A lot of people have heard of the gambler’s fallacy but many people don’t know what it is, how exactly it applies to gambling, or why people believe the fallacy so often (even when they know it’s not true). Hopefully this little primer on the topic will shed some light on the gambler’s fallacy. What Is The Gambler’s Fallacy? The gambler’s fallacy comes from the belief that isolated events are indicative of a larger whole. Simply put, if someone sees that a large number of certain events are occurring then that person will put stock in the idea that it will happen again. For example, if a person is playing roulette and losing because the spin lands on 00 repeatedly, the person may then bet on 00, believing that 00 will continue to come up. For another example, if a person is betting on the roll of a dice and it continues to come up with a six more often than not, the person may decide to continue to place their bets on six. It’s essentially the idea that a certain outcome is determined by outside forces. This fallacy is similar to the hot-hand fallacy which is when someone believes a person who is involved in a game of chance is somehow skilled due to luck. It is also if a person believes someone who is unlucky is unskilled at a game of chance. Why It Doesn’t Make Sense Statistics on games of pure chance always have a constant probability no matter how many times they are repeated. A coin flip is always a 50/50 chance, a die roll is always a one-in-six chance, and every roulette spin is either one-in-thirty-seven or one-in-thirty-eight, depending on if you’re playing European or American roulette. Even a series of these chance events always has a certain probability. To elaborate on the above examples, if a die is thrown five times in a row a better has the same probability that they will win all five times by guessing the same number repeatedly (1.2%) as they would if they guessed five random numbers in a row. In flipping a coin five times this probability is 3.1% and in spinning a roulette wheel five times (assuming you bet on numbers and not red or black) the probabilities are both .000001% no matter which version of roulette you’re playing. How It Can Work For You Although the gambler’s fallacy is mostly as good as random chance and based entirely on other factors (which we will get into a little later) it does have a few benefits. For example, if you notice that a coin lands on heads 75% of the time when flipping the coin a significant number of times (say, one hundred times) then you have a pretty good idea that the coin’s weight distribution favors heads. For a more malicious example, if you’re making a few bets on the rolls of a die and it is thrown one hundred times, coming up a four 75% of the time, you have a good idea that the die is rigged. When Is It A Fallacy? The gambler’s fallacy only fallacious in games of pure chance. If a game is dependant on a series of random events then it is not a fallacy. For example, if you were playing a game of blackjack where the deck is not shuffled between every hand and the cards are simply discarded after each hand then you would have a good idea about what cards are more likely to come up. If you saw that three of your opponents had two face cards each, you would be justified in thinking that there are less face cards in the deck even though the game began with a random deck of cards and still has an element of randomness to it. The belief in repeated events is also not a fallacy when playing games of pure skill. If your favorite football team is having a bad season and is currently 1-8 and is playing a game against a team who is 9-0, it is safe to bet on the other team since there is very little in the way of randomness in the game. Why Do We Believe the Fallacy? This belief essentially comes from our ancient ancestors as a survival mechanism. If a person were to eat berries off of an unknown bush and got sick every time, they would learn that those berries are not good to be eaten. On the other hand if they were hunting and learned a strategy to kill or subdue prey, they would repeat this strategy over time because it has worked in the past. When it comes to games of chance, people still tend to hold to the beliefs of our caveman ancestors even though it is nonsensical to do so. Even when we know in the logical side of our minds that an event always has the same probability when reset, the emotional side of our brains believes that it is somehow a sign even in a small sample size (say, five times). To further understand why this is a fallacy, consider this: if you were shown a study where the interviewer asked five people a certain question and received the same responses from all five people would you consider that a good estimation of what whole of America thinks? On the other hand, consider if the same interviewer asked 3,000 people that question and got the same response from 2,500 respondents. Would you consider it a safe bet that the answer is an accurate representation of what the American public thinks? And, finally, this belief also can come about because of the feeling that many people have that the universe inherently balances itself out. When someone says something along the lines of “I’m due for a win,” they are engaging in this exact idea. They believe that, because they are losing, they are somehow closer to winning. Now that you know what the gambler’s fallacy is, when it comes into effect, and why we feel that it is correct, hopefully you can counter that the next time you’re in a game of pure chance!