Economic Gambling? – How Conscientious Gambling can be a Healthy Hobby

Conscientious Gambling – how bad is it, really?
Just the word “gambling” conjures up images of wide-eyed betters salivating at their next dice roll, anxiously awaiting the outcome. Or maybe blank-eyed slot players absentmindedly yanking on a level over and over. However, hopes for coins and dollars cascading in a river of winnings can’t help but be partially soured by the “back-of-mind” knowledge that the risk is potentially bigger than the reward and the perceived stigma against gambling as entertainment from your friends and family. Tell someone that gambling is a regular and preferred form of entertainment and you’ll quickly discover how deep society’s resentment against this activity is.

Is it fair, though, for gambling to have such a bad rep? Destructive behavior is possible, as is addiction, but doesn’t that hold true for other more acceptable forms of entertainment?

There is still an overwhelming, pragmatic sentiment against gambling in society as nothing more than an irresponsible money pit. When stacked against other forms of entertainment, there’s a solid argument that gambling is no worse from a “sunk cost” perspective, and could even result in a neutral or (provided you accept its unlikelihood) a net positive.

A game of skill

It is much easier to budget your “acceptable” losses for games like slots and roulette–winning is a possibility, but no matter how strong your superstition, or how sure your “system” is to beat the house, no amount of logic, skill, or technical know-how short of fraud, is going to allow you to turn an objective game of chance into a game of skill. However, just because you can’t try to turn your hobby into a pro-level skill doesn’t mean it ceases to become a valid form of entertainment.

Some gambling requires all luck and zero skill. Pulling a lever on a shiny box? Not exactly skills-based. But, there are other games, mainly card games that require some serious skill across a variety of disciplines. If it requires skill, is it true gambling? Blackjack and card counting can net consistent positive gains for smart betters. This makes us wonder, is gambling bad if done intelligently? What about just conscientiously?
What about investing? When an individual takes a certain amount of money and invests it in a stock or future in order to reap financial gains that are usually seen as a good thing. And yet, all investing carries with it a level of risk. Risk is the primary reason gambling is cited as dangerous or ill advised. As Peter Lynch has said, “an investment is simply a gamble in which you’ve managed to tilt the odds in your favor.”

Responsible vs. irresponsible betting

One could say that being “smart” about gambling—learning the tricks of card counting, or researching sports betting and placing a bet on the most likely scenario – is okay. “Good,” even, because the likelihood it’ll result in a net gain is higher. That would mean, though, that things like scratch off cards, lottery tickets and pure games of chance are “bad” somehow. This distinction may not be arbitrary, but it’s moralism and faith in “skilled” gamblers may be well off the mark, from an economic perspective.

For many recreational gamblers, games of pure chance offer a simple and fun diversion. Many people budget side cash to do things like golf, or see a movie, or take a weekend getaway. When a recreational better sets aside spare cash to use for games of chance, the outcome is exactly the same. A movie or getaway yields a relatively brief period of pleasure that leaves one’s bank account a bit lighter… and so does recreational gambling.

A means, not an end

It’s silly to pretend that gambling is purely innocent. We’ve all heard the stories, and maybe even know someone who has lived it: gambling tore my family apart, gambling left me destitute, and gambling ruined my life.

Yes, it can be said that gambling can be destructive. Most of the time, destruction through gambling is a result of seeing gambling as an end and not a means. Gambling is a means to have some lighthearted fun, of socializing, or of making a sporting event or gathering a bit more entertaining. It’s not a way to solve problems, escape life’s challenges or achieve financial stability.

The moment gambling becomes a way to solve your problems, pay a debt, or make your rent, a line has been crossed that is neon red and flashing WARNING. For gambling to be a responsible and healthy form of entertainment, it must always be just that: entertainment.

Setting clear guidelines

Some would say it’s a slippery slope into problem gambling, and for some people that is true. But for the vast majority of recreational gamblers, setting a few guidelines and expectations can keep them honest and in a responsible state.

It’s important to recognize that for most forms of gambling, the likelihood of losing money is higher than the likelihood of winning money. This is obvious, and easy to recognize logically, but paradoxically, it is also extremely hard to accept internally. Going into any betting or gambling situation with this solid understanding – and not pretending that the rules of logic and chance don’t apply – is the most important step in setting safe boundaries.

Responsible gambling is also limited. Whether you set a time limit, a money limit or a frequency limit – or preferably all of the above – responsible gambling is never a no-holds-barred venture. Set a limit before starting and it’ll be easier to stick to. And, be sure to set a loss limit, and hold yourself accountable to it. No “just one more turn,” if you’ve reached any of your limits. That line of thinking is the slippery slope into dangerous betting.

Keeping an inventory of gambling wins and losses is also a good way to stay honest. It’s easy to write off a few dollars here or there. An inventory will provide a clear, objective picture that highlights trends. It’s also a great way to establish those boundaries in money spent and losses discussed earlier. Seeing also that, in aggregate you are still spending less in a month on gambling than you are on coffee and donuts, you get the added benefit of allowing yourself to enjoy your hobby guilt free and proud of your own prudence.

It’s on you

Ultimately, pursuing gambling as a means of recreation is a personal choice that must be made by an individual and no one else. If one chooses to spend their recreational time and dollars on gambling, it’s that person’s responsibility to ensure they have safe boundaries in place and have the wherewithal to stick to those boundaries. With personal accountability and a little forethought, gambling can be a safe, fun and maybe even lucrative way to spend some free time.

And if nothing else, at least a night of online slots won’t leave your body utterly wrecked for work the next day. At $8 a beer at the club, throwing $20 into a night of low-stakes slots or video poker suddenly sounds much more economical than the $64 hangover you could have purchased.