Gambling is an entertaining activity that millions around the globe have for fun and aiming some profit. Statistics show that a number close to 80% of American adults have already gambled in their life, and money and thrill are certainly a part of the motivation to do it.
At least those are the reasons to start gambling, along with some curiosity, but for a small minority, at a certain point the fun stops and gambling becomes a problem. Compulsion or problem gambling has become an issue recently, and not even psychologists are certain why.
When the fun stops why do people continue playing games which everyone know are conceived with the lower odds for the player?
Looking inside the brain
Brain research tries to provide answers to that question, to understand what makes gambling so appealing. One of the obvious conclusions of the research is that the design of the games makes them appealing and with the capacity to hook both with the casual gamer as well as the problem gambler.
What’s the hook? Uncertainty. It can be the size of the jackpot, the possibility of winning, winning big. All these variables make our brain release dopamine, a neurotransmitter also released during other enjoyable activities like eating, having sex or being on drugs.
It is now proven that dopamine is also released when we are in situations where we can get an uncertain reward, causing a gambling “high” and reinforcing the risk behavior when gambling.
It might be reason for concern the fact that the release of dopamine, on the gambling case, activates the same brain regions used when drug abuse happens, causing also lasting changes in the brain, enhancing the gambler to play more and even change the way the player respond to losing.
Losing as an incentive
Almost counterintuitively, losing can cause the release of dopamine giving practically the same level of satisfaction given by winning, making problem gamblers continue to play regardless of the result.
Obviously that gambling is far more than winning and losing, and this also contributes for problem gambling players. If the flashing lights and the sounds create an immersive experience in a casino, the reality if not that different in an online casino, whether it’s a site or an app, as there is plenty of visual and audio stimulation.
Again, studies prove that both lights and sounds are also triggers to play, particularly winning cues, increasing the excitement and leading the player to overestimate the frequency of their win, which could encourage you to play longer and even faster.
The complexity of the slots is a good example of how electronic games replaced mechanical ones, having more colors, sounds and winning variations, leading to disguised losses even when you win, as you don’t come ahead on some bets, but the lights and victory sounds still appear.
These multi-slots are a good example of the ultimate gambling enjoyment, and it’s proven by the preference players have for them and get fully absorbed by it, sometimes by several hours.
Recreational gambling is all about fun, but it’s also a battle against the odds and a vast array of stimulation with the final goal of making the player return for more and with the impression they did well, that they are skilled, enhancing satisfaction levels.
If for the majority of gamblers it’s easy to walk away from the game when we run out of money, there are already 2% of the US population who cannot, and suffer from gambling disorder, reason why the casinos have been developing several measures to help them and to create a safe gambling environment.