The Psychology Of Gambling

It was about 2 1/2 months ago when I wrote an article comparing blogging to playing in poker tournaments. Once again I’m diving into the gambling world, this time time the stakes are drastically different (see what I did there?). This is also an updated blog post from over 14 years ago; my memory isn’t bad, but some of what I’m addressing early on isn’t as memorable as I might allude to.

it’s a gamble living in central New York

There was this period of time back then where I read news stories about people in positions of authority that had been caught stealing money from their organizations and using that money to support their gambling habits. Locally, there was the story of a man who’d just been sent to prison for stealing $272,000 or so and spending it all on gambling.

There was another story of a former local school superintendent who’d embezzled at least $176,000 from his school district at the time, and had local folks wondering if he did the same thing here. Then there was another article about how another person, this time at a hospital system in California, was able to embezzle over $750,000 over a two year period, and spent most of that on supporting her gambling habit; ouch! Can you imagine that?

I can honestly tell you that I can see the appeal to gambling, and I can also understand how it can consume you. I love playing poker, and I have those periods of time when I want to retreat into myself and just go play poker. I enjoy talking to people at the table, which happens often once I’ve gotten acclimated to the people sitting there. It’s a good thing I’ve become good enough so that, if I play long term, I will usually come out at least even or with small losses, if not slightly ahead; that’s its appeal.

Everyone sees that big time score around the corner, that chance at the big, instant money, and the glory and happiness that comes with it. And glory does come with it, along with envy, because when you win, everyone else thinks they can win big also.

I’ve felt that tug many times. I didn’t feel it much when I was consulting in Reno in 2008, but I felt it when I was at a conference in Scottsdale, Arizona the year after, and I felt it when I was at a conference in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, a year after that.

Gambling is a solitary and social event all at the same time. If you play slot machines, you can sit at a machine for hours, but you’re out in public with a lot of other people doing the same thing, and for many people those bells are calling out their name, and that ringing sound of a winner, big or small (people never know if someone’s won big unless they hear screaming lol) is tantalizing (glad I don’t like slot machines anymore).

If you play poker, you sit at a table with a lot of other people. Sometimes it’s relatively quiet, but other times it’s quite a social event, and I love hearing older people tell stories, whether they’re old poker stories or other types of stories; I’m a sucker for a good story.

It was a gamble when I bought this car

When I go to the casino, I have one of two mindsets. There’s the mindset that I’m there to have fun. If that’s the case, then my intention is to be able to stick around for a long time, which used to last as long as 14 hours on a weekend day but is now down to maybe 4 hours at most. My normal belief is that if I’m at least having fun and I’ve decided how much money I’m willing to lose, I’m good with it.

The other mindset is that I’m there to win. In this case, I know I’m going to stay for a relatively short period of time, maybe 2-3 hours, the amount I’m willing to lose is minimal, but I now start applying more of those poker skills that I’ve learned over the years, not taking any unnecessary chances, watching every player so I can figure out how they play, and I’m willing to sit for a long time and just keep tossing my cards into the muck and wait for only those hands that I’m pretty sure I know I’m going to win, though nothing is perfect. In poker, there’s rarely a sure thing, so you have to be astute and keep your eyes on everything, and then hope for the best, based on your calculations.

Inherently, there’s a psychology of gambling; this isn’t only an article about gambling at a casino. Every day, there’s someone who’s ready to take a gamble at something. In this day and age, many people are gambling on some sort of business, side hustle, whatever, that they can run on their own. If I may, I’m going to tell you about my entry into the consulting world.

I was working at a hospital system, and I started to notice that some things were occurring that just didn’t make me feel all warm and fuzzy about the status of the organization. I like to think that, with enough information, I can read both people and situations, and I had a feeling something was about to occur. One day I was home on vacation and had what I call a Spidey sense moment. Something told me to go online and read the Rochester newspaper; just out of the blue, just like that.

I went to that site, and the big headline was something like “Hospital System Closes Hospital.” I knew that was coming in my heart of hearts, and had predicted it almost 3 months earlier. Sure, proclamations had come down saying they’d never close that hospital because there wouldn’t be enough beds in the city to support it, but I had my information and intuition, and I knew it wasn’t true. I just didn’t know when; I have my own ESP sense of things from time to time. From that point on, I knew I wouldn’t be working at this hospital system within 9 months.

Three months earlier, I had started thinking about my own exit strategy. I was 41 years old, and I knew that was a major defining moment in the life of a man or woman, as to whether you decide to stay with the status quo, or take a chance to do something else, whether extreme or just something they’ve never done before.

I already had it in my mind that, though I might interview for another position, I really wanted to work for myself. I started doing some research, and I also put a little bit of money away, because I knew I wouldn’t jump right in and start earning the kind of money I was earning already, but had a shot at it eventually.

I gambled when I touched this cow

Less than two months after the one hospital had closed, I was told that my department, and two other departments in my hospital, were being moved to another city. And, because they already had all the directors they needed, they’d create a supervisor position for me, but I’d have to take a 25% pay cut.

Well, not only was the other city now another 30 minutes more away from where I lived, and I was already driving anywhere from 70 to 85 minutes to work each day, sometimes 90 to 100 minutes, but a pay cut, a loss of freedom that I was used to in my present position, as the guy I’d be reporting to was, well, a jerk. Two days later, I said I wouldn’t go, accepted my severance and the offer of going on unemployment, and registered my business name two weeks after my last day on the job.

Talk about your major gamble! When one works in health care, they don’t really think of themselves as working in a consulting business. In New York, all hospitals are not for profit, and the rules are different than for profit hospitals. Normally, if there’s only the one hospital in a community, you don’t have to worry as much about advertising because you’re the only close choice and everyone knows you’re there. So, I came into self employment without any basic marketing or sales skills; I had no clue what I’d be up against.

That first year working on my own, which started in the middle of the year, I earned a little bit of money, nothing great, but fiscally the year ended pretty good, even with the mental stress of dealing with the September 11th terrorist attack on my mind. The next year was murder, though. In my first full year of working for myself, my profit was only $7,600; my second year profit was only around $17,000.

Good thing I had a lot of credit, and good credit, but, as you know, one can’t live off that, even with my ex working a full time job. But everyone already in business said that if I could last to the third year, things would start to turn around. I wasn’t sure how, since I couldn’t really figure out what would magically change in my life to help it turn around. I had learned a little bit more about marketing, and had talked to a lot of people across the country, but I just wasn’t sure about it all.

She gambled touching this ball

On the verge of thinking about declaring bankruptcy, because I just wasn’t sure about it all, my mother called and wanted me to watch some program on TV. I did, and the speaker was giving some motivational words about never giving up, and always keeping a positive spirit and thought alive. Around that same time, I had started listening to motivational tapes and watched the movie The Secret (this leads to a 24-minute excerpt), and started feeling pretty good.

Within a week of watching the movie, I got a paid request to repair someone’s computer, which I could do at the time, and that paid something, not a lot, but it was the start, as it was the first money I’d made that year. Then, only four working days later, I got the call I’d been waiting for, and my consulting business started to take off, and I’ve never looked back. Sure, there are ups and downs, but overall, my income had times where it skyrocketed, and I liked that. It’s definitely not easy to sustain; it can be mind crushing sometimes, like it is right now, as I continue dealing with grief here and there.

Am I done? Well, obviously not, but I’m modifying my reality a bit; I’ll come back to that in a while.

I actually have one dream, rather goal, that, long term, I want to get to, and of course it involves a gamble of sorts. One, I want to be an almost full time professional speaker and hold seminars across the country. I’ve actually already done a good number of each of these, but not enough so that I could consider them as second nature, and it’s been a while since I did my last paid speaking engagement. That would be a lot more fun and have a great potential to last a while… but there’s a lot more people in the field now, and they look better than me. lol

It’s a major gamble, especially as I’m concentrating on something sooner and bigger at the moment. For instance, the time it takes to get one big time speaking engagement a year, one that actually pays you, is phenomenal. There’s a lot of research that has to be done, then back and forth negotiations on the fee, then the outline and practice time and the rest of it. If I had a nice stash of cash lying around, I’d be pursuing that, but it’s a pipe dream at the moment.

That’s the thing about the psychology of gambling. It has to be recognized that everyone does it in some way, and that everyone needs to be able to find a way to control that gamble, overcome the occasional bad gamble, or whether or not you have the constitution to keep at it as long as you might need to.

Would you quit a job that was paying you $40,000 a year to buy your own rig and become a truck driver? I know someone who did, started slowly, then started making a lot of money, and now is back at a tough place because the sustainability in the field he was driving for tanked after the pandemic. Unfortunately, no one can control the gamble for any specific time.

Life is a gamble, no matter what you do. If you think of it that way, you realize that sometimes the gamble is worth it, sometimes it’s not, but with enough information, studying, guts and persistence, along with knowing when you should draw the line, you have a better chance to succeed. What do you think about that?

8 thoughts on “The Psychology Of Gambling”

  1. Wow, this was an in-depth article! I appreciate that you covered the thrill of gambling, while hinting at the problems. As for life choices, it all seems so random, like the trucker.

    At the end of the day, I have to measure the value of my gambles against my current state of happiness. So fat, it’s a net positive: I left the workforce in 2004 and never looked back (excluding “temping”, which I don’t consider in the traditional sense.)

    I think I saved my life by leaving. (Stress KILLS!!!)



    1. I’m still trying to figure out how I can continue doing what you’ve done. As for gambling in general, it can be addicting because there’s always the “promise” of winning. That’s why I play occasional lottery tickets when the amount is high; one never knows, right? lol

  2. Great piece, Mitch. Self-employment can be really tough and it is a gamble, especially when you’re located far away from the action. Nice Daytona though!

    1. Thanks Jack; I loved that car, but I put way too many miles on it before I got my best employment gig. Right now I’m both promoting my business for an opportunity while also looking to see if I can land a nice paying regular job. Neither one is easy; then again, that’s to be expected…

  3. The psychology behind gambling is such a fascinating and complex topic. Your insights into the motivations and behaviors of gamblers shed light on a subject often overlooked. It’s like delving into the human mind and the factors that drive risky behavior. Your article has sparked a whole new level of curiosity in me.

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