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Gambling Styles Reflect Players' Inner Motivations

6 March 1995

ayers, read on at your own peril! This week's column is for casino workers, theorizing why competent bettors exposed to similar information and gaming experiences wager so differently. It touches on points where many players are tender, such as:

Why some old hands chart tables and machines, track previous results, or follow "systems" when every proper pundit pooh-poohs such practices.

Why some frequent players are more eager to socialize and gain dealer approval for their action than to win money.

Why some deft craps shooters shave house edge by holding to the line and come with high odds, while other veterans knowingly also go for hardways, props, and other "sucker bets."

Why some experienced roulette fans favor individual numbers while others put their money on the "outside."

Why some proficient bettors aggressively press winnings and chase losses while others keep their wagers constant.

It all has to do with the specialized field of motivational psychology. Motivational psychologists trace overt behavior patterns to intrinsic needs. Of the many possible categories, a widely-accepted first cut holds drives for power, relationships, and achievement as primary motivations. These incentives purportedly influence paths people follow in life, and whether options they choose or fall into are successful and satisfying.

Power-oriented people need to impress and impact others. They prefer a few stunning triumphs to a long series of modest profits, and would often rather bomb-out with a bang than win with a whimper.

Relationship-oriented people need to make friends, form close emotional ties, and avoid personal rejection. They're noncompetitive, rarely framing goals in terms of victory and defeat.

Achievement-oriented people need to excel, outdo others, on the strength of their own skills. They plan and follow strategies they believe should yield rewards.

Inner motivations can come to the fore in casinos, unfettered by the normal constraints imposed by society. The dice don't care who throws them, nor the machines who pulls the handle. This freedom may underlie both why gaming appeals to diverse audiences and how different individuals respond to the environment.

Gambling was once mostly the domain of the power-motivated. The allure was the thrill of sensational success, the bragging rights attending spectacular failure, the dazzle of the lifestyle. These factors still draw power-motivated players. Witness the bettors who take longshots, vigorously press and parlay, risk winnings exceeding what they earn in a week on the job for a chance at what they otherwise can't make in a year or a lifetime.

Relationship-oriented patrons are a big part of today's casino scene, especially in places that court frequent players. Where else can solid citizens with downscale budgets get upscale treatment, belong to "exclusive" clubs, be invited to classy parties, and have personal attention from hosts whose solicitude is so sincere cynics mistake it for pandering? Here are the players who'd as soon gab as gamble, who toke too much and too often for their action (but who's griping?), who're as happy with points for insider perks as with winnings.

Achievement-driven individuals are the least apt to pick gaming as a leisure option because they're uneasy with the "something for nothing" image they have of the activity. Those who realize casinos aren't really dens of iniquity tend to relish the challenge of methodical ways to beat the odds in games of chance. Achievers bet to minimize house edge, rarely press, smugly quit with small gains. They're puzzled if they lose playing "correctly" while bozos win making mathematically weak bets or decisions. Not incongruously, they also include folks so eager to find logic and order in what's otherwise chaos that they fall for screwball systems and took the gold in the coupon olympics of the '80s.

Casino employees' own own motivations shape their perceptions of their customers. Executives may wonder why anyone gambles at all. dealers sometimes identify with one type of player and think the rest could save themselves grief by just mailing in their money. They may be surprised when someone they think is adept makes moves you consider dumb. Like meekly keeping the "same bet" on the boxes when a craps shooter is burning up the felt. Or assertively parlaying one winning blackjack bet after another, then losing without locking up a profit. These gambling styles may be inconsistent with what dealers think they "know." But they may be quite consistent with what brought the particular individuals to the casino. As Sumner A Ingmark, the psychiatrists' psalmist, said in his Ode to Freud:

Who can guess what motivates a fella?
You like chocolate, I prefer vanilla.
You play hunches, I am systematic,
Right or wrong, we're equally emphatic.

Alan Krigman

Alan Krigman was a weekly syndicated newspaper gaming columnist and Editor & Publisher of Winning Ways, a monthly newsletter for casino aficionados. His columns focused on gambling probability and statistics. He passed away in October, 2013.
Alan Krigman
Alan Krigman was a weekly syndicated newspaper gaming columnist and Editor & Publisher of Winning Ways, a monthly newsletter for casino aficionados. His columns focused on gambling probability and statistics. He passed away in October, 2013.