Gambling (or betting) is any behavior involving risking money or valuables (making a wager or placing a stake) on the outcome of a game, contest, or other event in which the outcome of that activity depends partially or totally upon chance or upon one's ability to do something.

Believers in the old saying about "never putting good money after bad money" offer this wisdom as a good way to keep gambling a pleasure and to stay away from gambling addiction. The saying suggests that after losing wagered money one should stop gambling and just accept the loss, instead of keep betting and losing even more.

In extended usage, gambling may also refer to engaging in any high-risk behavior in which decisions occur based upon incomplete knowledge - for example, high-risk stock investments (see speculation), difficult and potentially costly ventures, or even personal relationships.

Gambling games may predate recorded history, with gambling games recorded in virtually all of the ancient civilizations. Islamic nations officially prohibit gambling; most other countries regulate it.


Legal aspects

Because of the generally negative religious view as well as various perceived social costs, most legal jurisdictions censure gambling to some extent. In particular, in many (most?) cases, the law does not recognise wagers as contracts and views any consequent losses as debts of honour, unenforceable by legal process. Thus organized crime often takes over the enforcement of large gambling debts, sometimes using violent methods. Because contracts of insurance have many features in common with wagers, legislation generally makes a distinction, typically defining any agreement in which either one of the parties has an interest in the outcome bet upon, beyond the specific financial terms, as a contract of insurance. Thus a bet on whether one's house will burn down becomes a contract of insurance, as one has an independent interest in the security of one's home.

Furthermore, many jurisdictions either ban or heavily control (license) gambling. Such regulation generally leads to gambling tourism and illegal gambling - the latter often controlled through organized crime. Such involvement frequently brings the activity under even more severe moral censure and leads to calls for greater regulation. Conversely, the close involvement of governments (through regulation and gambling taxation) has led to a close connection between many governments and gambling organisations, where legal gambling provides much government revenue. Note Monaco.

Psychological aspects

Though many participate in gambling as a form of recreation or even as a means to earn a living, gambling, like any behavior which involves variation in brain chemistry, can become a psychologically addictive and harmful behavior in some people. Reinforcement phenomena may also make gamblers persist in gambling even after repeated losses. Because of the negative connotations of the word, casinos and race tracks often use the euphemism "gaming" to describe the recreational gambling activities they offer.

The famous Russian writer Dostoevsky shows in his short story The Gambler the psychological implications of gambling and how it affects gamblers. He also associates gambling and the idea of "getting rich quick", suggesting that Russians may have a particular affinity for gambling. Dostoevsky shows the effect of betting money for the chance of gaining more in 19th-century Europe. The association between Russians and gambling has fed legends of the origins of Russian roulette.

Help for addictive gamblers

Many organizations exist to help individuals with a gambling addiction. They include Gamblers Anonymous (

Types of gambling

Casino games

"Beatable" casino games

With proper strategy, a smart player can create a positive mathematical expectation.

"Unbeatable" casino games

All players must lose in the long run, no matter what strategy they choose.

Non-casino gambling games

Fixed-odds gambling

Fixed-odds gambling and Parimutuel betting frequently occur at or on the following kinds of events:

In addition many bookmakers offer fixed odds on a number of non-sports related outcomes, for example the direction and extent of movement of various financial indices, whether snow will fall on Christmas Day in a given area, the winner of television competitions such as Big Brother, and so forth. Interactive trading exchanges also offer markets on these outcomes, with "shares" of results trading on an open market.

See Sports betting below.

Gambling on horse races

One of the most widespread forms of gambling involves betting on horse races, most commonly on races between thoroughbreds or between standardbreds.

Wagering may take place through parimutuel pools, or bookmakers may take bets personally. Parimutuel wagers pay off at prices determined by support in the wagering pools, while bookmakers pay off either at the odds offered at the time the bet was taken or at the median odds offered by track bookmakers at the time the race started.

In Canada and the United States, the most common types of bet on horse races include:

  • win– to succeed the bettor must pick the horse which wins the race.
  • place– the bettor must pick a horse which finishes either first or second.
  • show– the bettor must pick a horse which finishes first, second, or third.
  • exacta, perfecta, or exactor–the bettor must pick the two horses which finish first and second and specify which will finish first
  • quinella or quiniela– the bettor must pick the two horses which finish first and second, but need not specify which will finish first.
  • trifecta or triactor– the bettor must pick the three horses which finish first, second, and third and specify which will finish first, second and third.
  • double– the bettor must pick the winners of two successive races; most race tracks in Canada and the United States take double wagers on the first two races on the program (the daily double) and on the last two (the late double).
  • triple– the bettor must pick the winners of three successive races; many tracks offer rolling triples, or triples on any three successive races on the program.
  • sweep– the bettor must pick the winners of four or more successive races.

Win, place and show wagers class as straight bets, and the remaining wagers as exotic bets. Bettors usually make multiple wagers on exotic bets. A box consists of a multiple wager in which punters bet all possible combinations of a group of horses in the same race. A key involves making a multiple wager with a single horse in one race bet in one position with all possible combinations of other selected horses in a single race. A wheel consists of betting all horses in one race of a bet involving two or more races. For example a 1-all daily double wheel bets the 1-horse in the first race with every horse in the second.

People making straight bets commonly employ the strategy of an 'each way' bet. Here the bettor picks a horse and bets it will win, and makes an additional bet that it will show, so that theoretically if the horse runs third it will at least pay back the two bets.

In Canada and the United States punters make exotic wagers on horses running at the same track on the same program. In the United Kingdom bookmakers offer exotic wagers on horses at different tracks. Probably the Yankee occurs most commonly: in this the bettor tries to pick the winner of four races. This bet also includes subsidiary wagers on smaller combinations of the chosen horses; for example, if only two of the four horses win, the bettor still collects for their double. A Trixie requires trying to pick three winners, and a Canadian or Super Yankee trying to pick five; these also include subsidiary bets. The term nap identifies the best bet of the day.

A parlay (US) or accumulator (UK) consists of a series of bets in which bettors stake the winnings from one race on the next in order until either the bettor loses or the series completes successfully.

(Similarly, greyhound racing offers a popular betting alternative to horse racing in many countries.)

Sports betting

Betting on team sports has become an important service industry in many countries. For example, millions of Britons play the football pools every week. At sports betting, players may beat the bank.

Most jurisdictions in Canada and the United States regard sports betting as illegal (Nevada offers full sports betting and the Canadian provinces offer Sport Select - government-run sports parlay betting). However, millions engage in sports betting despite its illegality.

In Canada and the United States the most popular sports bets include:

  • against the spread - the bettor wagers either that the favoured team will win by a specified number of points or that it will not. Giving the points involves betting the favourite, and taking the points means betting the underdog. See point spread.
  • against odds; the most popular types of bets against odds comprise simple bets that a team will win and over-under (bets on the total points, runs, or goals scored by both teams). In making an over-under bet, the bettor wagers that the total will exceed or fall short of a total specified by the bookmaker.
  • against a combination of odds and spread

In sports betting a parlay involves a bet that two or more teams will win. In the United States gamblers have made the parlay card one of the most common forms of sports betting: here bettors wager on the outcomes of two or more games. If all their picks win, they collect. Most such betting occurs in workplaces.

Other types of betting

One can also bet with another person that a statement is true or false, or that a specified event will happen (a "back bet") or will not happen (a "lay bet") within a specified time. This occurs in particular when two people have opposing but strongly-held views on truth or events. Not only do the parties hope to gain from the bet, they place the bet also to demonstrate their certainty about the issue. Some means of determining the issue at stake must exist. Sometimes the amount bet remains nominal, demonstrating the outcome as one of principle rather than of financial importance.

Staking systems

Many people have formulated staking systems in an attempt to "beat the bookie", but most still accept that no staking system can make an unprofitable system profitable over time. Widely-used systems include:

  • Fixed stakes – a traditional system of staking the same amount on each selection. This method suits conservative punters if the stake remains below 5% of the bank.
  • Fixed profits – the stakes vary based on the odds to ensure the same profit from each winning selection. This method suits conservative punters well, although if the profitability of one's bets varies independently of the odds the bettor simply reduces his or her cash flow.
  • Due-column betting – A variation on fixed profits betting in which the bettor sets a target profit and then calculates a bet size that will make this profit, adding any losses to the target. For example, to make a target of $100 profit a bettor would wager $50 at odds of 2 to 1. If the bet loses, the target becomes $150. If the next bet is also at odds of 2 to 1, the wager therefore becomes $75. This type of wagering can prove ruinous in the long run.
  • Kelly (optimal) – the punter needs to estimate fair odds (in the European/decimal format) and then calculate the stake using :
Stake= (Odds/(Fair odds-1))/(Odds-1) Many times used with a divider (most commonly 4 or 8) depending on your bankroll (for betting)
This system developed for baccarat but many people recommend it for horserace betting. In betting horseraces punters further the adjust the stake to allow for inaccuracy in estimating fair odds. Computer simulations ( suggest that in betting horseraces Kelly betting increases losses during losing streaks, that it fails to demonstrate superiority over fixed-stakes betting unless making large numbers of bets (a drawback in horserace betting because the bettor usually has no reasonable expectation that any betting advantage he or she has will last over a long series of bets), and that inappropriate statistical analyses have exaggerated its profitability.
  • Martingale – A system based on staking enough each time to recover losses from previous bet(s) until you get a winner. The Martingale guarantees failure - it would only work if the bettor has an unlimited bankroll, the bookmaker has no limit on the size of bets and both never die!

List of notable wagers

Associated word usage

  • The English expression "I bet that xxxxx", meaning "I consider it very probable that xxxxx", need not carry any suggestion of the speaker intending to gamble.
  • The English word hazard originated as Arabic az-zār or al-zār, which meant a type of dice game. Compare also the English word "dicey" meaning "risky".
  • Scientists have dubbed certain random-number-based calculation algorithms the "Monte Carlo method".

See also


  • Brisman, Andrew. American Mensa Guide to Casino Gambling: Winning Ways (Stirling, 1999) ISBN 080694837X
  • Ortiz, Darwin. Gambling Scams: How They Work, How to Detect Them, How to Protect Yourself (Carol, 1990) ISBN 0396083668 (Hardcover) ISBN 0818405295 (Paperback)
  • Reith, Gerda. Age of Chance: Gambling in Western Culture ISBN 0415179971 (Hardcover) ISBN 0415263093 (Paperback)
  • Steinmetz, Andrew. The Gaming Table: Its Votaries and Victims Gutenberg text (
  • Thorp, Edward O. Beat the Dealer: A Winning Strategy for the Game of Twenty-One (Vintage, 1966) ISBN 0394703103

External links


it:Gioco d'azzardo ja:ギャンブル lt:Lošimas nl:gokken no:Hasard pl:Hazard simple:Gambling zh:赌博 sv:Hasardspel


  • Art and Cultures
    • Art (
    • Architecture (
    • Cultures (
    • Music (
    • Musical Instruments (
  • Biographies (
  • Clipart (
  • Geography (
    • Countries of the World (
    • Maps (
    • Flags (
    • Continents (
  • History (
    • Ancient Civilizations (
    • Industrial Revolution (
    • Middle Ages (
    • Prehistory (
    • Renaissance (
    • Timelines (
    • United States (
    • Wars (
    • World History (
  • Human Body (
  • Mathematics (
  • Reference (
  • Science (
    • Animals (
    • Aviation (
    • Dinosaurs (
    • Earth (
    • Inventions (
    • Physical Science (
    • Plants (
    • Scientists (
  • Social Studies (
    • Anthropology (
    • Economics (
    • Government (
    • Religion (
    • Holidays (
  • Space and Astronomy
    • Solar System (
    • Planets (
  • Sports (
  • Timelines (
  • Weather (
  • US States (


  • Home Page (
  • Contact Us (

  • Clip Art (
Personal tools