Utne Blogs > Science and Technology

In Gambling Brains, Losing Not Much Different from Winning

 by Bennett Gordon

Tags: Science, gambling, Science News, Radio Lab,

Gambling Slot MachineFor gamblers, a near miss at a payoff can trigger the same neurological reaction as winning, according to Science News. Even if the subjects lose money, having two cherries line up in a slot machine, with a third one close by, can activate the same areas of the brain as a win. After a near-miss, the subjects reported that they wanted to gamble more, which could explain some of the allure of gambling. 

Casinos likely know this fact, on some level, and are able to exploit it for profit. Some casinos have come up with advanced techniques to exploit people’s neurological biases and keep them losing money. WNYC’s Radio Lab profiled the efforts of Harrah’s Casino, which uses “loyalty cards” to great success in the casino business. Loyalty card users get a few extra dollars to gamble with, and, in exchange, Harrah’s computers monitor the gambler’s every move, figuring out their innate gambling tendencies. 

The computers are able to deduce the breaking points of individual gamblers. For example, a person might tend to leave the casino after losing $85. Using that knowledge, Harrah’s will send attendants to distract that person with a free meal or tickets to a show after that person loses $72. This tactic eases the pain of loss, and keeps people gambling.

Image by Jeff Kubina, licensed under Creative Commons.

SourceScience NewsRadio Lab