the allure of gambling

Humans have been gambling for as long as there have been human societies on earth. Gambling offers people the tantalizing prospect of excitement and the possibility of enjoying extra cash. Some people engage in gambling as a form of entertainment while others simply focus on the lure of cash wins.

What is the psychology of retail and online Vegas casino gambling? Why are people drawn to play games for money? How does the balance of risk and reward play a part in the desire to gamble?

The Brain

Gaming and gambling is the trigger that releases dopamine in your brain. Dopamine is a feel-good neurotransmitter that promote a feeling of excitement. It’s not only the winning that causes dopamine to be released but the gaming activity itself. So your brain produces this neurological response regardless of whether you win or lose.

This creates a circle where gamers experience euphoria from the surge of dopamine and, to keep that surge moving, they continue gambling even when common sense tells them that it’s time to stop.


Some players operate under the impression that they can control the outcomes of their gaming events. They ignore the odds because they think that, if they follow certain strategies or techniques, they’ll be able to pull a win out even when it doesn’t seem possible.

They point two “systems” that sound reasonable but, on closer examination, are really not – systems that say that you should double your bet after a loss (because you’re “bound to” win sooner or later and this will allow you to make up your previous losses), that you should raise your bets in increments, etc.


There are other physiological rewards to gambling that come from the social interaction that people experience when they play games in a social setting, like a casino or a gaming room.

That, say psychologists, is one of the reasons that gamers chase losses….instead of walking away after a series of losses, they continue to play in order to maintain the social context of their gambling activities.

Gaming promotes a sense of camaraderie and belonging because they give people the chance to bond with others over a shared experience.


At its core, gambling is attractive because of its uncertainty. Everyone wants Lady Luck to smile down on them but no one knows if she will, or if she will smile one day and frown the next. But it’s the possibility that captivates people along with the chance that they’ll experience a life-changing win. Those element play into fantasies of success and instant riches.

Gambling also allows participants to face risk within a safely constrained environment. Taking calculated risks for potential rewards is inbred into humans – we do it every day, when we drive, build a family, make a career change, etc. Gambling is simply a continuation of that evolutionary draw.


Gambling engages the senses which is a magnetic allure. The sounds, light, sense of vibrancy and atmosphere of high energy feeds the drive to play games for real money prizes. The online casinos and retail gaming venues are designed to immerse players in an intoxicating atmosphere.

Time and space fade away as the lights flash, the cheers of the players at the tables resound, the chimes of slots’ jackpots ring and the mesmerizing spin of the roulette wheels whirl, combining to create an environment of urgency and anticipation.

Staying Safe

Because gambling draws us in through psychological and chemical changes, it’s important to be aware of how to stay safe while you’re playing casino games.

Casino advisors remind you:

  1. Set a budget. You should set a reasonable budget that is dedicated to gambling and other entertainment activities. You should never dip into money that you have set aside for household expenses or other necessities. Gambling is a form of entertainment and any cash that you want to use for gambling should be set aside specifically for that purpose.
  2. Don’t rely on hope that you’ll get your money back. Gaming platforms have many strategies to try to get you to think that, if you keep playing, eventually you’ll win back your money. But that’s a fallacy. Consider, if everyone who played casino games eventually won payouts, the casinos would go bankrupt in days. Again, stick to your pre-determined budget and never bet a cent above the funds that you’ve set aside for your gambling entertainment.
  3. Keep a close eye on your account. Hackers would like nothing more than to get ahold of the details of your casino account, your online bank account, your cyber wallet or your land-based bank account. They have many tricks to do just that – they ask you to click on links, “verify” your username and password, download files……all of these tricks are designed to get into your accounts and walk away with your money. Verify any such requests with your casino before you open, click or download anything.
  4. Check out the casino’s self-exclusion policy. Every casino should have an option by which you can exclude yourself from the casino for a specific period of time. That way, if you start to feel yourself spinning out of control, you can take a step back and reassess during a period of time that you don’t have access to your account. Once you’re back on track you can re-enter the casino on a more even keel.

21st century casino gambling is, in many ways, a simple extension of what our ancestors did when they wagered on games of sticks and stones. If you understand how your gambling entertainment connects to your biology and physiology, that can be a useful tool in your pursuit of a healthy gaming adventure.

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