A broad perspective on why gambling is so much fun

A broad perspective on why gambling is so much fun

For me, it’s mostly about the excitement, or the lack of it during daily life. Work and studies can be fun, satisfying, inspiring, and all that. It can also be a living hell if you haven’t found a place to unleash your true passion to control those ardent desires that are trying to burn a hole through your chest. They want to be felt. Act upon those fires. Control them. Extinguish them. Set fire again afterwards. Stay alive. Be eager and do what you’ve got to do. Gambling is just a distraction. A solution for dullness. Or not?

The word gambler dates back to the 1700’s. It was used as a slang term for cheaters, or reckless players of a game. Gaming, derived from the Anglo-Saxon gamenian meaning to play or to sport, was used for wagering on the outcome of events. Gambling nowadays is known as “playing games for money or other stakes”, or “anything involving risks and uncertainties”[1].  

Gambling as entertainment is a strange phenomenon

Risk and uncertainty are at the core of a fun night out at the casino with friends, a poker night at home, or any other game you can think of that’s worth the joy to wager on. Heads or tails for $10 a flip is also fun to spice up pastime. It’s mainly about the money contributing to entertainment. But, why? What does playing games for money and taking risks make good entertainment? We need it, yes. You don’t want to lose it, but that’s always a possibility when you start gambling. What’s the fun in that? It doesn’t seem to be a very rational thing. Probably because it isn’t. Gambling for other stakes, such as assigning a (crazy) task to the loser, makes more sense when entertainment is the explicit goal.

The unknown is thrilling

Not knowing beforehand what’s going to be the outcome of a game, is what makes wagering exciting. Of course, you can calculate the chances of winning or losing within all different kind of games, but the outcome won’t be a certainty, unless you’re hustling. The joy can come from that powerful and satisfying feeling of winning. If it’s not that, you probably feel something in the form of joy when you gain financially by playing a game. In case of gambling for other stakes, such as making the loser do a striptease, a sense of relief might dominate your feelings if you win. Although, the fun in that might depend on who lost. I’m just saying.

There is more to it than just thrills

There is more to gambling than just joy, excitement, and relief. Let’s broaden our perspective on gambling by using some anthropological insights. Gambling was, and is, often seen as “an individualized, private affair, and so intensely isolating it all too often leads to addiction”[2], which is why it’s subject to psychology and medical studies. A night out at the casino with friends or a poker night at home, prove that gambling is not always an isolating, and individual affair. It’s a social activity as well. Online gambling probably contributes more to gambling as a private affair. But, even then there’s a social component to gambling, especially when you’re playing poker online, which is immensely popular. Players interact with each other while they’re playing a tournament. They try to understand each other’s way of thinking and look for patterns. Clifford Geertz, a pioneer in the discipline of cultural anthropology, portrayed the act of gambling:

not as a solitary individual confronting an impersonal statistical risk, but as an occasion of social intercourse in which participants create, reify and internalize a shared web of meaning[3].


Many factors influence the way gambling is being perceived and how people experience the act of gambling. Cultural values, religion, religious values, social landscapes, wealth, social class and status, moralities, and emotions among other things, are all important aspects for what gambling means to someone. In my opinion, creating and internalizing a shared web of meaning by finding common ground between all these aspects, is what makes this irrational entertainment so much fun. Joy and other emotions, judgements, understandings, and experiences derive from that common ground we create.

That’s all I wanted to say, for now. I don’t want to bother you with an extensive anthropological essay. By the way, I’m not addicted. I like the excitement and yes, I’ll be careful, wise, and everything else you and my beloved friends would tell me. It’s just one of those things, you know. Being excited about the unknown while finding myself on common ground.

[1] Price, J.A. (1971) ‘Gambling in Traditional Asia’ Anthropologica 14-2: 157-180.

[2] Blackshaw, S. (2015) ‘Classic Book Review: Gambling – Hazard and Reward’ Annals of Leisure Research 18- 3: 431-433.

[3] Sallaz, J.J. (2008) ‘Deep plays: A comparative Ethnography of Gambling Contests in Two Post-Colonies’ Ethnography 9-1: 5-33.

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About Pepijn de Wit

I’m an adventurous 30-year-old from the Netherlands. I started playing pool as a nine-year-old standing on an empty Coca-Cola crate to be able to reach the cue ball and grew out to a hobbyist with 15 national titles on his name. Now, I consider myself a one pocket enthusiast and push for one pocket to electrify the Netherlands and Europe. I therefore started the One Pocket Series, a national tour to promote the game. Next to that, I've studied cultural anthropology, I currently work at a casino, and truly love the outdoors. My ambitions are big, my dreams even bigger.