Myths and Beliefs

Many people play who poker machines, Keno, lotteries and other games of chance think they can influence their chances of winning, by using ‘systems’, acting on a ‘hunch’, thinking ‘positively’ or looking for what they think are ‘lucky’ signs.  Sometimes, these false beliefs influence how they bet, and this can lead to problems.

The key thing to remember is that nothing can change the odds of you winning, either in the short term or long term. Whether or not you win playing a game of chance is based solely on the randomly drawn numbers generated by the machine’s computer.  See the information about Random Number Generators in The House Edge, and Your Odds.

Here are some common false beliefs that can lead to losing money.

“Just think positive.”

Do you think a positive attitude will make a difference to your chances of winning? Recent Tasmanian research* shows between 10% and 15% of people have these sort of false beliefs. It would be great if we could influence the outcomes of games of chance in the same way we can visualise for example, a beautiful garden, and then go about making it. Unfortunately we can’t make a gambling win happen like that. We can’t influence the outcomes at all.

There is one very positive action you could take: quit while you’re ahead, (if you’re lucky enough to be ahead).

Hoping, wishing or even needing to win money has absolutely no influence on the outcome of a game of chance.

* Gambling myths and false beliefs. Agfest Survey Tasmanian Department of Health and Human Services. 2005.

“Machines run hot and cold. You’ve gotta move around”

When the payouts of machines are analysed there are sometimes patterns of more frequent payouts. This is because the random number selector is just that: random. There will be runs of payouts, like when a coin is tossed and a run of heads or tails occurs.

But the mistake is in thinking the machines are programmed to payout in this way and that such runs can be reliably predicted. The chances of a win are exactly the same for every spin. Future gambling outcomes are in no way influenced by previous outcomes.

See also The Gamblers Fallacy at the bottom of the Your Odds page.

“I deserve a big win”

Sometimes when things are going against us and we see other people doing well it’s easy to think “it’s my turn for a lucky break”, or “ I am entitled to a good life and good fortune just as much as the next person”. It’s fine to have these beliefs, but using them as an excuse or reason to gamble won’t improve your chances of winning.

If a person keeps gambling with the belief that they will win because the world owes them in some way they have no better chance of winning than anyone else. The longer you play, the more you lose.

“Gamblers aren’t quitters”

We’ve all heard someone say “you’re not a quitter are you?” as if deciding to stop trying –  with a hobby, or sport, or work task for example – is a sign of weakness. But this can be a risky attitude when it comes to gambling, because chasing losses will lead to more losses over time, as the effect of the house edge and the odds come into play.

Not every gambler knows when to stop. Some keep playing, trying to win back what they’ve lost.

Being reluctant to stop gambling because of an idealised notion of  “hanging in there” is irrational in the face of the reality of the odds and the house edge. Not quitting will mean losing in the long run.

“Winners are grinners”

Some people confuse having a win with a belief like “I’m a winner”, as if they in some way are born winners.  No-one is a ‘winner’ on a game of chance any more than another person. Wins are random, and have nothing to do with what sort of a person the gambler is.

Winning can feel good, but seeking the same feeling through more gambling, and focussing on winning and the good feeling it will bring, while losing sight of the reality of the odds, can lead to losing.

There is also a risk that gamblers seek out the good feeling that came with a win from continued betting, and find it difficult to experience similar feelings, or happiness from other non-gambling experiences.

“I look for the signs.”

Gamblers sometimes describe “lucky charms”, “signs”, and coincidences and associations of events and thoughts, that influence their decisions to gamble. They act on these as if the outcome of the gambling might somehow be different. An example is a gambler who goes into the gaming room for a bet only if they get their “lucky” car space in the venue car park.

The outcome of games of chance is completely unrelated to any of these external events or the way the gambler interprets them.  The only things that influence whether the gambler wins or not is the way the game is designed and manufactured.

“I get a feeling.”

It’s my lucky day! Or is it? Do you ever wake up in the morning with a ‘feeling’ that you might win? Beware: What you ‘feel’ cannot and does not influence the outcome of a bet.

You may win in the short term, you may even have a few wins in a row, and you can think of this as being lucky if you like, but over time ‘luck’ is cancelled out by the certainty of the effects of the game’s odds and the house edge.  The longer you play the more you lose.

“I’ve got a system.”

The outcome of games of chance, particularly lotteries and poker machines, is completely random: You cannot influence it, regardless of what you do. For lotteries, this means that betting the same numbers every week won’t help you win any more than betting different numbers will.  See also, Your Odds

Most people in Tasmania who develop gambling problems do so on poker machines.  Some people play two machines at the same time. Sure, they may win more often, but they will also lose more often, and lose more over time.

There is no system that can beat the pokies.  The house edge is too high. The same goes for people who “double up” their bets. When they win they will win more, but the house edge makes it certain that over time, they will lose.

Stories abound about people who make it rich with “systems”. You’ve probably heard of wealthy punters who “play the odds” on horse racing, wagering with different bookmakers. This may be a system, but it’s one that isn’t available to most gamblers. Only people with unusual mathematical skills, vast reserves of cash, and lots of time to spend studying the market for small windows of advantage across a wide range of potential opportunities might make use of such a ‘system’.

“My luck will change and I’ll win back the money I’ve lost”

Each time you place a bet, the outcome is completely independent of the previous one. The odds are no more in your favour on the tenth bet than they were on the first bet.

See also The Gamblers Fallacy at the bottom of the Your Odds page.

“I almost won; I must be due for a win”.

“Almost” winning in no way means that a real win is around the corner.