The Psychology of Gambling: Why Do People Gamble?

The Psychology of Gambling: Why Do People Gamble?

Hold your breath folks, because here it comes: Over 1.9 billion players played in casinos around the world in the year 2023. I got that statistic from Google, usually a decent source.

How many people played casino games at online casinos? A lot. I got that statistic from a friend of mine after his blackjack session in his living room. He’s a decent source too.

Many non-playing-people want to know why so many people play casino games. What brings them out to play their hard-earned or inherited money against Lady Luck who has – let us be honest here – luck on her side.

Of course, when we say Lady Luck has luck on her side, what we really mean is that casinos have luck on their side and that luck is – to be frank – the math that gives the casino the edge at every game they offer. Math beats luck most every time, sometimes in the short run, sometimes in the medium run, and sometimes in the long run. Actually, we should call Lady Luck by a different name, how does Lady Calculus sound to you?

Sometimes people will look up the title “Why Do People Gamble?” hoping to discover why Big Aunt Mary and Little Uncle Jim constantly frequent the casinos.

“They want to win money,” some will say.

“Big Aunt Mary enjoys comped meals,” others will say.

“I’m hungry,” says Little Uncle Jim.

[Please note: Both Big Aunt Mary and Little Uncle Jim are relatives of mine. They have given me permission to make fun of them whenever I want. Just reverse The Honeymooners and that is what we have here.]

Is it really the desire to win money? Maybe. Maybe not. After all, a good job or a good parttime job or both will bring in definite money, whereas casino playing will certainly not.

Is it really the beauty and/or gaudiness of casinos? Uh, maybe.

Maybe it was stepping into another world where you and your money are appreciated for being there? Could be.

Perhaps it is the joy of losing money? Nah, I doubt it. Nobody likes to lose, do they?

Okay, okay, so what the heck is it? Why do so many people become casino players?

Why People Love Casinos

1. The Fun

A few years ago, I was in Las Vegas at one of the premier casinos and I was heading into the high-roller room after a huge sale of one of my latest books.

There was a blackjack table across the room filled with (can you believe this?) NBA players! Five of them. Laughing and moaning and slapping each other “five!” and torturing the one player who seemed to be losing every hand.

I knew I didn’t want to sit next to them, but sitting across the room gave me the advantage of being able to watch them and enjoy their shenanigans. They were the center of attention of everyone playing in the high-roller room and those curious who were passing by it on the outside.

These guys were well-known players, a couple of them were big stars (actually, they were all pretty big), and they were playing and whooping and hollering throughout their contest with the casino. They didn’t need any of the money they won and they didn’t sweat the money they lost.

They just had a ton of fun playing. A ton of fun.

2. The Competition

I used to like to play games too. I played basketball (I was on a team that beat Kareem Abdul Jabbar’s team in 8th grade) and baseball (I tried out for a major league team – and failed miserably) and I even boxed for a few years until someone convinced me by beating in my head in to “stop that you idiot! You aren’t the white Muhammad Ali.”

I loved playing games. I really did. Competition was thrilling. The casino is thrilling too. It’s a great contest between me and a powerful opponent. I pit myself against…wait a second. Hmmm, could that be it?

Could that be it, I wondered, could it? Could that explain why my Big Aunt Mary and my Little Uncle Jim loved going to the casinos? They enjoyed the competition? They enjoyed putting themselves on the line? It was them or the casinos. A battle to the finish. Was that it? Competition? You versus me. Me versus you.

Muhammad Ali versus Smoking Joe Frazier.

Sure, Big Aunt Mary enjoyed the comped meals but she could eat at home (and boy did she ever eat at home); no, it was the competition of playing the slots. Those machines were her opponents. The machine was the opponent.

Little Uncle Jim played craps and loved it. Just loved it. I’m guessing he got comped meals too. However, I doubt if he was allowed to eat much of them as Big Aunt Mary always seemed ravenous. (Marriage can be weirder than casinos, can’t it?) Still, he loved going to the casinos. Just loved it.

Those NBA players were having a ball, win or lose; it was the game that mattered. Playing the game. The game mattered.

Okay, I think that my thesis is correct. I do.

Yes, I think all the attendant stuff involved with casinos is helpful, even joyful, and also somewhat disappointing at times, but the competition is the key to it all.

People gambling in a casinoImage credit: Occidental Grand Aruba/Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

Indeed, I love the shows, the restaurants, the gyms, and pools in which to exercise. I enjoy nice hotel rooms. I even enjoy naps in nice hotel rooms.

But I love the games. I truly love to compete against the games. I love to beat the games. I love to watch other people playing the games too. What excitement is going through their bodies? Their minds? If you actually win some money, well, that’s like winning a trophy. I think those NBA players knew that. I think they did.

If I am correct, casino gambling will be around for a long, long time. You might even say that it is a form of “athletics” for non-athletes too.

And that’s why people play those games…competition.

Frank Scoblete’s books are available from, Barnes and Noble, Kindle, e-books, libraries and bookstores.

Author: Nathan Sanchez