How I Lost the Urge to Gamble
How I Lost the Urge to GambleGambling addiction has ruined many lives and families and it could easily have ruined my own. (I can remember spending my last dollar on at least one ‘scratchy’ ticket hoping it would help me out of a financial bind and trying to invent a system of beating the odds at the race track). However I got to a point in my life where I came to see gambling for what it really is. Gambling is a means of raising revenue for Governments and a way for rich people to exploit vulnerable people.
However my aim in writing this article is not to lecture people about how horrible gambling is but to share the reasons behind why I have come to think of gambling that way in the hope that it might help someone who wants help.
I am no expert on the issue, I am not a qualified statistician and I am not a trained counselor. If you need expert help then please do not rely on my article alone.
However, I thought I would write this article anyway on the off chance that the following article makes sense to someone and helps to remove any urge that they might have to gamble.
Donation to charityI would like to be able to tell you that I never gamble anymore but that wouldn’t quite be the truth. If some person who works for a charity comes up to me and tries to sell me a lottery ticket that will help raise money for something like cancer research then I don’t always have the heart to turn these people down. Sometimes I tell the person to fill their own name and address in the ticket.
But the only reason I buy these tickets is because I want to help the person selling the ticket. As far as I am concerned, gambling is one sure way of giving money away and the longer you do it for the surer it gets. So if the charity is a good one then I don’t have a problem giving my money to that charity.
But just imagine an advert that goes something like this. A man appears dressed in an expensive business suit, standing in front of a luxury automobile and looking all sad and dejected. The narrator says something like this.
‘This is Sam, Sam is doing it tough, all his friends have larger yachts and can afford to send their kids to Harvard but Sam is still paying off his casino so his kids will have to go to Princeton instead. However you can help Sam by visiting his casino and playing a round or two. Any donation no matter how small will be greatly appreciated’
Well I don’t know about you but if saw that advert I would think twice about giving my money to Sam.
Quit While You’re AheadThe statistical fact is that when you visit casinos or play poker machines on a regular basis you are effectively giving your money away. The mathematics behind our understanding of probability were discovered by mathematicians who did a mathematical study on gambling in order to work out systems of beating the house. Well guess what? The casino owners and poker machine manufacturers know all about that field of mathematics. Poker machines are designed to distribute the winnings just often enough to give you the impression that you could just come out in front.
Ever heard the expression ‘quit while you are ahead’? Nothing could be more appropriate than that expression if you are playing a poker machine. If you are ever ahead on a poker machine and that is a big IF then you had better quit while you are ahead because the longer you keep playing the surer it will get that you will end up behind.
However I should say it is better not play pokies to begin with because as I will explain later, that the correct way to understand it is not to think about winning or losing in the short term but to think in terms of the sum total of every single cent you have ever gambled in comparison with your total winnings.
Poker machines have been designed to make sure that you end up behind but still think that you have a reasonable chance of coming out in front.
If you are ahead then you are a rare statistical blip. The more often you gamble the rarer that statistical blip becomes and, in mathematical terms, the chance of that happening rapidly approaches zero. In English that means that virtually no one comes out in front if they gamble against the house on a regular basis. The common outcome is that the people who can least afford it end up donating their money to the very people who least need it.
Rich people are playing us for fools.
Selective MemoryBy now you may be thinking that I’m not right because you know someone who always seems to come out in front. Every time they have a win at the track or get lucky on the pokies they tell you about it. That would be good for them, if they were actually winning all the time.
The reality is that unless your friend has some inside information about a race that has been rigged then your friend has a bad case of selective memory. Your friend doesn’t seem to be telling you about all the times that he/she did not come out in front.
What is needed here is to look at the long term picture. So, here is the challenge, go out and buy yourself a log book and follow your friend around. Take down every cent spent on gambling in one column and in the other column write down all the winnings. Do a total for both columns. Do a total for the whole day, for the whole week, and for months and years.
Then think about the results. Here is my prediction, while some of the daily totals will look impressive, the weekly, monthly and yearly totals will be progressively less impressive. The few daily winnings are statistical blips, it’s the monthly and yearly losses give you the real picture.
That’s why the bookies keep doing what they do.
House RulesWhat are the house rules? Quite simply put, the house says to you, ‘play me long enough and I win and you lose.’ So forget the ‘quit while you’re ahead’ idea because unless you are a rare exception you will start off bad and find that things get progressively worse. Let me explain what opened my eyes. I’m a visual thinker; I like to think in terms of charts, timelines and graphs. I can’t think about what time of day it is without plotting the time on an imaginary timeline that looks something like a sine wave, (a sine wave is a curved wave that goes up a down repeatedly). For me a picture tells a thousand words and then some. So when I saw something known in mathematics as a normal distribution curve and saw what happens to that normal distribution curve when you repeat your experiments over and over again I was completely cured of any lingering urge to gamble forever.
For those of you who already know what a normal distribution curve is I will elaborate. (Just skip the next paragraph if you can’t follow what I’m saying)
Two distribution curves could be drawn up. One could graph the amount of money that a random sample of gamblers win or lose in one hand, negative being a loss and positive being a win. The very thin parts of the graph are the people who either win big or loose big in one game. The curve would also be skewed in favor of the house so that more of the area under the curve represents those who have lost out to the house in one game. So the negative side of the graph would contain the largest area under the curve. The second curve would plot the effect of playing several hands. When you play several games the curve becomes increasingly skewed in favor of the house and the area under the curve where the house wins out becomes greater. The more games played the more the area under curve is skewed in favor of the house.
The following images are provided to illustraite what I'm talking about.
They do not represent real figures. The real figures could be much worse for all I know. However, they do represent a rough approximation of how I would expect the real figures to chart. The point of the illustraition is that the more games played the more certain the loss will be.
Estimated distribution of net gain vs loss for 1 game
Estimated distribution of net gain vs loss for 10 games
Estimated distribution of net gain vs loss for 100 games
I encourage anyone who has a gambling problem to study statistics, especially normal distribution.
Bottom LineIn accounting it is the bottom line that matters, it tells you what your net gain or loss is. The end result averages out to something like for every dollar that you lay on the table you will get 95 cents of it back and the house will get 5 cents. (The exact figure depends on the regulations imposed by the Government). You give away something like 5 cents every time you gamble one dollar. It does not sound like much but it is a loss and it adds up over time and the more often you lay that dollar down the more certain it is that you will end up behind.
Just Some Harmless FunI don’t want this to be a lecture about what you should or should not do. I just want to offer you a mathematical way of thinking about gambling. If you think you are gambling just for fun then that is your call but try to be honest with yourself. What is happening to your bank account? How much money would you have today if all the money you have gambled had been sitting in a high interest term deposit earning compound interest? (Please do the math, I think you will be shocked.)
Anyway, whatever you do, please do not chase your loses. I hope this article has made your realize that chasing your losses does not really represent a chance to get even but in reality is just giving more money to people who don’t need it as much as you and your family do.
A Chance to Escape RealityMaybe you already know that much of what I am saying is true. Maybe you know that you are losing money and will never get it back. Maybe that’s not the point. You might just like the rush, the feeling of being totally lost in the world of winning and losing. Forgetting the outside world and ignoring your problems for a few hours. The risk might be giving you an adrenalin rush that is hard to resist.
In that case you need more than education on statistics. You need a reality that is worth facing and a sense of belonging that is unconditional. You need a friend who will make you feel like you are someone who matters. I can only give you the best answer that I know and I believe that the answer is found in a personal relationship with Jesus. I am not talking about religion. I am talking about the kind of transformation in your life that can change you from the inside out.
To find out more about Jesus, please read my article on how do I become a Christian?
I also recommend that you find a Church that has good counselors who will help you with your problem.