You’re in a casino. Las Vegas. It’s packed with all sorts of people frantically pulling down levers at slot machines and sweating over roulette. Neon colors whirl about in the air, cards are shuffled about and laughter mingles with outbursts of frustration. You are surrounded by an onslaught flashing lights and distracting sounds. It’s chaos. And this is intentional.
There is a very deliberate method to the madness that is a casino, despite outward appearance it will have been carefully controlled…all for the purpose of making money. Casinos are intentionally devoid of clocks and windows to make customers unaware of time and outside priorities. Festive music and captivating light displays emphasize winnings in an attempt to keep customers hopeful about their own odds of success (which keep them coming back for more even after repeated failure). Free alcohol and cocktails are often given out to make gamblers intoxicated and sloppy. An inebriated customer would also have more trouble navigating their way out of the maze-like design of the casino. The entire place is a trap, constructed encourage people to bet bigger and more often…and eventually lose.
But more than just the tailored atmosphere of the casinos themselves, the very act of gambling is addictive. Recently, the DSM-5 changed pathological gambling from a compulsion to an addiction. Neuroscientists have discovered that gambling and drug use can affect the brain in similar ways. The a victory in gambling games flood the brain with dopamine- chemicals that induce euphoria. In a sense, the desire to achieve this “high” can be just as likely to keep chronic gamblers coming back for more just as much as the idea of reclaiming lost money.
But pathological gamblers are not satisfied with a single win. Like drug users, gamblers lose sensitivity to the high of victory, and pursue riskier gambling behaviors to obtain their dopamine fix. The act of gambling can also affect the brain circuits in similar ways to a drug addict.
For chronic gamblers, medications that have been used to treat substance addictions have proved successful. Cognitive-behavioral therapy, which teaches patients to resist unhealthy thought patterns and behaviors has also been a useful treatment. Unfortunately, only 20% of pathological gamblers are estimated to seek help for their addiction.
Whether you are betting your money online or in the Vegas strip, gambling is a tempting and dangerous activity. For myself and I’m sure many others, the idea of going to Sin City, Nevada, for my 21st and visiting casinos is an exciting idea. To be honest, if given the opportunity I’m so I’d go. But casinos are a business, and they are very skilled using psychological tricks in order to exploit their customers and make more money. For some, it is all in good fun. A couple dollars lost on a fun trip. But for others gambling can become a serious addiction that can lead to financial ruin. And nobody benefits but the casinos. The house always wins.