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Gambling (or betting) is any behavior involving the risk of money or valuables on the outcome of a game, contest, or other event in which the outcome of that activity is partially or totally dependent upon chance.

Though for many it is a form of recreation, 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 though they are losing. 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.

Gambling may also refer to engaging in any high-risk behavior in which decisions are made based upon incomplete knowledge. (For example, high-risk stock investments, difficult and potentially costly ventures, or even personal relationships.)

Gambling games are believed to predate recorded history, with gambling games recorded in virtually all of the ancient civilizations. Gambling is strictly prohibited in Islamic nations.


Legal aspects

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

Furthermore, gambling is either banned or heavily controlled (licensed) in many jurisdictions. Such regulation generally leads to gambling tourism and illegal gambling. The latter is 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 in 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.

Types of casino gambling

Fixed-odds gambling

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

In addition many bookmakers offer odds on a number of non-sports related outcomes, e.g. the direction of various financial indices, whether snow will fall on Christmas Day, the winner of television competitions such as Big Brother, etc.

See Sports betting below.

Non-casino gambling games

Other types of casino 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 is done in particular when two people have opposing views of what is true or will happen and are each rather certain. Not only do the parties hope to gain from the bet, they place the bet also to demonstrate how certain they are about the issue. A requirement is that it is possible to determine who was right. Sometimes the amount bet is nominal, winning being the important point.

List of notable wagers

Gambling on horse races

One of the most widespread forms of gambling is betting on horse races. The most common types of horse race betting involve betting on races between thoroughbreds or between standardbreds.

Wagering may be conducted in 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 are:

  • 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 and second
  • 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 are known as straight bets, and the remaining wagers as exotic bets. Bettors usually make multiple wagers on exotic bets. A box is a multiple wager in which all possible combinations of a group of horses in the same race are bet. A key is a multiple wager in which a single horse in one race is 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.

In Canada and the United States exotic wagers are made on horses running at the same track on the same program. In the United Kingdom bookmakers offer exotic wagers on horses at differenet tracks. The most common is probably the Yankee, in which 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 nap is a term used to mark the best bet of the day.

A parlay (US) or accumulator (UK) is a series of bets in which the winnings from one race are bet on the next in order until either the bettor loses or the series is completed successfully.

Sports betting

Betting on team sports is an important service industry in many countries. For example, football pools are played by millions of Britons every week.

In Canada and the United States sports betting is usually illegal (Nevada offers full sports betting and the Canadian provinces offer Sport Select, which is government-run sports parlay betting). However, millions engage in it despite its illegality.

In Canada and the United States the most popular sports bets are made:

  • against the spread; that is, the bettor wagers either that the favoured team will win by a specified number of points or that it will not. Betting the favourite is called giving the points and betting the underdog taking the points. See point spread.
  • against odds; the most popular types of bets against odds are simple bets that a team will win and over-under bets, which are 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 be higher or lower than a total specified by the bookmaker.
  • against a combination of odds and spread

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

Staking systems

Many staking systems have been formulated in an attempt to "beat the bookie" but it is still widely accepted that there is no staking system that can make an unprofitable system profitable over time. Below are several widely used systems along with a brief explanation and risk analysis:

  • Fixed stakes – a traditional system of staking the same amount on each selection. This method is good for conservative punters if the stake is kept 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 is very good for conservative punters, although if the profitability of one's bets is independent of the odds the bettor is simply reducing 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 is ruinous in the long run..
  • Kelly (optimal) – fair odds (in the European/decimal format) need to be estimated by the punter and then the stake can be calculated 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 was developed for baccarat but is widely recommended for horserace betting. In betting horseraces the stake is further adjusted 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 until large numbers of bets have been made (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 its profitability has been exaggerated by the use of inappropriate statistical analyses.
  • Martingale – A system based on staking enough each time to recover losses from previous bet(s) until you get a winner. The Martingale is a guaranteed way to failure - the only way it would work is if you have an unlimited bankroll, your bookmaker has no limit on the size of bets and you are immortal!

See also


  • Brisman, Andrew. American Mensa Guide to Casino Gambling: Winning Ways
  • 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
  • Reith, Gerda, Age of Chance

External links

Wikiquote has a collection of quotations by or about Gambling
  • UNLV Gaming Studies
  • Gambling Laws
  • Gambling Games
  • Gambling PhD
  • Gamblers Anonymous
  • National Council on Problem Gambling
  • Institute for the Study of Gambling and Commercial Gaming
  • CARDSHARK Online - covers cheating at card games
  • Gamblers Guide - articles and news reports
  • Gambler's Help Southern, Australia - Problem Gambling Counselling in Australia

Last updated: 02-07-2005 00:12:23
Last updated: 02-25-2005 14:27:08