When it comes to gambling, it may not be best to quit when you’re ahead. A group of researchers has found that when an individual wins in a bet they are more likely to be cautious with future bets, and therefore continue winning.

Believe it or not, there is actually more to a “winning streak” than pure luck, as proved in a recent study conducted by a group of mathematicians from University College London. It included the information from 565,915 online bets made by 776 people. The researchers took timing, as well as winning and losing streaks up to six bets long into account, the Daily Mail reported.

The results revealed that the probability of a first bet winning was 48 percent. The odds for winning slowly increased with 49 percent for the second bet, 57 percent for the third, 67 for the fourth, 72 percent for the fifth. The odds of winning a sixth bet were a favorable 75 percent. The opposite rang true for losers who steadily lost more. After losing the first bet, they were 45 percent more likely to lose all remaining bets.

Why is it that winners continue to win and vice versa for losers? It seems that subconsciously people behave differently depending on the outcome of their bets. Betting strategies are often placed based on previous results, the study explained. The researchers found that as winner streaks increased in length, gamblers became more cautious with the bets they chose to place, causing them to win more often. A gambler in a losing streak is more likely to place riskier bets, which often results in losing. 

The researchers concluded that by believing in the gambler’s fallacy of good luck and bad luck, people actually created their own luck. Winners worried their luck was not going to continue, so they selected safer odds, while losers were convinced their bad luck would soon run out as well, thus placing riskier odds. The researchers believe this suggests that the gamblers who partook in this study did not believe the bets were under their control. Gamblers with winning streaks do not actually have higher payoffs. The study found that there was no significant difference between the payoffs of gamblers who had longer winning streaks and those who did not.

Regardless of whether people win or lose, many will continue to gamble. This is because gambling is a highly addictive activity. When an individual wins at a bet, their dopamine levels will soar. Dopamine is the chemical associated with the feeling of pleasure and elation. However, not everyone who wins a bet becomes a gambler.

Research has shown that gambling addiction have a lot to do with our biology. Pathological gamblers and drug addicts share many of the same genetic predispositions for impulsivity and reward seeking, Scientific American reported. This would explain what sets apart an average person from a full-time gambler. It was also found that gambling, like drugs, can alter many of the same brain circuits in a similar way.

 

Source: Xu J, Harvey N. Carry on winning: The gamblers’ fallacy creates hot hand effects in online gambling. Science Direct. 2014.