What Does the ‘Gambler’s Fallacy’ Say About the Psychology of Gamers?

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BetMGM Sep 15, 2021, 9:57 AM

We may like to think we’re objective and able to make completely logical decisions when we play casino games, but 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 online casino games, there are things going on in your mind that may negatively affect the way you play. One of these biases is known as the “gambler’s fallacy.”

Join us as we take a look at this belief, and answer a number of questions related to it.

What is the gambler’s fallacy?

Investopedia defines the gambler’s fallacy as:

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. 

The most common example given of this is when someone flips a coin, and we look at how people try to predict what the result of the next coin toss will be. Say you flip a coin four times and it lands on heads all four times. “Logically” this can lead to one of two 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 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.

However, this is a clear example of the gambler’s fallacy at work. The reality is this: none of the previous coin flips matters. 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.

Two couples have a good time playing slots.

This is a particularly important concept for people who enjoy gambling games, whether it’s casino table games such as roulette or craps, 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, 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.

Examples of the gambler’s fallacy 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 someone is betting on red or black, and they see red win a number of times, they are 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 one result will never affect another.

    Roulette is also a great example, here, because it’s connected to the naming of the Monte Carlo fallacy (which, as we described earlier, is the other name for the gambler’s fallacy.) It became known as the Monte Carlo fallacy after people lost millions in one particular roulette game hosted by a Monte Carlo casino in 1913. During this astonishing game, the roulette ball landed on black 26 times in a row. Each spin of the wheel spurred the assembled gamblers to bet on red, as they incorrectly believed that the outcome would have to change. 
  • Slots – If you’ve ever watched anyone play slots at a casino, you’ll have likely seen these two examples of gambler’s fallacy at work. Imagine a scenario where someone is on a losing streak at a slot machine, so they move to another machine. They do this because they believe the machine is unlucky and that their luck will change if they move to another machine. As soon as that person gets up, someone sits down at that very same machine, because they believe that 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 we saw with coin flipping, your “luck” resets with each game. The random number generators (RNGs) simply do not account for the results of previous spins – the results are truly random 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 applies to each new round. Just because a hand played out a certain way previously, that doesn’t mean that a new round will play out in a given way as a result – yes, a player’s bank balance will change from round to round, but players’ cards must be treated as if they had just sat down at the table (be it real or virtual) to play.

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 might even be a professional gambler, is immune to falling prey to the gambler’s fallacy. Our rational brains seek out patterns to make sense of the world, even when no such patterns exist. Regardless of how often you gamble or play games, you need to be aware of this cognitive bias so that you can identify this train of thought and avoid it.

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 behaviors that could be influenced by it. However, 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 where gambler’s fallacy could influence you as if it were new. You can further ingrain this idea into your thinking by understanding that none of these games has a “memory” of the last round, and so each time you play should be treated as if you’d just started, even if you’ve already played multiple rounds of said game.

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 the likes of online poker, blackjack and roulette, as well as more modern games such as slots, variety games and even virtual sports! You can also take part 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.