How Cognitive Biases Affect Gamblers

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BetMGM Oct 07, 2022, 2:30 PM

We’ve all been accused of bias at some point in our lives. In most cases, we are completely aware of them – like with our favorite sports team or the schools we attended. We believe wholeheartedly that they are the best even if the evidence says otherwise.

Yet, there are a whole lot of biases we aren’t always aware of that impact our judgment and decision-making. These are called cognitive biases and they show up a lot at casino table games.

Studies over the last fifty-odd years have shown that these biases come from the need for our brains to create shortcuts so that we can react to situations quickly. These shortcuts are also called heuristics and, while in most cases they are incredibly helpful, there are instances when they can be very problematic.

One of those instances is gambling. Our brains are trained from an early age to process information quickly to predict what will happen next and, when presented with what appears to be related information while gambling or playing online casino games, our brains can trick us into believing in things that often aren’t there.

Here are the top biases that affect gamblers whether they are old poker hands, play slots online or just want to play casino games on a fun night out.

Gambler’s fallacy

The gambler’s fallacy is the number one bias in gambling. It’s the false belief that you can predict the outcome of a chance game based on previous outcomes. Every one of us is guilty of this.

Remember when you were learning how to play roulette at the casino and you thought, “black has come up four times on the roulette table. It has to be red on the next spin?”

Casinos may even trigger your bias by displaying the results of previous spins and presenting a false sense of control. The truth is far simpler: there is no pattern. The outcome is random and unpredictable.  

Recency bias or the availability heuristic

This bias is premised on accessing the most recently available data about outcomes and using this information to predict future outcomes. It is most prevalent in sports prediction games, where bettors use the performances of teams in previous games to predict the outcome of the next ones.

Similar to the gambler’s fallacy, recency bias emphasizes data that may provide a sense of a team’s level of performance but is too limited to provide enough evidence to predict a future outcome.

Outcome bias

The outcomes bias is more about second-guessing ourselves. Where we forget to trust our skill and only value the outcome. A typical example would be card games where losing streaks are common, even with high skill levels and sound strategies.

We falter and begin to wander into the realms of superstition or self-deprecation rather than accept that sometimes our best might not be good enough.

Confirmation bias

Confirmation bias pervades every aspect of our lives today and was most recently exemplified by the COVID-19 vaccine debates. Pro- and anti-vaxxers consistently sought out and cited evidence that supported their particular views.

This bias goes against the scientific method, which requires the researcher to put effort into disproving the hypothesis. Only when the evidence fails in this endeavor does the researcher claim the hypothesis to be true.

In gambling, particularly in sports betting, confirmation bias can falsely lead gamblers down a rabbit hole of security simply because the process mimics the scientific method but yields very different results.

Ratio bias

In many ways, ratio bias is an indictment of the education system and how little math we take with us after school. Probability forms part of every gambler’s vocabulary, but how many actually know how to calculate it?

A simple example is if you had a deck of 100 cards containing 15 red and 85 black cards. You would have a 15% chance of pulling a red card out of the deck.

However, if you had a deck of 10 cards containing two red and eight black cards, you would have a 20% chance of picking a red one out of the deck.

The problem is that gamblers often look at the absolute value of available options (15 vs. 2) rather than the ratio and probability (15% vs. 20%.)

Team bias

Sports fans can be really bad gamblers. Studies have shown that most sports fans won’t bet against their teams, even with someone else’s money. Such is the emotional investment in the team.

This also works in the converse. Gamblers will overestimate their favorite team’s chances of winning and bet on the underdog team, even if all the odds point in the opposite direction.

Hindsight bias

This is one we can all relate to. We all have 20/20 hindsight and spend inordinate amounts of time dissecting the outcome or result based on evidence post the event.

Hindsight bias often feeds into the outcome bias and leads to second-guessing, as well as the false notion that had we done the proper analysis, we could have predicted the outcome.

Self-serving bias

This bias refers to gamblers who have a habit of taking credit for wins but blaming everything else for losses. The problem with this is that a false sense of skill and knowledge is attributed to the gambler with little to no evidence that wins have any correlation to the individual’s skill.

This level of delusion is especially dangerous when self-serving gamblers attempt to influence others around them.  

Beat cognitive biases with BetMGM

It is impossible to completely remove cognitive biases, given that most occur unconsciously. However, attempting to bring them into consciousness may allow you to manage your susceptibility to them.

This requires high levels of self-awareness, mindfulness and discipline. BetMGM offers numerous resources on how to beat your cognitive biases and improve your strategic thinking.

Win with BetMGM

Register with BetMGM to access some of the best online slots, casino table games and live dealer casino games, as well as a host of resources to help you gamble responsibly and overcome this very human phenomenon.

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Our BetMGM editors and authors are casino experts with a wealth of knowledge of the online casino industry at all levels. Their coverage includes company news, game reviews, how-to instructional articles, strategy guides, and editorials showcasing BetMGM’s superior product and game library.

Our BetMGM editors and authors are casino experts with a wealth of knowledge of the online casino industry at all levels. Their coverage includes company news, game reviews, how-to instructional articles, strategy guides, and editorials showcasing BetMGM’s superior product and game library.