The student news site of Hawthorne High School.

The Clarion

The student news site of Hawthorne High School.

The Clarion

The student news site of Hawthorne High School.

The Clarion


What Makes Gambling Addictive?

Gambling…a Harmful Addiction

Gambling today is everywhere, and people are obsessed with the idea of winning big on improbable chances. This belief is broadcast and shared with people all over the world. Gambling is being shown as a fun way to win money with no consequences, and this marketing is genius. They do this by enticing the viewer. An example of this marketing is FanDuel’s No Sweat Bet promotion, where a bettor can wager up to $1000, and even if their wager loses, they will be reimbursed with the money that they lost. Meaning that the bettor can’t lose. This works because it reels a bettor in because, in the bettor’s minds, they think they can’t lose their first time, and so it immediately hooks them into the sports betting world. Even though gambling can be fun with small and manageable amounts of money, it can be detrimental to one’s physical and mental well-being when more extensive amounts are being gambled. 

Gambling is something that people are innately curious about, and sometimes people and kids gamble without realizing it. For instance, a child can bet their pack of fruit snacks during lunch for two packs if they leave it up to chance with a coin flip. Even though a pack of fruit snacks is not much compared to money, it shows that humans are intrigued by the idea of chance. The possibility of winning clouds all forms of judgment for some people, and their vision only clears once they lose and crash back down to Earth after being on cloud nine.

First, what even is gambling? Gambling is the act of placing something of value on a random event with a chance-based outcome and a chance to win a much larger prize. This random act of chance becomes just as addictive as drugs or alcohol for some people. Research and studies into gambling’s effect on the brain show that it activates the brain’s reward system similarly to how drugs do, by releasing a higher amount of dopamine. This is why people are initially attracted to gambling: it is a highly rewarding experience. 

But what makes it addictive? With gambling, the brain releases dopamine (the feel-good neurotransmitter), and this occurs when a reward is deemed to be uncertain. This release of dopamine is believed to be the risk-taking behavior that is demonstrated in gambling. Due to this, the brain’s reward system becomes altered, and now the brain wants more and more of this dopamine to trigger its reward system. Repeated exposure to gambling and uncertainty can change the way a person responds to a loss. Research has found that losing can trigger almost the same amount of dopamine when a gambler wins, and because of this, it encourages the gambler to keep placing bets rather than doing the rational thing, which is to walk away. Even though subconsciously the gambler or bettor knows that they can lose at any time and possibly alter the rest of their lives, the high of winning outweighs all of the cons of gambling and losing.

The environment in which a casino is placed also affects the brain of a gambler. A place like Las Vegas is a gambler’s dream come true because of the endless opportunities. Casinos are not just a way to play a game; they are a way to create addicts. The bright flashing lights and loud sounds of slots and casinos can capture and immerse the user’s attention and produce the urge to gamble. The intense, busy, and competitive environment only intensifies the urge to keep playing. 

The psychology behind gambling can be found in something as simple as operant conditioning. Operant conditioning is the strengthening of behaviors followed by a reinforcer and the diminishing of behaviors followed by a punisher. In simple terms, it is a form of learning that uses rewards and punishments to alter certain behaviors. Through this form of learning, a behavior that is rewarded is likely to continue, whereas a punished behavior is less likely to continue. These actions can be reinforced by certain “reinforcement schedules,” and the one that pertains to gambling is a variable-ratio schedule. A variable-ratio schedule works by a certain response being rewarded after an unpredictable number of times. An example of this would be a person playing bingo. Everything about bingo is random and unpredictable, and anyone can win. A person playing bingo could win on their first game or their 99th game. This behavior can lead to a response of persistence, and the gambler will begin to exhibit a certain behavior. This behavior will lead the gambler to believe that the “next bet” might be the winning one.

Slot machines can also influence the player to continue to wager money by using a feature called “near misses.” “Near misses” are when the outcome of a bet appears to be a “close win” but is a loss. An example of this would be someone placing 25 cents into a slot machine and pulling down the lever. As the gambler watches the slots spin, they see one side land on 7, and another land on 7 but the final spin lands on a lemon. This “near miss” will make the gambler think that they were close to winning, so they will be influenced to bet again, but in actuality, they weren’t close at all because slots and gambling are all random.

Another related tactic is “loses disguised as wins.” The term is pretty self-explanatory; it is when a gambler loses, but it is seen and shown as a win. An example of this is when a bettor places $1 into a slot machine, and as the machine blurts out all of its lights and sounds, they “win,” but this “win” is only worth 60 cents. So, even though the bettor “won,” they lost 40 cents, and because of this, the bettor is tricked into believing that they won. Once again, it all falls back to a variable-ratio schedule because everything related to gambling is random and unpredictable.

Online sports books are constantly releasing new promotions to get people to gamble on their apps or websites. Companies like FanDuel, DraftKings, Underdog Fantasy, Prize Picks, ESPN Bet, and many more create promotions to attract new and old gamblers. DraftKings has a ‘Bet 5, Get 200’ promotion that is simple to understand. A new player must deposit $5 into their account and wager that $5 on any game. Once the bet is placed, the user is immediately given $200 in bonus bets. These little promotions attract new and old customers to come back and keep gambling. Online sports betting has grown in popularity over the past 10 years due to its simplicity and accessibility. If you were to ask multiple avid sports bettors, at least 7 out of 10 would say that they have gambled on sports or games they do not know of. 

Gambling is just as dangerous as drugs and alcohol, and a serious addiction can lead a person into a downward spiral. This spiral can lead to enormous amounts of debt, depression, anxiety, and even suicide. I can’t tell you to not gamble; it’s your life, but I can tell you that if you’re winning or losing, just walk away.


About the Contributor
Cristian Foschini, Staff Writer
Hi, my name is Cristian Foschini. I am currently a senior attending Hawthorne High School. This is my first year writing for the Clarion and I am very eager and excited to write for the school newspaper this year. I am also striving to be a journalist as my future job. I love to play golf and I am currently on the HHS Varsity Golf Team. Some of my interests and hobbies are sports, writing, driving, and movies.