Near Misses keep us Gambling


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Many slots players know that all-too-familiar feeling of just missing a jackpot. Instead of the five Star symbols they need across the reels, they get four Stars and a Moon, which would still lead to a very good payout. And these "very good" payouts are what keeps many gamblers going.

We all have jackpot dreams, where we hit a giant payout and can afford to buy luxuries that are unreachable to the average person. And getting four out of five jackpot slots symbols or a straight flush in video poker is just as satisfying as a huge prize in most cases.

University of British Columbia Ph.D. student Paul Cocker recently did an interesting study on this phenomenon. His research involved rats and slot-like machines, where the rats pulled a lever to activate the game. Three flashing lights meant the rats won 10 sugar pellets, while two or less flashing lights meant a loss.

If the rats hit the "cashout" lever after winning, they'd get the sugar pellets. Assuming the pushed the cashout button without winning, they'd have to wait 10 seconds until playing the slot-like game again.

What Cocker found was that the rats often went for the cashout lever after getting two flashing lights in a near win. And even though pushing on the cashout level in this instance resulted in a 10-second penalty, they did it anyways because they felt like winners.

What can we learn from Cocker's Study?

Cocker was able to help the rats stop feeling like near-jackpot wins were real wins by giving them a dopamine blocker. By blocking the Dopamine D4 receptor, the rats were less likely to try and cash out after almost winning.

Unfortunately, dopamine blockers haven't been proven to work in humans yet, so many of us are still left feeling like gambling after a close call. However, we can at least become better at bankroll management by being more conscious of the situation.

If you notice yourself wanting to play slots for hours after a near win, you are subconsciously falling for casino tricks. There's a reason why slot machines go off and make loud noises for any win - big or small. If they can make somebody "feel" like a winner they'll want to continue playing. Assuming the person actually gets a near-jackpot win to go along with this feeling, there's a very strong chance they'll keep betting.

Watch your betting patterns after almost winning a big prize from now on. You might just notice that you're wagering more money just because you were so close to a windfall.