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Why Problem Sports Gamblers Need Different Treatment

Problem sports betters tend to overestimate their abilities to predict outcomes. Cognitive behavioral therapy can help problem sports gamblers overcome this illusion of control.

People who gamble in casinos tend to understand the random chance element of gambling better than sports betters, who tend to overestimate their ability to predict outcomes.

The Study

People with extensive experience and knowledge of a sport may overestimate their ability to predict the outcome of games and this may influence their gambling behaviors. To see whether sports knowledge confers a gambling advantage, researchers at Tel Aviv University recruited three groups of people to participate in a study on sports betting:

  • The 53 subjects in group 1 were all professional sports gamblers
  • The 34 subjects in group 2 were very knowledgeable soccer fans, who had never gambled
  • The 78 subjects in group 3 were neither soccer fans nor gamblers

For the study, all subjects were asked to bet imaginary money on the outcome scores of the 16 games of the UEFA Champions League second round playoff.

The Outcome

All groups had the same performance.

  • No group performed better at predicting the outcome scores of soccer games. In fact, the 2 subjects with the best performance in the study came from the group of non-fans.
  • Although people who have extensive sports knowledge believe they hold a gambling advantage over the sports naive, this belief is incorrect.

The Significance

The study authors write, “Sports gamblers seem to believe themselves the cleverest of all gamblers. They think that with experience and knowledge -- such as player's statistics, manager's habits, weather conditions, and stadium capacity -- they can predict the outcome of a game better than the average person."

The researchers argue that conventional gambling therapies, which treat the gambling as an impulse control problem, won’t work for problem sports betters, who really need cognitive behavioral therapy to overcome their mistaken illusion of control problem.

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