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The Gambler’s Fallacy: An In-Depth Look

Let’s imagine you are partaking in a coin toss, and every time, the coin lands on tails and never on heads. While betting on which side it will land on next, it is customary to assume that it will be on tails, but then unexpectedly, it ends up landing on heads. This assumption that it should land on tails just because it happened so much in the past is an example of a gambler’s fallacy. 

For gamblers and non-gamblers alike, the gambler’s fallacy is a dangerous cognitive bias called representativeness heuristic that affects people every day. Let’s take a look at this phenomenon and how it impacts problem gamblers psychologically.

What Is the Gambler’s Fallacy?

Gambler’s fallacy occurs when people believe that a random future event is less or more likely to happen based on what happened in the past. If we think about a coin flip, you have a 50/50 chance each time, further proving that independent events of the past do not change the probability of the future.

Also known as the Monte Carlo fallacy, gambler’s fallacy was first recognized in 1913 at the Monte Carlo Casino in Las Vegas. At a roulette wheel, players believed they saw a pattern since the ball kept landing on a black spot multiple times in a row. Thinking that the ball had to land on a red spot soon, many of them kept betting on red. It took 27 spins for the ball to finally land on red, but by then, it is reported that millions of dollars were lost.

Understanding the Psychological Impact of the Gambler’s Fallacy

The gambler’s fallacy is a harmful way of thinking, especially for those who are active gamblers. Its psychological impact makes individuals feel that they must win soon after so many losses, meaning they will continue to gamble more and more. To convince themselves that they will win big, players can start imaging patterns in their minds that aren’t there to begin with. This becomes dangerous when people start to think they have a special skill to win when, in reality, it is always luck.

Hot hand fallacy occurs when gamblers believe that their winning streak will continue to be beneficial because of successful previous events that have allowed them to keep winning. Even though these are random events, people will place higher bets because they believe that it will increase their probability of winning a future round or event since they won so many times before.

Overcoming the Gambler’s Fallacy and Gambling Problem Behaviors

One of the first steps to avoiding the gambler’s fallacy is recognizing that just because an event occurs in the past doesn’t mean it will occur in the future. An example of this would be realizing that just because you never won at a slot machine means you should continue playing because you are “bound to win.” Reminding yourself that every coin flip, wheel turn, rolled die, and card draw is entirely independent is key in overcoming unfounded biases that exacerbate problem gambling behaviors.

If you or your loved one is struggling with problem gambling, call or text our free and confidential helpline, 800-GAMBLER, and get the ideal support.


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