Why do people love betting and wages?

Nobody likes to lose, yet those of us who love betting and wagering will know that losing is part of the game. That does not deter most of us though. Irrespective of whether we are betting against a friend or visiting the roulette table and trying our luck there, we derive so much enjoyment from it that we continue regardless. Why is that the case?

Mark Griffiths, a Nottingham Trent University psychologist who is an expert on behavioural patterns, recently said people have a wide range of motivations for why they love betting.

In a poll among 5,500 betting enthusiasts the strongest factor was indeed the opportunity to ‘win big money’. That, however, was closely followed by two other reasons: Betting is fun, and betting is exciting.

What people are actually buying when they bet, Griffiths added, was entertainment. Even if you are losing while you are betting your body is still producing endorphins and adrenalin.

His theory is supported by a 2009 study by the University of Stanford, California, which revealed that the vast majority of people set themselves a ‘loss threshold’, i.e. an maximum amount they are prepared to lose. Even if they lost that, however, their overall enjoyment of the whole experience is not necessarily negatively affected.

Co-author Sridhar Narayanan said people appeared to be quite satisfied with fairly small wins, as long as their losses were even smaller. And here is the interesting part: losing might actually, for the moment at least, boost someone’s positive reaction to a win. That is caused by how a person’s perceives his chances of winning to be changing the longer a losing streak lasts.

University College, London neuroscientist Robb Rutledge and his team carried out an experiment involving 26 people. They scanned the participants’ brains while they were making a number of choices, each one of which might result in either an uncertain or a certain outcome.

The results of the study can be summarized in a single sentence: If we lose a series of bets in a row it lowers our expectations of winning – and that increases our happiness when we finally do have a win.