I’ve asked myself: is there any particular reason that so many people consider gambling a taboo? Is it really so different from other, more accepted, forms of betting?
Trading and gambling are similar in that they both involve taking calculated risks in order to generate a capital gain; neither approach produces a new product or service. Yet within our society gamblers continue to be seen in a more negative light than traders from a financial background.
In this post I explore the social factors that contribute to this bias.
1. No “New Wealth”
While you could earn a profit (or even making a living) from gambling, no additional product or “wealth” is created. This isn’t unique to gambling, though. It’s equally true for financial, Crypto and other types of trading.
So what exactly is “new wealth” if it isn’t purely measured in terms of profit?
Well, it can come in many forms. Generally it refers to a product or service that others find valuable. For example, a suit tailor, psychologist, mechanic, baker or police officer.
Arguably, financial or sports traders create market liquidity which benefits long-term investors/bettors, which provides some form of value. But that’s a stretch. The bottom line is that trading and gambling involves capital transfer without capital creation. Society prefers the tailor-type endeavour because it creates something beneficial to others.
Side thought: Does Punter2Pro.com create “new wealth” by providing its readers with betting advice?
2. A “Mug’s Game”
It’s widely known that Casinos & Bookmakers have an ‘edge‘ or ‘overround‘ that keeps the odds in their favour. With the odds against the players, society treats gambling in a similar regard to alcohol or tobacco: it’s legal, regulated, but poses a serious risk to the consumer. Gambling is essentially seen as a “mug’s game”.
In contrast, financial trading isn’t deemed as being ‘unfair’ as the markets are not managed by a specific entity that holds an advantage. The danger is there — but not as widely emphasised as it is with gambling. Yet, often, the financial risks from trading are much higher than in gambling — partly due to the use of borrowed capital (debt).
Nonetheless, the sports betting industry already offers platforms such as Betfair that mimic, and rival, the stock market in terms of transparency and fairness. Sports betting no longer deserves its longstanding reputation for being a “mug’s game” — because players need not bet at reduced odds that are “rigged” against them. Indeed punters have had betting exchanges — where the public forms the odds — at their disposal for over two decades.
However, despite Betfair (and its other imitators) bringing such revolutionary products to the market, the average gambler doesn’t recognise the gravity of that breakthrough. In fact, Betfair themselves realised players wouldn’t conform to their trading product and resorted to incorporating a traditional Bookmaker — with inferior odds to their exchange — into the very same website. Crazy, right?
The tradition of the Bookmaker lives on. And while it does, I don’t envisage that any form of sports betting will be regarded as an ‘investment’ in our society. It’ll remain a taboo.
Learn more about Bookmakers from my post: How Do Bookmakers Earn? How Big Is Their Edge?
3. “Unskilled” & “Lazy”
Professional gamblers have a tough time shaking negative labels. An average non-gambler will often view a professional gambler as naïve, unintelligent, unskilled — or even even lazy. The hard work is not recognised.
There’s a perception that professional gamblers are trying to cut corners, attempting to avoid to the daily grind of the workplace and everything else it entails. There’s a disbelief — or reluctance to believe — that it’s possible to earn a substantial living from gambling, and that it takes hard work. Yes, there are many bettors who have tried and failed. Many give up early. But there are also some highly intelligent minds that succeed in both the sports and casino betting worlds on a long-term basis.
Professional gambling isn’t guesswork. Building and refining predictive models for sports events can take years of trying — not to mention advanced mathematical and programming skills. The combined efforts of intelligent analysts and traders have helped to make sports betting odds so sharp that its no easy feat to become a professional bettor in the first place nowadays. Professional gambling is not an easy way to avoid employment; it’s a highly competitive field filled with many smart people at play.
Sports betting is gradually following the financial markets down the road of trend/statistical analysis. In the coming decade we can expect to see many more index-type sports betting products hitting the market. This will no doubt attract even more academics, and is likely to shift the public’s “unsophisticated” perception in due course.
4. Not a “Real Occupation”
You’re unlikely to be taken seriously if you say “I’m a professional gambler”.
Our society encourages to aspire for certain professions by studying it, or taking a course. There’s nothing in place for anyone looking to enter the professional gambling field.
There’s no large-scale company to work for in the city centre, no skyscraper, no glamour — no presence. In our society professional gambling is so off the grid that it isn’t seen a “real” job at all. Yet Crypto and finance trading is largely seen as exciting, modern, exciting, and smart. Jobs are constantly created around it.
I’ve experienced the stigma attached to gambling first hand. Several freelance programmers declined to work on my Betfair trading projects in fear that doing so would tarnish their CV and narrow their career prospects. They recognised the real taboo of gambling. My response was “but we’re building algorithms for Betfair trading programs. Why’s that so different to programming for any other type of investment?”.
Professional gambling has a long-standing tradition of existing in the shadows. Most professional gamblers are entrepreneurs who quietly operate without making too much noise — and why would they speak up while they’re happily earning a living while others cast them aside?
5. Debt, Addition & Problem Gambling
Gambling is like smoking. Infrequently — let’s say once a month — it probably isn’t going to cause you serious harm (unless your cigarette is exceptionally large). But it’s all too easy to start doing it more. Once you start making an impulsive habit of it then you’re inevitably going to lose out in the long term.
Whether you use an app or physical shop, there’s ample opportunities to start betting at any time. You only need to be 18+ years old (depending on where you reside), with as little as £1 to bet with. Walk through any town in the UK and you’ll find at least one betting shop — even if the rest of the area is seemingly abandoned. Betting shops thrive in poor areas as well as the rich.
Addiction and debt are serious problems associated with gambling, and those who cannot afford losses suffer the most. Unfortunately this leaves some social groups, or personalities, more vulnerable than others. Gambling companies do the minimum to help these groups, with profit being the key objective. This, rightfully, contributes to the taboo surrounding the industry.
Learn more about greed witihin the gambling industry.
6. Criminal Activity
Our society associates gambling with criminals.
Consider some of the popular TV or film characters of our generation — Tommy from Peaky Blinders, Tony Soprano, Brick-Top from Snatch. How about Sam Rothstein (Robert De Niro) in Casino or Lester Murphy (Edward Norton) in Rounders. Pretty much every mainstream depiction of gambling involves crime.
The stereotypical & fictional mob-like gangsters that we associate with gambling often commit crimes such as money laundering through casinos, loan sharking to addicts, unlicensed bookmaking and betting scams. These evidently still take place in the real world, no doubt about it. But other industries have their fair share of crooks — there’s plenty of illicit activity in the financial markets, for instance…
7. Religious Factors
In our diverse society there are mixed religious and cultural values. Some — but not all — religions consider gambling a taboo.
Gambling is specifically forbidden according to most ascetic Hindu practices, while less stringent sects tend to look at the motivations and outcomes of gambling to determine its morality. Jews believe gambling to be a sin because the loser in gambling wasn’t expecting to lose. Muslims view the addictive nature of gambling as destructive to the security of family and society. Christians, however, have no solid stance since Jesus said little about gambling specifically.
Religious views don’t explicitly condemn trading, though. Trading isn’t technically “gambling”, despite it’s similarity. Furthermore, financial trading was non-existent — and probably inconceivable — at the time that most religious scripts were written; gambling was however present. Therefore it’s now down to one’s own interpretation of their religion to decide what really constitutes “gambling”. Thus trading may circumvent the rules.
Do you consider gambling a taboo? How do you view professional gamblers?
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