Gambling and other expressions of risk-taking seem to be hard-wired in the human mind. We have evidence of gambling preceding written history, and recent data shows that at least 80% of people in countries like the United Kingdom, USA, and New Zealand have gambled at least once in their life. Still, scientists have yet to understand how casino games affect the mind entirely.

Benefits of recreational gambling

According to research, around 40 million people visit Las Vegas every year. For the majority of them, this is a form of escapism and entertainment. Playing casino games for recreational purposes can have several beneficial effects on the brain.

Improving short-term memory

At a certain age, some people may experience problems with short-term memory. For those who are beginning to struggle with it or have a family history of the condition, it is essential that they keep their brain engaged. According to Dr. Gary Small, a professor of psychiatry and aging, mental stimulation from games and puzzles is generally associated with better memory.

Blackjack is one such game that requires the use of short-term memory. The game also necessitates performing a series of simple tasks, including basic arithmetic and occasional odds calculations, which help exercise the brain. Players can further stimulate their memorization capabilities by learning blackjack strategy charts and trying to utilize them during the gameplay.

Acquiring new knowledge and skill

Learning a new game can be beneficial in the same way that learning a new skill, picking up a hobby, or learning a new language can be. Different brain-training games have long been used to improve significant cognitive areas, such as working memory and sustained attention.

Research has shown that games can help improve cognitive abilities, including reasoning, memory, and processing speed – a process called 'far transfer'. Players who want to avoid the monetary aspect of gambling now have options like, which lists online casinos offering games in demo mode.

Exercising multi-tasking and social skills

Casino games like blackjack, poker, and craps help improve eye-hand coordination and engage multiple senses at once. Playing games that involve active participation enhances visual-spatial skills and the brain's ability to split attention between mental tasks.

Games where players bet against the dealer simultaneously also elicit a sense of camaraderie with the other players at the table. The social aspect of playing games and engagement may be a viable treatment for depression, and it may be used as a tool to improve mood in adults with mild cognitive impairment.

It is important to note that while the lights, sounds, and the tactile feel of chips, cards, and the felt of a table or the control buttons of an online game may be mood-boosting and beneficial to promoting multiple senses, the immersive atmosphere at casinos can also trigger urges to play in people with risky behavior.

While some players can practice safe gambling habits when visiting a land-based casino or a casino online and walk away when they're losing, others may find it hard to quit while they're winning. For some individuals, it is extremely difficult to stop chasing losses.

Addiction researcher Mike J. F. Robinson points out that casino games' reward uncertainty is a significant part of gambling's appeal. When playing casino games, the brain releases dopamine – the neurotransmitter released during enjoyable activities which elicit excitement. However, with casino games, the body produces this neurological response not only when we feel excited after a win but also after a loss.

Avoiding the emotional stress from gambling

Playing casino games can bring many positive emotions, like the thrill of winning, the enjoyment of socializing, or a familiar routine of a pleasant pastime. However, people can also experience stress, regret, or guilt. Certain events like near-misses, which are also evident in smartphone and video games, can increase the addictive potential of games and the desire to play more, especially among problem gamblers.

People can develop problems with gambling due to several factors. Studies from the Conceptual Framework of Harmful Gambling show that among the contributing factors are gambling environment, age, mood disorders, available resources, substance abuse, cultural background, socioeconomic status, and even history of problem gambling in the family.

Identifying problem gambling

In the US, problem gambling was classified as a psychiatric disorder in 1980. Back then, pathological gambling was categorized under impulse-control disorders, a group of disorders that included kleptomania, pyromania, and trichotillomania (hair-pulling). These disorders are characterized by impulsivity or failure to fight an urge or an impulse or resist temptation.

In 2013, problem gambling was categorized as a gambling disorder and was classified under the Substance-Related and Addictive Disorders category, alongside alcohol and drug addictions. This change reflects a shift in the perception of problem gambling as having more in common with addictions than with compulsive disorders. This could also help establish a new approach to the treatment of gambling addiction.

Imaging studies of the brain and neurochemical tests have revealed similarities in the way that the brains of addicts respond to gambling and drugs. Research in neuroscience and psychology shows that gambling activates the brain's reward system in a similar way to the way a drug does.

New studies reveal the biology of risky behaviors

However, new neuroscience findings help shed light on the biological factors behind risky behavior, and the explanation is more complex than dysfunctional reward circuitry. Scientists from the Johns Hopkins University have isolated a part of the brain which is crucial for high-risk behaviors.

In a study involving monkeys trained to gamble, it was revealed that when a region of the brain called the supplementary eye field (SEF), which is also involved in decision-making, is suppressed, risky behavior decreases by 30% – 40%. In other words, the SEF region seems to be the primary influence that directs the attitude toward risky bets.

Scientists not involved in the study have also expressed optimism that isolating a part of the brain which might be responsible for risky behavior is an advancement toward more effective treatment of people displaying high-risk tendencies. The study's findings could also help reduce the side effects of drugs used in the treatment of Parkinson's disease and other neurological diseases whose side effects also include risky behaviors.

Until now, the SEF hasn't been considered as part of the brain's reward center or reward circuitry. Typically, it includes other brain regions that affect pleasurable responses via the neurotransmitter dopamine. However, the reward is complex, and the SEF could be involved in anticipation of reward and helping control dopamine activity.

This article is contributed by Awais Dar (ebzpro) Bio: Awais is passionate to write about health, tech , education , finance as well as for business fundamentals & a little bit in igaming industry. He has an experience of 10 years in creating awesome & useful contents to deliver ideas/knowledge to people.