The gambler’s fallacy – a risk for relapse


If you have been gambling for some time and you find you are having more trouble controlling the amount you spend, you might notice that you often have thoughts that make you want to gamble more urgently.    Many people battle with these thoughts and try different strategies to distract themselves from focusing on them.  For example, listening to music or trying to think more rationally. However, what can happen is that over time people can become used to these types of thinking and don’t question them. These thoughts may then keep a gambling problem going.

You might be surprised at how different your experience of gambling is to those who don’t gamble as much.  One reason may be that you have a completely different belief system about luck than these people!

All of the evidence shows that, the more you gamble out of control, the more irrationally you think about your chances of winning. For example, there is the Gambler’s Fallacy – this is where a series of gambling losses is thought of as a sign that a win is just around the corner (Kahnemann and Tversky, 1982). The gambler behaves as if after a series of gambling losses they expect a series of wins (Corney and Cummings, 1985). When what we really know is that there is no relationship between wins and losses!

I had lost most of my pay-check but I just kept putting more and more in, knowing that I was due for a win soon. I ended up losing everything I had in my bank account. It was only when I finally ran out of money that I realised what I’d done’’

‘I am so sure I will have a win but it never comes. I just keep on trying until there is no money left’.

Some people are so desperate for the win they begin doing behaviours that are totally irrational but that make sense to the gambler in their desperation to win. It is not uncommon to visit a gaming venue and see people rubbing or tapping gaming machine symbols, draping lucky items over the machine like a favourite football scarf and even saying prayers out loud. This is all done to try to increase the chance of a win.

‘I love the Gold Coins. As soon as two pop up I know a win will just be around the corner’.

‘I got to a point where I was just chasing the money I’d put in. I knew I needed to win back some of it because I’d spent my rent for that week. I told myself that if I could just win enough to pay rent I would stop. Unfortunately I did win enough, then put that back in. I ended up spending around three times what I’d lost on the rent, trying to win it back. It was all I could think about and I probably would have stayed there longer except my friends dragged me out of there.’

If you think you might be falling for the Gambler’s Fallacy, it might be helpful for you to speak to a counsellor. Call the Gambling Help on 1800 858 858 to speak confidentially about your gambling.



CORNEY, W. J., and CUMMINGS, W. T. (1 985). Gambling behavior and information processing biases.J. Gamb. Stud. 1: 111-118.

KAHNEMANN, D., and TVERSKY, A. (1982, January). The psychology of preferences. Sci.Am. pp. 136-142.

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