Why all gamblers lose (from slots to poker)

gambler loser

Loss is something which can in itself be hard to define. In life a loss can be a gain, for example if we lose a job only to land a better one. Statistical variance, commonly defined as luck, is a long and windy road which has its ups and downs. Unlike most long and windy roads there is no way to predict where the hills are, and where the ditches lie. The only law in statistical variance is that everything will work out as it should in the end. Only there is no way to know where the end is, or indeed whether there ever is an end, so long as we carry on gambling.

Statistical Variance

The unpredictable elements of statistical variance form the very foundation of gambling, and are the reason why casinos consistently make money, and punters consistently come back for more. A gambler who is playing a game of luck is very often taking a bet on a near even-chance gamble, hoping that they might hit a certain point in the pattern of variance that pays out in their favor. The gamble is however, very slightly in the favor of the casino. It is the equivalent of betting on tails in a coin flip that is actually very marginally weighted in favor of heads.

The first rule of gambling on a house game is that the casino has always won, and the players (collectively) have always lost. Players rely on hitting a lucky run, and as long as they have the humility to walk away they could end up on top. Most people who play a luck based game are very likely, in the long run, to end up at a loss.

The First Level of Loss – Losing What You Can Afford

It is usually the case then, that in the long run I will make a loss on a game of chance. This is however only the first level of loss in gambling. In some ways we accept this loss as a given, and as a part of the fun of gambling. We know that the casino has an edge, and we are playing with money that we can afford to lose. For example, I take £20 to a casino and play roulette. I stay for a few hours playing a game I enjoy, drinking free coffee, and having a nice evening. Sometimes I lose £20, and sometimes I go home with much more. Is this any more of a loss than going out to a pub where I have no chance of taking home more money than I took out? The only thing I can gain this way is a hangover.

The first level of loss in gambling is losing an amount of money that you are happy to lose, and that you can afford to lose. It is not so bad, and is not really so much of a loss at all.

The Influence of the Casino

Casinos are known to use a variety of tricks, if you could call them that, which are designed to ease the player into a comfortable and sophisticated attitude; one which encourages more betting. The casino holds its image in high esteem and does everything to provide a luxurious experience, and I’m not just talking Las Vegas here, I’m talking most well established casinos.

Classy Entrance- Many casinos feature a red carpet, a swanky and open reception room, and a very warm reception. Already you feel at home, but out of your element at the same time.

Free Vouchers- New members are treated with an abundance of free bets and spins. It makes you feel like you are already up before even starting; a great mind state for losing more later on. Existing members are also topped up with deals every now and again, especially if they haven’t shown their face at the casino for a while.

Drinks and Food- Many casinos offer free drinks, including tea and coffee to make you feel easy, and also the favorite drink of the casino; alcohol. Alcohol is sometimes given out for free and is also sold reasonably cheap. The more people drink, the more they bet, and if everyone in the room was drunk the casino would be having a lucrative evening indeed. I have been to poker matches where I have been given a players buffet that would cost me the same prize as the rake I paid to enter. Later I felt I had saved enough money to afford myself a little gamble on the roulette.

No Windows or Clocks- Here is one that surprises many people, even those who have been in casinos enough that they should notice. Very few casinos feature windows, natural light, or clocks. If the player was constantly reminded of the time, or started to see that the sun was coming up, they may stop. With no windows and no clocks the player is free to forget about time, and gamble the night away.

Oxygen- Casinos pump oxygen into the air in order to keep it fresh and keep the player awake and alert. The all night establishments literally add oxygen as a boost so that players do not start to feel tired.

Sophistication- A good casino feels sophisticated. It makes you forget about how much money you have, or don’t have as the case may be. Constant good service, high ceilings, and chandeliers, money being thrown around for fun, the constant stimulation from jackpot noises, groans, and ecstatic screams. The whole environment radiates sophistication, wealth, and a lack of concern for money. The more the casino can wrap you up in the spell the more you might be tempted to act more sophisticated than your means allow.

The casino, with its many methods which, let’s face it, we enjoy as part of the experience, is trying to tempt us into gambling more than we originally intended. They are trying to get us to stay later, to gamble more, and to feel good about doing it. If we succumb to the desire then we risk losing more than we can afford, and that is when loss becomes more serious.

The Online Trap

Online casinos do not have the same arsenal of weapons as a brick and mortar casino. Websites cannot match the level of sophistication, and cannot provide for the player a great night out. They do however still tempt us in with bonuses, try to achieve a tidy image, and keep us hooked with addictive games. What they do offer that a casino can’t, is a dangerous convenience.

Online roulette games for example give us much easier access to gambling. Most of us would not visit the casino every night, and our gambling losses would become obvious if we did. With online casinos it is different. It becomes easy to visit the casino every night without even thinking it. It doesn’t take a car journey, or even to leave the house, just a little 10 minutes on a laptop. It is now extremely easy to have a bet online, and this should not become something of an addiction. Mobile gaming takes this to the next level, and online apps can create a sort of “trap,” one where gambling could become more difficult to control.

The Second Level of Loss: Losing More Than We Are Happy With

The second level of loss is losing an amount of money that you cannot afford to lose and that will make you unhappy when you wake up in the morning, or worse cause serious problems. This level of loss has nothing to do with statistical variance (which we accept when we play a game which displays unfavorable odds) and everything to do with human emotion, human belief, and human vice. It is our emotions and vices that tempt us to bet more than we are happy with, and this is the real loss we can experience if we gamble irresponsibly.

The second level of loss is negative, destructive, and is born of one of several possible flaws in thought or action. Here are some examples of how emotions and ego can effect our ability to bet within our limits, to walk away when we should, and to control our greed. It is important to avoid the traits and patterns that lead us into the negative consequences of gambling.

Believing in lucky combos– One type of faulty thinking that can enter the mind, and cause real loss, is the belief in certain fates that are irrelevant to the actual workings of the game. This can come in the form of a favorite hand in poker for example, or a number that has won you some money before which you now believe will “always” win. It could be that you have observed the roulette wheel and it is “due” a win. All of this is faulty thinking, and unrelated to the game.

Thinking an unbeatable game is beatable This is a common misconception among players of all types of casino games. Many people line the roulette wheel with scorecards recording information which is essentially irrelevant to the next outcome. Each outcome is independent to the last; there is no pattern. This can lead to bets being taken on the premise that something is “bound” to happen soon. Nothing is bound to happen in a game of chance.

Showing off- Our egos have a tendency to show off, especially around people we are attracted to, be it a dealer, waitress, or someone we have brought along with us. We can also show off to our friends, or to innocent bystanders. This tendency to show off can cause us to splash around cash that we actually don’t have, or aren’t happy losing. Our ego and image cost us big in this case.

Intoxication- I am not here to give you a pep talk on the dangers of drugs and alcohol, but intoxication and responsible gambling don’t tend to mix. The betting limit you imposed on yourself can easily go out of the window when you have had a few drinks. The casinos know this, which is why many of them offer free drinks! It is your responsibility to remain in a state where you can control your impulses.

Greed/ Lack of Discipline- The casinos make their money from greed. The only way to enjoy gambling is to be able to overcome greed enough to gamble only what you can afford to lose. When we are greedy we lose sight of our original aim, which is enjoyment, and are blind-sighted by money. We start to think, “what if,” and dollar signs light up in our eyes. All too often real loss comes from a persons inability to keep perspective. We want to win big, and we bet out of our element.

Inability to walk away- Given that it is part of the odds of the game that we will lose at some point if we continue to play, why is it so difficult to walk away when we win? Sometimes we are in profit for the night and we would be happy to wake up in the morning with the amount of money we have in our pocket. Still the temptation to et continues. Unfortunately greed can rear its ugly head even more when we are winning. Many gamblers lose because they never give themselves an opportunity to win; even when they have won a significant amount they will continue to bet until they lose it all again.

The Third Level of Loss

I believe games of pure luck lend themselves to negative thought and behavioral patterns because they involve the false concept of “getting something for nothing.” This mentality, when applied to life, would not get you very far. Yet gambling has an idea rooted within it that something can be gained with no effort. Just a lucky guess and a roll of the dice. This can give way to greed very quickly.

The third level of loss is the most serious of all. It is an extreme of the second level, and is a lack of control over a longer period of time. It is serious loss because it can become detrimental to our friendships, family, job, and life. When gambling takes over, and financial loss becomes a part of daily life, something much deeper has been lost with it. Life itself has become secondary to greed, and no pleasure is even derived from the game anymore; I refer of course to gambling addiction. You can read about some unbelievable gambling losses here: “The Gambler Who Blew $127 Million” and “How I lost my wife, children and £750,000“. You see, when gambling addiction and luck take the upper hand anything is possible.

Archie Karas winning and then losing 40 millions.

Games of Skill

The reasons why gamblers might lose when playing a game of skill, have some differences, and some similarities to a game of pure chance. Games like poker are a mixture of odds, variance, and a controllable skill factor that allows the player to beat the game. This is only possible if they are good enough to gain an edge over other players, and enough to beat the rake that the casino takes for hosting the game.

The rules of variance still apply to games of skill. There is still an unpredictable pattern of outcomes that over millions of samples evens out roughly to its correct odds. This time however, assuming you are an expert at the game, it is possible to take bets on opportunities that are slightly in your favor. This is what happens if you get a poker hand in against a weaker hand; statistically you are more likely to win, although with variance a weaker hand can still pull through. Over time if you consistently outplay opponents, the variance begins to smooth, and the +EV bets you have been taking start to show up as profit.

This is only the case when you have an edge over players, and you do this by forcing them to make mathematical errors, and by minimizing your own mathematical errors. In poker, as with other games that combine luck with skill, your expected value = the sum of your opponents mistakes – the sum of your own mistakes. The long-run of variance though, as mentioned previously, is a long and windy road, so even the most skilled player can suffer horrific downswings, and can go on a losing streak for a very long time.

How to Lose a Game of Skill

If we manage to become good enough to beat games that are played against other people, then it is possible to smooth out variance enough to show trends towards genuine sustainable profits in a game which involves skill. Why then do so many people still lose when they gamble on a skill based game?

Not understanding the game– There are many different layers of understanding in a game like poker, but the most basic is knowing the rules, and the hand strengths. Without knowing these it is impossible to compete with other players. Against medium opponents you will need sound mathematical knowledge of most of the common situations which are encountered. Against experts you will need the same, plus understanding of complex situations, plus emotional control, plus a psychological edge. Most players lose a game of skill because they are not good enough to win it in the long run, i.e. they have no edge.

Playing against tougher opponents– To win in a game of part luck and part skill it is necessary to be better than opponents, to win in the long run at least. A mistake many people make comes from the ego, from wanting to beat people who are better than you, who have studied the game and have played more. It is much more intelligent, and much better for your wallet to play weaker players. There is no shame in this.

Emotions– Much of what has been mentioned for losing in a game of luck is also true in a game involving skill. Ego can take over, vendettas can be formed, anger and tension can arise. All of this shrouds judgement of important decisions, and can cause players to act in ways that they would not usually dream of acting in a logical state. Our emotions conflict with the logic of the game, and in a game of logic this can only lead to loss! Money also triggers emotion, and wherever there are large amounts of it emotions are running high in some people.

Variance crushes us– During a downswing it becomes increasingly difficult to remain emotional controlled enough to continue to make the correct decisions; the ones that make us a profitable player in the first place. A downswing can be very tiring, and can go on for months or years, even in a high volume online poker player. Many players experience a large losing streak over time, and quit the game in a rage. This is more sensible than carrying on with no emotional control at least.

Greed– The most destructive emotion, and the one that causes us to lose the most; greed. We can get greedy in a poker game and desire everyone’s chips quicker than we have the right to accumulate them. When greed and ego take over hand strength goes out of the window and is replaced by unadulterated bluffing, eventually leading to our own demise.

Gambling can be a lot of fun, especially when winning. The first level of losing can be fun too, and is really only as costly to the wallet as a cheap night out. The second and third levels of loss in gambling are destructive, and harmful, and should be avoided at all costs. A small loss can be part of the fun if it was always within our limits. When loss becomes more serious it is time to think about slowing down, so that the loss do not become something that leaks out of the casino, and into your life.

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