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Helping Professionals

Erroneous Beliefs

People hold a number of misconceptions about the nature of random events. Many of these misconceptions are due to the nature of random events and to misunderstandings about the words used to describe the phenomenon. Table 1 summarized these misunderstandings. The first column lists a number of the common misconceptions, or “naive concepts,” that individuals with a gambling problem may express concerning random events. The second column provides a series of statements that describe the true nature of these events. The subsequent few pages provide resource information on probability, odds and randomness to help the therapist understand the difference between the naive concept of randomness and the actual nature of random events.

Table 1. Random events: Naive concepts vs. actual nature


Naive Concept of Random Events

Actual Nature of Random Events

Events are consistently erratic.

Events are just plain erratic (fundamental uncertainty). Random events are often described as “clumpy” because clumps of wins or losses sometimes occur.

Things even out.

Things do not have to even out, but sometimes seem to, as more observations are added (law of large numbers).

If a number hasn’t come up, it’s due. If heads has occurred too often, tails is due.

Numbers that haven’t come up are never due to come up. Coins and dice have no memories (independence of events).

After a few losses a person is due to win.

A player is never due for a win (or a loss). In most games the past tells us nothing about what will occur next (independence of events).

Randomness contains no patterns.

Sometimes random events appear to form patterns. Coincidences do happen (fundamental uncertainty).

If there appear to be patterns, then events are not random and are therefore predictable.

Apparent patterns will occur, but these patterns will not predict future events. Patterns that occur in past lottery or roulette numbers are not likely to be repeated (fundamental uncertainty).

If a betting system, lucky charm or superstition appears to work, it actually does work.

Through random chance, betting systems, charms and superstitions may sometimes appear to work. That success is not likely to be repeated (fundamental uncertainty).

Random events are self-correcting.

Random events are not self-correcting. A long winning or losing streak might be followed by ordinary outcomes so that the impact of the streak will appear to diminish as more events are added (law of large numbers; regression to the mean), but there is no force that causes the numbers to balance out.

If a number comes up too often, there must be a bias.

True biases do sometimes occur (e.g., faulty equipment, loaded dice), but more often an apparent bias will just be a random fluke that will not allow one to predict future events (fundamental uncertainty; independence of events).

A player can get an edge by looking for what is due to happen.

Nothing is certain; nothing is ever due to happen (independence of events).

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