Why Is Gambling So Popular on the Internet?

My son asked me a hard question to answer. He said, “Dad what is gambling?” I replied with, “Gambling is where you make a bet with someone.” “But what is betting?” he asked.

A pair of kings in a Real Poker game.
Online gambling is popular for several reasons. But maybe we should look elsewhere for entertainment.

That turned into one of those “why” conversations where every answer is met with “why” or “what”. I love these talks with my kids because I love their curiosity and their wanting to understand the world around them. The chat lasted maybe five minutes but it got me to thinking.

What exactly is gambling and betting and risk-taking and why do we do it? A lot of people have tried to answer that question. I’m not sure how successful they have been at doing so.

I searched Google for the answer and found this article titled “What Is Gambling?”, which is so aptly named. They say “Gambling is the act of risking the loss of something you value on the outcome of an event that you cannot be sure of” But how do you explain that to a child?

Risk is an element of life. If you walk outside your door you may be hit by an automobile, robbed at gunpoint, or attacked by a rabid dog. You are much less likely to suffer these consequences if you stay inside but you could still suffer the worst of calamities.

We think of our homes as safe places, just as animals think of their dens as safe places. And that is because life tends to respect the home of life. Sure a hungry predator may invade a small animal’s home but there is a chance they won’t come out alive. It is that uncertainty that defines risk for us.

There is no risk if there is certainty. If you’re sure you can put your foot down and not fall through the floor then you are not risking anything. So I think gambling is trying to enhance the risk by offering a greater reward.

But why do we gamble? I looked at some reasons why people gamble and concluded that we do it because our bodies have set up a risk-reward system. This is probably nature’s way to make sure we get out and find mates, keep feeding ourselves, or learn to run away from burning/flooding homes.

If you take risks and they pay off, you don’t just get something in return for your effort. You body sweetens the deal by making you enjoy that payoff. In fact, just last month there was a report that gamblers enjoy winning money more than they enjoy sex.

Gambling isn’t just sexy to many people, it is a substitute for sex because our brains have subtle reward systems that promote behaviors that may produce biologically good results.

And just as sex in the form of pornography is so wildly popular on the Internet gambling is too, probably for the same reason. Everyone wants that internal payoff at least as much as the external one. Winning makes us feel good and we want to feel good.

Having realized this I am glad my son was finally satisfied with my answers. He’s not yet ready for the sex talk. Or maybe I am not ready for the sex talk. Telling your kids that sex makes you feel really good but they are not supposed to do that has always struck me as a very mixed signal.

I don’t want my daughters to get pregnant before they are ready to raise families but their puberty is approaching. Some day they are going to find out about sex whether mommy and daddy tell them or not. And the same is true about gambling. I hope by then I am ready to explain ALL the facts of life to my kids.