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The Psychology Behind What Attracts People to Gambling

Written by

Rudie Venter
clockReading time 6 minread

Gambling can be defined as playing games of chance for money, and it’s a very popular pastime in South Africa and around the world. Current statistics show that around 10% of South Africans gamble regularly. 

But what attracts people to gambling?

It turns out there are numerous attractions, and understanding them can help to ensure you play responsibly at the trusted, licensed South African online casinos that our expert team recommends.

Psychology of Gambling

Historical Perspectives of Gambling

Gambling first emerged in Ancient China, so it’s safe to say we’ve been doing it for thousands of years! Over centuries, we’ve gone from wooden carvings used in lottery games to the ease and convenience of placing bets online, but the psychology of gambling hasn’t changed.

To this day, gambling is mainly viewed as a way to relax and have fun, although certain more conservative cultures and societies frown upon it. 

The Thrill of Risk and Reward

How does gambling affect the brain?  When we win, our brains release dopamine, the so-called feel-good chemical. This makes betting very exciting psychologically, especially because the more risk involved, the greater the potential for a huge win.

Escapism and Entertainment

Gambling can be a form of entertainment for players that offers an escape from boring everyday life. South African players do need to be on guard against creating an alternate reality through their gambling, however.  This can lead to serious financial distress and is part of the psychology of gambling addiction. 

Social and Peer Pressure

Research shows that peers can be more influential than parents when it comes to risky behaviours like gambling. This is why all the South African-friendly casinos vetted by PlayCasino have strict regulations in place to ensure no underage gambling takes place and why adults have to remain aware of who they’re spending time with if they feel they’re gambling too much. Spending time at online casinos may provide a sense of self-acceptance and validation that should be found in other areas of players’ lives, and you should also not do your primary socialising at gambling venues. 

Cognitive Biases in Gambling

Cognitive biases are systematic mistakes we make in rational thinking that differ from the norm. Here are a few examples of cognitive biases as they apply to gamblers:

  • The Gambler’s Fallacy is the false notion that randomised sequences have a structured tendency towards reversal. For example, a South African player might stay at a slot machine even though they’ve lost more than they should because they believe that a win must surely come next. 

  • Neglect of probability is another type of cognitive bias that sees us disregard probability when we’re making uncertain decisions. This is illustrated by players underestimating the potential impact of what they see as small risks when enjoying casino games.

  • The illusion of control is the belief that certain gamblers have that their skill can affect the outcome of a random event, like a winning line in a Bingo game. 

  • Anchoring bias is people’s tendency to rely too heavily on the initial information they receive about a topic. So, you may not work out the probability of a game yourself but rather instantly believe the odds posted by the first source you see online. 

  • Mental accounting bias examples extend to how much money you can afford to lose and how much you’ve already spent. 

Falling victim to these kinds of cognitive biases is one reason why gambling is addictive. Knowing about them means you’ll be able to watch yourself for any danger signs. 

Economic Incentives and Financial Motivations

What attracts people to gambling? The promise of financial gain is very alluring, especially in situations where South African players are suffering economic hardship and are looking for ways to make money. Gambling becomes seen as the way out, and many people mistakenly feel it’s a quick path to wealth. When, in fact, it should only ever be seen as a fun pastime that probably won’t result in a life-changing win. 

Advertising and Media Influence

In South Africa, gambling licence holders are allowed to advertise promotions, but they have to comply with the requirements set out by the Online Gambling Act of South Africa. Ads may not contain false information and have to be directed at audiences who are at least 18 years old. They also need to contain a responsible gambling slogan. This is because advertising is a very powerful medium, and irresponsible promotion needs to be avoided at all costs. 

Gambling is not represented very accurately in media and pop culture, with the representation of winners far outweighing that of losers. That’s why players need to educate themselves on the psychology of gambling! Celebrity endorsements also play a factor in certain types of problem gambling and should always be taken with a pinch of salt. 

Accessibility and Convenience

Online casinos have made games accessible to all of us via our desktops, smartphones, and tablets. And, where online casinos have not been optimised for mobile players, apps are provided to allow South African players to enjoy gambling on the go. Because so much of our population doesn’t live or work in the proximity of casinos and betting shops, online gaming is their go-to due to its accessibility and convenience. 

As long as responsible gambling is practised, this won’t cause any issues.  

The Psychological Hook of Gambling Games

How does gambling affect the brain? Dopamine gets released in situations where the reward is not certain, which pretty much describes gambling! For example, slots are intentionally designed with attractive, exciting, and fun themes that draw us in and offer an escape. The challenge and mastery of need satisfaction play a similar role in table games like Texas Hold’em, Baccarat, Blackjack, Roulette, and Video Poker. 

Personality Traits and Psychological Vulnerabilities

When we talk about the psychology of gambling addiction, we can discuss certain traits that problem gamblers share. South African players who are very competitive, overworked, suffer from impulsivity, or are restless and easily bored are at an increased risk of compulsive gambling. 

Gambling is also linked to mental health issues like anxiety and depression. Problem players may find themselves turning to destructive coping mechanisms and self-medicating in an unhealthy way when the stress becomes overwhelming.  

Societal and Cultural Factors

Gambling has definitely become normalised in South Africa. There are no weighty moral concerns being raised about gambling by do-gooders, and few people have called for a ban. This means that most South African players experience little to no guilt about their gambling activities. 

Regulation and Legislation

The South African government made a decision to allow legalised gambling in our republic based on the 1994 Wiehahn Commission report. The law says that online gambling sites are all legal as long as they’re operating under a licence from the government. Policy changes have impacted gambling behaviour by making it feasible for more players to take part in online gambling since they know they’re protected if anything goes wrong. 

Gambling as a Form of Competition

Gambling games are, by their nature, competitive and appeal to a psychological rivalry aspect that all our brains share. This is especially true when it comes to games of skill and strategy like Poker, Blackjack, and Video Poker. 

Family and Peer Influence on Gambling Behaviour

If South Africans come from a family where problem gambling is rife, they’re at an increased risk of developing issues themselves. This can be exacerbated by exposure to gambling activities too early on in childhood. Family often has as much of an impact on our psyches as our peer group does, so it’s important to be aware of danger factors.  

Psychological Excuses for Gambling

When we want to do something we know we shouldn’t, we come up with a world of excuses justifying our actions. South African players need to be aware of this tendency when it comes to gambling and avoid using real money gameplay as a coping mechanism.

Beliefs in fate and luck can be very problematic in gambling. You should also be aware of emotional triggers. Don’t play when you’re upset, and always be 100% clear about what your motivations are before you sign into your online casino account. 

The Role of Marketing Psychology

Casinos, like advertisements, make use of colours, lighting, and sound to create certain atmospheres. It’s widely known that colours elicit certain emotional and mental responses, and casinos will, for instance, use golden light in their surroundings. This is because it has an opulent, luxurious feel to it, and its hue may well affect players’ decision-making capabilities. 

This pertains to online casinos as well, where every feature of the site is invested in creating an immersive gambling experience. The impact of marketing strategies on human behaviour has been well-documented and shouldn’t be ignored in this area of our lives. 

Gambling and the Reward System

Along with addictive behaviour around alcohol and drugs, when we gamble, our dopamine neurotransmitters reinforce pleasure sensations. They also connect these sensations with certain actions and behaviours, which will, in turn, lead to reinforcement and conditioning in gambling behaviour and set the scene for problems. 

Although exercise will also increase the levels of dopamine in our systems, gambling is a far quicker route to feeling good!

The Dark Side of Gambling Attraction

The consequences of gambling addiction are dire and can result in financial ruin as well as the loss of friends, family, and even your job. If you have any of the signs of problem gambling, get the help you need before it's too late. The Responsible Gambling site has a treatment programme, and Gambler’s Anonymous has helped many players regain control. 

Conclusion

There are five factors that attract us to gambling:

  1. Excitement

  2. Financial gain

  3. Our egos

  4. Learning

  5. Relaxation

The appeal is multifaceted and works on us both psychologically and physically. The implications for South African players are that it can be quite easy to slip into dangerous behaviours, and you should keep an eye on your gameplay at all times to avoid this. 

Rudie Venter

Rudie Venter

Online Slots and Casino Games Expert

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Rudie Venter is a seasoned online casino games expert with eight years of industry experience. Holding a degree in psychology, he combines academic insight with practical knowledge of casino game strategies. Rudie's talent lies in demystifying game mechanics, making them accessible and fun for everyone. On his time off, Rudie loves a good ol’ braai and watching the rugby with a naughty Klippies & Coke (in moderation, of course).

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