Luck Be a Lady

Another trait competitive athletes have in common with problem gamblers is magical thinking. How many athletes believe rituals, talismans, facial hair or even lucky socks (they don’t change very often), can ensure a win? Likewise, problem gamblers believe they can influence outcomes by repeating specific actions, carrying lucky charms, betting on certain numbers… The fact is, no one truly believes that the cards in their hand will change because they knocked on their chips a specific number of times, or that the reels of a slot machine will land on triple 7’s if they utter a mantra before pulling the handle. At least, they don’t believe it on a conscious level. However, they often feel it. Luck seems to be something tangible, that can be influenced by our actions or even our needs. (How many times have you heard “mama needs a new pair of shoes”?!) Often, this belief is initiated or reinforced by an actual pairing of an object or action with a win (whether it be a sporting event or gambling episode). The person wore those socks and had a win. There. Connection made. This superstitious mindset, independent of mathematical odds or laws of physics, is very compelling. It makes sense, then, that someone who comes by that mindset naturally, that being a superstitious competitive athlete, has the potential to transfer these beliefs if they choose to gamble. Add to that, athletes don’t rely solely on luck. Without the skills required for their sport, they wouldn’t be achieving high levels of competition to begin with. This is why many athletes and former athletes are often drawn to forms of gambling that include a degree of skill. That strongly held identity of being a “winner” we already discussed, paired with a superstitious mindset, might further predispose a competitive athlete to gamble in a disordered way. It would be safer, then, for an athlete choosing to gamble to remember this mantra: “the house always wins.”

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