Philosophy of Gambling

27/06/2018

When we think about gambling, we all have a different idea or approach to it. Some people may disapprove outright with gambling (it's been banned in some countries over the centuries and was still illegal throughout Japan until a few years ago). Others may see it as harmless fun.

The reality, of course, lies somewhere in the middle. It can be fun and equally harmless if you're playing every now and then with very low stakes, but it can also be extremely destructive, just like any addiction. No doubt everyone has heard of or experienced first hand the damage a gambling addiction can cause both financially and personally.

It's hard to define any overall philosophy of gambling as it were, but there are certainly a few perspectives that can be considered.

Two Sides of the Coin

If we're trying to define the philosophy of gambling, we'll also likely find a few different interpretations, because a casino's philosophy of gambling is going to be vastly different to a punter's. The casino wants to make as much money as possible after all, so its approach is one that focuses on getting customers hooked and keeps them dipping into their pockets.

Punters, on the other hand, often have wildly varying philosophies when it comes to gambling. Some may prefer to work on odds-based systems using mathematics (card counting is a common tactic in poker and can be used to predict other card games if you're really good, although this will likely lead to you being banned by the casino), some may have rituals or lucky charms, while others may simply play for fun.

The Science Behind Gambling

Whatever an individual's personal philosophy might be, there's scientific evidence that can explain why some of us find it so thrilling. It turns out that gambling, in some of us, can actually cause an imbalance of the areas in our brains linked to reward and emotion.

This cognitive distortion can lead some people to be much more vulnerable and susceptible to gambling addiction. The illusion of the near miss effect and idea of personal control create emotional responses and reward reactions that encourage more of the same behaviour. Logically, we know these have no effect on the likelihood of winning a game of chance.

The Ethics of Gambling

One area where philosophy as an academic exercise and gambling meet head on is in the field of ethics. There's constant debate about the ethical impacts and assessment of gambling. The UK is a good example here – recently a law was put in place to drastically reduce the maximum stakes at fixed odds betting terminals. These games previously allowed punters to spend up to £100 every 20 seconds on table games if they desired.

The ethical question here was whether it was acceptable to allow people, who might be affected by the aforementioned drive to gamble more than others, to be able to potentially lose thousands of pounds in a matter of minutes. In this case, it was decided that it wasn't. An alternative argument might be that surely this choice is up to the individual and that it's an exercise in free will to decide to play or not and how much money they choose to wager.

This is a very oversimplified way to look at the issue, because there are so many factors at play, including external influence from the bookmakers or betting shop, financial pressures, societal pressures and so on. We can all probably accept that this decision was the right one, but it serves as one example of where philosophy and gambling collide in a controversial manner.

Personal Gambling Philosophies

Some of the most interesting and pragmatic philosophies where gambling is concerned come from professional gamblers. Read any interview with a pro and they'll tell you about the freedom their lifestyle gives them, while also demanding a strict personal discipline and specific outlook about gaming – whether it's poker, baccarat, or online slots they specialise in.

All in all, then, there's no one philosophy of gambling. The closest thing is probability based theory, logic and the philosophy of probability, but these areas are generally concerned with things like quantum theory. Granted, if you can understand that, you'll likely have no problem understanding the chances of winning or losing at the next slot you play.