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The Unreasonable Gambler

image loading... by Bo Bennett, PhD, Social Scientist, Business Consutlant
posted Friday May 24, 2013 12:00 AM

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Bo Bennett, PhD

Social Scientist, Business Consutlant

About Bo Bennett, PhD

You can read my full bio at http://www.BoBennett.com.

Our intuition seriously fails us in situations for which evolution did not prepare us—like a day at the casino. Consider the following vignette and see if you can spot the errors the "hypothetical you" made in critical thinking. Hint: there are 3 of them.

You are at a casino's roulette table and you are about to bet lots of money on 22 black, but another player tells you that 22 black came up right before you got there. You thank the player profusely and chose another number, "reasoning" that the chances are extremely slim that 22 black will come up twice in a row.

You move on to a lottery-type game where 6 numbers are chosen randomly between the numbers 1 and 40. You strategically choose 3,14,19,26,34, and 39. You peek over at the guy next to you and see that he chose 1,2,3,4,5, and 6. You think to yourself, "what a moron that guy is!"

You move on to shooting craps. You seem to be winning quite a bit at the game and conclude that you are "on fire," figuratively speaking. You choose to miss your dinner reservations "reasoning" that you don't often get a hot streak like this so you might as well take advantage of it.


Roulette wheels don't have memories.  Any number has an equal chance at coming up regardless of the previous results.  If anything, a wheel can be miscalibrated so some number come up slightly more than others.  Casinos frequently rotate wheels because of this imperfection (or at least they use to... this imperfection may have been resolved with newer wheels).

Again, any string of numbers is equally as likely to be drawn.  It does not seem that way because we see patterns but probability does not.  The numbers 1,2,3,4,5,6 are meaningful because we give them meaning.

Hot streaks, especially in games of chance, are nothing more than the inevitable grouping of wins that is bound to end at any turn.  In other words, after 5 wins in a row, your chances are no greater that you will win a 6th time as you will lose.

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