With Kentucky Derby season approaching, I recall how I used to enjoy going to the races, watching the beautiful horses and seeing all the stylish hats. But there was a shabby underside to all that when I would notice all the people who shouldn’t have been wagering, who didn’t seem to have money to spare. I’ve since decided that the only good that comes from gambling is for those who don’t engage in it.
The odds are always against you. Always. Observe glamorous casinos with fancy interiors and glitzy flashing lights. Do you know how they are able to pay for all that? It’s from all those losses—yours and everyone around you. If I’m going to give money away it’s going to be to my friends and family or to a charity, not to some gaming establishment.
Let’s discuss the term “gaming.” This is a euphemism that makes it sound like gambling is an innocent pastime. At worst it is an addiction as destructive as a chemical dependence. At best it is a complete waste of resources, turning you into a zombie as you feed money into a slot machine, mesmerized in a trance-like state.
On the rare occasions when people do win, it usually doesn’t stay with them for long. There are countless examples of winners who think they are particularly lucky from a win so they continue gambling and lose it all. Worse, they spend even more money on top of that in chasing their losses only to come out worse than if they had never started in the first place.
One of the appeals of gambling is the idea that you are getting something for nothing. Many view gambling as a high yield, low stakes proposition when it is in fact the opposite. Some enjoy the risk taking or the escapism that it offers. Gambling fosters an illusion of control, the belief that something you do can control an outcome that is in reality completely due to chance.
This can take the form of magical thinking such as performing certain rituals or a belief that you are special or that you can feel a win. This is evident with those who play the lottery, picking their special numbers or buying tickets on particular days of the year. The sad fact is that the majority of lottery players are the poorest and least educated, those with the most to lose and who least understand the astronomically poor odds.
State lotteries exploit these people—their own citizens. Once the state becomes dependent on this stream of income, then they have an incentive to promote it, even while knowing that it is to the detriment of the most vulnerable members of society. One could point out that buying a ticket is voluntary and people are responsible for their own decisions. But I am uneasy at the idea that people are deceived into believing that they are buying hope.
A reminder during this time of March Madness: Basketball brackets (as well as poker games, bingo, raffles, and cakewalks) are all gambling if money is exchanged. Some of these may seem innocent enough but they all rely on the psychological phenomena mentioned above and can be a slippery slope toward problem gambling.
Even if it doesn’t get to that point, you should ask yourself if that’s really how you want to spend your time and money? I know I don’t. There are so many things to do in this world that are edifying to me or others, and gambling most certainly does not make that list.