Over the years, Netflix has been renowned for streaming, aside from famous releases, movies or series made with their contribution.
“Money, Explained” is a 2021 docuseries made as a continuation of the series “Explained.” Both were created by Vox Media and released on Netflix.
This article intends to explore points made in the “Gambling” episode of “Money, Explained” and add to that information to expose some of gambling industry’s addictive games.
This series aims to detail situations where money is involved, to better understand what happens with credit cards, student loans, retirement, and even getting rich quickly.
The episode we focus on in this article is “Gambling .”This part unveils much about how casinos work, tricks casinos use, casino games, and winning, all to educate people better on this theme.
Before getting into the depths of it all, let’s see how people relate to winners and their own gambling experiences.
Do we love seeing gamblers win?
Empathy is the term used to describe the action of feeling what others are perceived to feel. However, even empathy has its limits.
Yes, you can connect to a person suffering due to the proximity and probability of bad things happening to both of you. But connecting to someone who just won $500,000 playing slots doesn’t feel as easy. Perhaps one would feel everything else but empathy for that person.
On the other hand, Schadenfreude is the experience of enjoyment at the troubles of another human. CBS lets us know that this phenomenon is closely related to envy and disgust and that once you feel biased, you are more likely to experience a Schadenfreude feeling.
The urge to get something from nothing
“But the casino knows, with enough time, your wins will get canceled out by your losses, plus a little extra.”
This quote from the “Gambling” episode tries to put things into perspective by exposing an interesting argument – the law of large numbers. This law explains that while you can beat the odds of a casino in a small duration of time, you cannot escape its consequences when playing for a longer time.
This engulfing situation is carefully curated by casinos in order to keep producing big profits and expand their businesses.
If you’re wondering why we continue to play, I could answer with another idea from the episode – we have an insatiable urge to get something from nothing. This idea is widespread in casino culture and can water the seed of addiction – a purpose of getting something from nothing that pushes you to lose everything.
Intuitively, we know that once we’ve had a series of bad things happening, good things are set to come. Like most of us, if you believe that, you might be caught in the gambler’s fallacy.
This idea proposes the belief that once certain events have frequently happened in the past, they are less likely to happen in the future. This is why you can see people stuck on the same bets at casino gaming tables; they perceive their chances of winning to be better if they just wait for the color or number to change. However, this is false.
Visualizing and Understanding Your Chances
Imagine yourself being next to a large sequence of random digits. You can’t see the edges of the number, so you don’t know if you’re in the beginning, in the middle, or towards the end of the number. Therefore, if you tried to guess each digit one after the other, or simply guess where you are placed relative to the number, you’d have a tough time knowing what to expect.
That’s what happens in casinos, too – you enter the game without knowing which infinite number sequence is developing in front of your eyes. When people tell you gambling is a game of chance, what they mean is it’s impossible to know where to place yourself in the infinity of numbers and choices to understand how to bet and win.
This is where the illusion of control takes hold and convinces you that everything is as you planned. This is in itself a defense mechanism that protects you from internal conflicts, but when exploited, it turns its ugly side towards us.
Slots represent a type of mechanism that is made to exploit the illusion of control. Slots have a definite game progression that will most likely push you to lose everything you win in the beginning. Then, if this is the situation, why gamble?
Knowing the game is rigged should stop you from enjoying the game, right? However, this doesn’t seem to be the case at all, with slots increasing their revenues each year.
The answer is far less surprising than the question; it’s about imagination. Gambling started from an exciting desire to play with fate, which evolved once we realized how to maneuver the odds. From there on, the gambling industry grew considerably in reputation and media. Thus, the desire from which gambling was born suddenly wasn’t alone anymore – the illusion that fame and fortune were possible through casinos joined it and remained.
“…Smooth Ride down to Zero”
“The [gambling] industry… learned how to give players a smooth ride down to zero.”
Since their conception, slots have changed drastically. The digital era created a perfect combination of sounds and flashy images that offer small dopamine shots to our brains with each little spin. The uncertainty hasn’t changed, but it’s more influential with visual and audio stimuli.
The money and time graph of slots’ evolution has also changed. While before, the slots were programmed to have a different mechanism that made people lose money much quicker, now slots follow a longer time span of small rewards and losses. This not only prolongs your wallet’s path to demise but increases the amount of money you put into slots before deciding to leave.
To aid them, the casino industry created more incentives – bonuses.
“Chance is math, but winning is more like magic.”
Magical thinking combines the elements of other deceiving ways of thinking. Having a favorite number because it brings “luck,” betting on red for the 10th time because the next hit will definitely be red, bringing lucky charms to the casino, etc., are examples of magical thinking, among others.
In fact, you could watch this episode, agree with its explanation, and go right back to previous convictions because there’s no conflict there; instead, it’s “fate” or “destiny.” In some sense, magical thinking takes away the responsibility from you.
Gambler’s fallacy and the illusion of control contribute significantly to this thinking. The self-centered belief that you will be the one to win out of all the people in the casino also adds to the importance of winning. Aside from wanting to be correct, we also want to be unique. Well, casinos know and exploit that.
Slots and table games are the big stack bullies of the gambling industry. The revenues for these games are increasing each year, with the online gambling industry spreading and growing each day:
- In the first quarter of 2022, slots and table games amassed $11.50bn in the USA. This sum represents an increase of 22.7% in a year-over-year comparison.
- France’s National Gaming Authority reported a €10.7bn total for the country’s gambling revenue in 2021.
- In the UK, the Gambling Commission reported an online gross gaming yield of £1.2bn for the first quarter of 2022.
- Still in the UK, the gross gambling yield increased by 4% for slots, reaching £565m for the same period.
- In addition, UK users spend more than an hour per session immersed in online slots for the same period.
The Online Casino “Zone”
“The “Zone” is not where you’re worried about winning or being in control. You just want to keep going. The “Zone” is the hold.”
In her book, Addiction by Design: Machine Gambling in Las Vegas, Schüll tells us about what the zone represents in both land-based and virtual casinos. She tells us that entering the “Zone” means forgetting about excitement and the expectancy to win and instead focusing on keeping the game flow alive.
Defined like this, we notice that the “Zone” represents a type of meditative state where you feel content by just feeding the machine money until you win or, more likely, you run out of money.
Putting it simply, the games and the small sums of money you win are all virtual. The only real thing is the money you lose.
It existed long before
“Dice have dots instead of numbers because they predate our numbering system.”
To understand how deeply written in our history gambling is, you need to know a few facts:
- Gambling is said to date back to the Paleolithic period, before people started writing down the history.
- The first six-sided dice was reportedly made some 5000 years ago in Mesopotamia.
- In China, gambling houses date back to 1000 BCE.
- Poems like Gambler’s Lament and the Mahabharata, written in Hindu, tell us stories of ancient Indians gambling.
- Ancient Jewish authorities banned professional gamblers from testifying in court.
We can assume that our fascination with gambling, even in the face of restriction, implies a deeper connection to the action itself. The “Zone” might be something we discovered since ancient times, yet it is still not explored enough.
Aside from the risky nature of slots, something else fascinates us about casino games. Card games are famous for combining both strategy and luck. Some might also force you to keep a group facade to fool others, as in Poker’s case.
Card games are not considered as risky as slots due to their controllable characteristic – strategy. Depending on the game, the strategy may change. Still, it serves as a constant that combines well with chance and sometimes overshadows it.
Poker is the best example of a casino card game. It is categorized as a “family of comparing card games” mixed with wagers to create the risk factor. As a family of card comparing games, it diversified over the years, creating many variations, among which we remember: Texas Hold ’em, Omaha, Five-card draw, and High Low Chicago.
Since this casino game relies on strategy aside from luck, it reportedly takes longer to become addicted to it. For example, people who play card games can become addicts after 3.5 years. However, slot players take much less to become addicted – a little over one year.
Even so, this doesn’t mean that poker players can’t become just as addicted as slot players. In fact, around half of the poker players reported one or more gambling problems.
Next to Poker, another well-known casino game is Blackjack. This card game is defined as a “casino banking game” due to bets being laid against the house or dealer. This means that blackjack players don’t compete with each other. Instead, they try to beat the dealer.
Like Poker, Blackjack implies a bit of luck and strategy. You need the luck to get fit cards, but the strategy is also required when making decisions during the game.
One famous strategy that some professional players apply is counting cards. It implies keeping count of the discarded cards to presume how many high and low cards are left. However, using this strategy in casinos is not recommended since most of them don’t agree with players counting cards, so you might get kicked out.
Proximity and Addiction
- The opening of a casino in Canada resulted in increased gambling and problem gambling among the neighboring residents within one year, this study shows.
- Worldwide gambling statistics show that around 26% of the total population has gambled at least once.
- 29% of the gamblers interviewed think gambling is fair and can be trusted.
- In the same study, 76% of the gambling respondents declared they were in the 18-24 age category.
- In the same study, 60% of gamblers declared that the reason for switching their operators is better odds.
- Data shows that if there is a wider list of active casinos in one country or region, the play rate grows exponentially, giving gamblers outlets to place their bets and wagers.
The data above shows that 29% of the respondents trust casino fairness, and the range of addiction stems at the margins of legality for young gamblers.
At the same time, casino bonuses have an evident influence over gamblers, most of them seeking the best odds at winning.
If land-based casinos have such an impact on the neighboring community, online casinos also need to be further researched to uncover how significant their influence is when stumbled upon the internet. As this episode shows, when it’s easy to gamble, we will gamble more.