The “Gambler’s Fallacy” and the Psychology of Gamers

min read
A group of gamblers placing their bets at a casino table.
BetMGM Apr 17, 2023, 10:30 AM

Are you a fan of online casino games? Then you’ve probably heard of “the gambler’s fallacy” and “the gambler’s paradox.” If so, then you’ve probably been wondering how they tie in with gaming psychology and how to avoid playing into them. Join us as we explore these beliefs and answer various questions related to them.

The Gambler’s Fallacy Explained

We may like to think we’re objective and able to make completely logical decisions when we play casino games. Still, the reality is that people often have biases or cognitive “blind spots” that affect the way they play. That’s right, regardless of whether you like to play at a real casino or prefer to play casino games online, there are things going on in your mind that may negatively affect your chances of winning. 

So, are you guilty of falling for “the gambler’s fallacy”?

What Does It Mean?

Investopedia defines this fallacy as follows:

“The gambler’s fallacy, also known as the ‘Monte Carlo fallacy,’ occurs when an individual erroneously believes that a certain random event is less likely or more likely to happen based on the outcome of a previous event or series of events. This line of thinking is incorrect since past events do not change the probability that certain events will occur in the future.” 

This is quite a mouthful for a very simple idea: when it comes to chance, past events do not affect future events.

Examples of the Gambler’s Fallacy

Two couples have a good time playing slots.

The most common example is when someone flips a coin and we look at how people try to predict the result of the next coin toss. Say that you flip a coin four times and it lands on heads every time. This can lead to one of two logical ways of thinking about the next coin toss:

  • Since the coin has landed on heads so many times, it’s likely to land on heads again on the next coin toss.
  • Since the coin has landed on heads so many times, it’s likely to land on tails on the next coin toss.

The reality is that both ways of thinking are nothing more than examples of the gambler’s fallacy because none of the previous coin flips matter. Every time you flip the coin, you have exactly the same odds (+100) of landing heads or tails, regardless of how many times the coin landed on heads or tails before.

This is a crucial concept for people who enjoy gambling, whether they’re playing casino table games or other games like online slots. A gambler who’s on a losing streak may think their bad run will end if they just keep on playing (also known as “chasing their losses,”) while a gambler on a winning streak may be inclined to make bigger bets and take bigger risks since they believe luck is on their side.

And what about the gambler’s paradox? Some gamblers use this term interchangeably with “the gambler’s fallacy,” while others use it to refer to the belief that a gambler is more likely to win a series of small bets than a single large bet, even if the odds are the same.

Gambler’s Fallacy Examples Across a Variety of Games

To better understand the gambler’s fallacy, let’s take a look at how it applies to certain casino games.

Roulette

This classic table game provides a great example of how someone can fall for the gambler’s fallacy. If a player is betting on red or black and they see red win a number of times, they may be inclined to think that either red is up next (since it has won so often,) or that black will win next (because red has won so many times already). As with the coin flip, the odds of red or black winning or the roulette ball landing on green reset every time the dealer spins the wheel and past results have absolutely nothing to do with future results.

Another reason roulette is a great example is that it’s connected to the naming of the same fallacy as the Monte Carlo fallacy. This came about when several players lost millions in one roulette game hosted by a Monte Carlo casino in 1913. The roulette ball landed on black 26 times in a row during this astonishing game. Each spin of the wheel spurred the assembled gamblers to bet on red as they incorrectly believed that the outcome would logically have to change. But little did they know that logic has nothing to do with chance, which is, after all, why it’s called “chance.”

Slots

If you’ve ever watched someone play slots at a casino, you’ll likely have seen these two examples of gambler’s fallacy at work. Imagine a scenario where someone is on a losing streak at a slot machine. Eventually, they move on to another machine. They do this because they believe “the machine is unlucky” and that their luck will change if only they move to another machine. As soon as that person gets up, someone might purposefully sit down at that very same machine, purely because they believe the machine’s “luck” is about to turn.

However, the odds for both of these players aren’t going to change for the reasons they believe they will. The truth is, just as in the case of coin flipping, your “luck” resets with each game. The random number generators (RNGs) simply don’t account for the results of previous spins – the results are truly random in order to protect the integrity of the game.

Poker

Yes, both traditional and online poker are games of skill, but it’s important to remember that the gambler’s fallacy still applies to each new round. Just because a hand played out a certain way previously, doesn’t mean that a new round will consequently play out in a given way. Yes, a player’s bank balance will change from round to round, but players’ cards must be treated as if they’d just sat down at the table (be it real or virtual) to play.

Blackjack

The gambler’s fallacy has its place at the blackjack table, too. An example is when a dealer has won many times in a row. The player who’s on a “losing streak” assumes that the dealer simply can’t continue to win for much longer, so they raise the size of their next bet to try and win back a significant portion of the money they’ve already lost. The belief is that they’re “due” a win. But as long as the cards have been adequately shuffled and no card counting has taken place, the probability of winning the next round is and always remains the same: around 42%.

What the Gambler’s Fallacy Says About Gamers’ Psychology

The simple answer to the question, “Do gamers’ psychology and behavior differ from that of others – perhaps going so far as to protect them from these flaws in thinking?” is no! No one, not even someone who plays games regularly or even a professional gambler, is immune to the gambler’s fallacy. 

Our rational brains seek out patterns to make sense of the world, even where no such patterns exist. Regardless of how often you play casino games or how long you spend studying game theory and the psychology of gambling, you’ll still need to ensure you’re always aware of the fallacy and the moment this way of thinking starts creeping back in – because it always will!

How To Avoid Gambler’s Fallacy

A group of friends celebrating a casino win.

If you want to avoid succumbing to the gambler’s fallacy, the good news is that by knowing what it is, you’re well on your way to sidestepping any bad gaming or gambling behavior that could be influenced by it. But just because you’re aware of the risks of something doesn’t mean you’ll automatically stop yourself every time you might slip into its trap. 

Try approaching every game in which the gambler’s fallacy could influence your thinking as if it were a completely new game. You can further ingrain this idea into your thinking by constantly reminding yourself that none of these games has a “memory” of the last round. This is why it’s so important that you treat each time you play as if you’d just started, even if you’ve already played multiple rounds of the same game.

It’s important to be aware of other fallacies that could impact your gambling behavior. Along with the gambler’s fallacy, you should also familiarize yourself with the following cognitive biases.

The Belief That “Luck” Can Be Influenced

Do you have a lucky tie that you often wear when playing your favorite casino games simply because you were wearing it when you landed some of your biggest wins? You’re not alone. But luck isn’t dispositional. It doesn’t favor (or disfavor) items of clothing, objects, times, colors, numbers or people over others.

The Illusion of Control

Many gamblers believe they have a certain amount of control over their “luck,” which is why they may feel it’s best for them to select their lottery or roulette numbers personally. This is known as superstitious conditioning. The reality is that how numbers are selected has absolutely no bearing on the outcome of a luck-based game. 

Also, for better outcomes when gambling, do your best to learn more about cognitive bias, such as the ratio bias and confirmation bias.

Enjoy the Best Gambling Experiences at BetMGM

Now that you know what the gambler’s fallacy is and how to avoid it, it’s time to have some fun at BetMGM! At our online casino, you can enjoy a great range of gambling games, including online poker, blackjack and roulette, as well as more modern games such as online slots, jackpot slots, variety games and even virtual sports! 

You can also partake in online sports betting on an unbelievable number of sports here at BetMGM, including the NBA, NFL, NHL and many more!

Register at BetMGM to join in the fun and excitement!

Actress Vanessa Hudgens flipping casino chips next to the text "The King of Casinos"
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Our BetMGM editors and authors are sports experts with a wealth of knowledge of the sports industry at all levels. Their coverage includes sports news, previews and predictions, fun facts, and betting.

Our BetMGM editors and authors are sports experts with a wealth of knowledge of the sports industry at all levels. Their coverage includes sports news, previews and predictions, fun facts, and betting.