certain situations. 

For example, one personality type could be prone to taking additional risks in favorable scenarios — such as after a big win — while another might go “all-in” when feeling under pressure. 

The key to becoming a smarter gambler and limiting emotionally driven mistakes is to better understand when you are likely to act emotionally. 

Do you have an addictive personality that is hard to control? Is there a risk that you might blow thousands of dollars on slots when you have had an argument with your husband or wife? Do you desire the adrenaline rush that comes with placing long-shot bets?

If you can identify the scenarios where you are likely to lose control of logic and allow your emotions to get in the way, this will better help you understand how your personality affects your ability to bet smart.

After all, that’s what it is all about, right? Betting smart. Making measured decisions, such as looking for value in betting odds rather than placing bets on the team you hope will win.

Competitiveness Among Gamblers

One of the most fascinating things I learned when studying about gambling and emotional responses relates to competitiveness. 

According to a study conducted in Britain, sportsmen are three times more likely to be problem gamblers. Sportsmen are, by nature, competitive. That said, it’s not just sportsmen and women that feel the need to compete.

I have seen the dangers of competitive gambling first-hand. You probably have, too.

Walk into almost any casino on a Friday or Saturday night and look around you. At the tables, friends compete with each other at the blackjack table. The guy or girl that wins more is the success story, right?

On the other hand, two slots players sitting side by side are in competition for big wins. Despite not knowing each other, the player who is doing worse than the other will react with bitterness or disappointment — usually without displaying overt signs of it — when the other lands a bonus.

God forbid they win the jackpot.

Competitive gambling is not restricted to the casino, either. Friends will often choose opposing fighters when betting on MMA fights or boxing bouts. Or in the case where they are fans of rival clubs, things could really take on a new level of competitiveness.

Even a solitary gambler who places bets at home will not be immune to this type of gambling. Perhaps they will place large amounts of cash on a team to spite a particular player, manager, club, or country that they do not like.

What all of these things have in common is that they all come down to emotion.

Gambling to Avoid Feeling

Detecting an emotional gambler isn’t always as easy as you think. 

You will see some gamblers clearly losing their cool, jumping for joy, or making weird hand gestures in front of croupiers or slots. Then again, some are more experienced at hiding their emotions.

Just because these ladies and gentlemen look deadpan and maintain silence doesn’t mean that they are not screaming inside. 

As anyone with even the remotest experience of playing poker can tell you, it can be difficult to detect emotion in many people. Then again, others genuinely look “zoned out” because they are so engrossed in what is going on in front of them.

Quite often, you will see slots players and video poker enthusiasts look completely engrossed in their betting activity. A number of these players enjoy the feeling of, well, not feeling anything at all.

In a state of mind where exterior problems or life’s daily stresses are pushed to the back of their minds, these gamblers are devoid of worries. They are escaping these issues by locking themselves in. 

Now, if you think playing to escape emotional responses isn’t classed as emotional gambling, think again.

This is not just problematic gambling but completely against the basic principles of betting smart. If you are simply feeding money into a machine or onto the roulette table, you are not being measured in how you play.

Instead of controlling your emotions, you are completely incapacitating them. There is a difference.

Discipline Over Emotion

Discipline is not something you can pull over yourself like a warm duvet on a cold morning.

However, getting up at the same time and making your bed every morning will create good habits that will serve you in the long run. In other words, we are what we do, habitually.

Discipline takes time and effort to develop. More than this, it takes an understanding of what to avoid. There are good habits and bad habits, after all.

A gambler without discipline — much like a businessman, boxer, or bus driver — is not going to last without screwing up. Indiscipline creates messy situations which, in turn, create problems that can interfere with progress.

As anyone who wants consistent results should know, dedication and adherence to rules are essential. Without guidelines and a plan, how else do you gauge progress? Progress is a slow process, which means you should be looking towards long-term gains rather than short wins.

The way to give yourself the best chance of succeeding in this department is to stick to the basic guidelines of smart betting. Whether this is staying disciplined at the casino or studying sports betting strategies will depend on what you are betting on.

In gambling, a disciplined approach beats emotional reactions. 

Never forget that.

Can a Gambler Change Their Mindset?

If you are asking if a gambler can change their mindset from one that is driven by emotion to one that is disciplined, the answer is… maybe.

After all, it depends on how much the individual wants to change.

There is technically no right or wrong way to gamble. But any successful, experienced bettor will know that there are things to avoid and habits to adhere to.

If you are someone who has suffered by getting carried away with emotions and has long-term aspirations of making consistent profits, you should certainly look to change.

Old habits die hard, certainly, but they are habits. If you want anything enough and are willing to put the effort into achieving it, you can achieve it. 

Breaking Free of Emotional Gambling

For many, the inconsistent thrills and spills that come with gambling are what keeps them at the tables or placing wagers. 

Therefore, these types of gamblers might feel a little anxious about changing their habits.

If this is you, then the chances are that you will forsake the opportunity of maximizing your chances of winning — and minimizing your losses — for the privilege of a less than consistent betting experience. 

I might lack the ability to predict the future. But I do have common sense and years of experience in this sphere which tells me that emotional gamblers and those without discipline rarely succeed.

In fact, I have never come across a long-term gambler that has made consistent profits without the use of betting strategies, hedging those bets, and a disciplined approach, in general.

Knowing when to bet and calculating when it is time to walk away is one thing. Learning to listen to your head over your heart is another.

Discipline is at the heart of it all.

Adam Haynes

Adam is a sports writer and tipster with a strong background in MMA and boxing.

A self-confessed sports fanatic, when Adam is not watching and writing about rugby, soccer, Gaelic Games, and F1, he can often be found working on methods and strategies to beat the bookies.

For his troubles, Adam is a big fan of Leinster Rugby, Glasgow Celtic, and trusting the process.

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