Why Do We Fall For The Gambler’s Fallacy?

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The gambler's fallacy

Gambler’s fallacy is the belief that, in a series of events, prior outcomes affect the probability of a future outcome. It is a mindset about odds and probability that costs many gamblers thousands of dollars per year. 

Because players believe their bad luck predicts an upcoming streak of good luck, they keep wagering money when in reality their odds haven’t improved at all. This destructive mindset is, in a way, a natural human tendency. It’s helpful in certain situations, but not when gambling online.

This article takes a look at gambler’s fallacy, plus the ways casino operators use apophenia bias to convince players to keep gambling. Once you learn to spot gambling myths and misconceptions, you’ll become a better gambler.

The Internet: A Hotbed of Both Information and Misinformation

In many ways, we live in the Age of Misinformation. With so much information at our fingertips, people seek out online information that confirms their biases. If we don’t counter that tendency with critical thinking, we can fall into any number of logical fallacies and conspiracy theories.

Online gambling is only one of the countless ways people can fall prey to misinformation. Countless casino myths and misconceptions exist out there: slots tips for predicting jackpots, can’t-miss progressive betting techniques, and pattern strategies in baccarat to name a few.

When someone starts to gamble, they find a vast array of games with all sorts of rules. They might lose a few times, then decide to research a game in order to improve their odds next time. Because casino gambling is a high-dollar industry, they’ll find an endless stream of gambling advice, tips, and strategies. Some will be good, but most will be bad.

Gambler’s Fallacy in Roulette

Gambler's fallacy in roulette

One of these casino myths is the kind of gambler’s fallacy that afflicts roulette players. If the roulette wheel has landed on the black 6 times in a row, people believe the ball is more likely to land on the red on the next roll.

With a balanced roulette wheel, no two spins of the wheel are connected. The odds of the ball landing on either black or red are still a 50/50 proposition.

Land-based casinos often use an electronic board to show the past 10 to 20 results on a roulette wheel. This encourages gambler’s fallacy, because it’s information that allows people to spot patterns. If 14 of the past 20 spins have produced black, then people might be more encouraged to step up to the wheel and make a bet on red.

The same happens in online roulette. Casino sites’ roulette software also shows past results, encouraging the gambler’s fallacy. But in reality, and even more so than at land-based casinos, one online roulette spin does not affect the outcome of the next spin. A random number generator (RNG) produces truly random results, thus assuring no two spins are connected.

Gamblers’ Belief in The Law of Averages

When challenged on gambler’s fallacy, many players fall back on the “law of averages”. That’s the idea that — if both options have a 50/50 chance of happening — then results should return to the mean. The law of averages gives gambler’s fallacy the illusion of mathematical probability. Common sense would suggest as much, but common sense in this case is wrong.

It’s a misconception about how a theoretical “law of averages” works. If you spun the roulette wheel a billion times, then this theoretical law of averages suggests that the results for black and red would both be about equal. The more spins happen, then the more likely the results match the mathematical probabilities. But that’s only over many, many spins.

That’s where people’s misunderstanding often lies. When they think of “a lot of spins”, they put it into personal terms. That is, they might think mathematics dictates a 50/50 split over a few dozens, a few hundred, or even a few thousand spins. That’s simply not the case. In the grand scheme of things, a few thousand spins are a small sample. Take any 5,000 roulette spins and the results could vary wildly.

Online Gambling and Gambler’s Fallacy

Online casinos know how to send signals to players to make sure they keep playing

Online casino software designers have become adept at sending signals to players — sights, sounds, and other information that triggers a response from them. Learning a bit from brick-and-mortar casinos and a bit from the advertising industry, they make certain that people receive signals to keep them playing. Gambler’s fallacy is one of the ways they target players.

Here are a few examples:

·   Slot Machine Bright Lights and Sound Effects: Online slots with many paylines hit almost every spin — often with ringing bells and music — to signal that you’re getting lucky (and should spin again).

·   Baccarat Score Board: Several types of scoreboards lead baccarat players to use “pattern strategy” to place their next set of bets.

·   Roulette Tote Boards: Online or land-based casinos use electronic boards to show the last 10-20 results.

·   Keno Results: Online keno, like land-based keno, shows the last set of results or the “luckiest” numbers on the board.

One reason that gamblers look for patterns is it’s a sound strategy in some games. Card counting works in blackjack because the odds of the game change when a whole bunch of a certain type of card (with the value of 10) leave the deck. Spotting the patterns in that situation works. Spotting patterns also works in poker.

The difference is blackjack and poker are games of skill. They have elements of chance, but study, memorization, and calculation have a hand in the game. Roulette, baccarat, slots, and keno are games of pure chance, though. 

Even in games like poker and blackjack, there are limitations to what a player can do. For instance, card counting is useless in online blackjack, because the RNG reshuffles the deck after each hand.

Finding Order Amidst Chaos

Dr. Steven Pinker of Harvard University and McGill University explains that people’s brains are “always interpreting patterns”. Human brains have adapted to interpret less-than-complete information patterns by making leaps of logic. It’s a useful skill in life, whether you’re a potential prey spotting a predator hiding in the jungle foliage, or you’re using bits of information to complete a crossword puzzle.

In short, the human brain uses a kind of shorthand to make educated guesses about the world around us. While it’s a useful skill, it’s also an imperfect tool. We can be wrong, whether the stakes are high or low. In a casino environment, our propensity to spot patterns in incomplete information can lead us astray.

Online Gambling and Apophenia

Psychiatrist Klaus Conrad coined the term “apophenia” in 1958 to describe the human the tendency to perceive a connection or meaningful pattern between unrelated or random things“. People with good imaginations might look at the clouds and see shapes and faces. Those with apophenia might attach significance to the shapes they see.

Astrology would be a good example. People connect the dots between stars that are thousands or even millions of light-years from each other, finding shapes. In ancient times, people without the benefit of science attached significance to these patterns. Yet despite what astronomy has done to discount astrology, many people still take comfort in reading their horoscope each day.

Just as OCD is an attempt to seek control in a chaotic world, astrology gives people a sense of order amidst the chaos. Apophenia does the same thing, as it allows people to explain their life troubles as the result of a conspiracy. Depending on a person’s mindset, the conspiracy might involve those around them or the world’s power brokers.

Casino gambling can be stressful, like the rest of life. Therefore, it’s no surprise that gambler’s fallacy exists. In a gambling scenario, gambler’s fallacy provides a system for succeeding. The problem is: it’s an illusory system.

Gambling Tip: Sometimes a Coincidence Is Just a Coincidence

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As Dr. Pinker points out, one major misconception is to lend too much credibility to coincidences. Pinker states that coincidences are a common part of every day, yet people tend to view them as extraordinary events. If you’re in a room full of 60 people, it’s a 50/50 chance two of you will have the same birthday — yet we view that as a huge and sometimes meaningful coincidence.

Klaus Conrad pointed out that delusions do not usually begin with hallucinations. Instead, he said that delusions start as “self-referential over-interpretations” of the sights, sounds, facts, and figures around us. We take in information from the world around us, spot the patterns in them, and attach significance to coincidences.

Recognizing our own gambler’s fallacies is therefore the key to avoiding bad decisions in an online casino. As your online gambling session plays out, realize that coincidences happen and they’re actually quite common.

This means:

·   Past results in roulette, baccarat, keno, and slots don’t affect the next spin.

·   You can’t guess when an online slot’s jackpot is about to hit.

·   Altering your betting pattern – such as using the Martingale betting technique – don’t change the house edge of a game.

These are all misconceptions about online gambling. If you’re playing slots, roulette, keno, or baccarat, realize these are games of chance and you have no control over the results. It’s pure entertainment, so relax and enjoy – and quit while you’re ahead.