Gambling is a unique hybrid of an activity where mathematical precision meets instinct and superstition. A prominent feature of this often-seedy recreation is the lucky streak. Glamorized in books and film, the lucky streak serves to reveal characters whose will to win transcends the odds. Of course other characters serve as doomed wretches who ultimately fall prey to that other famous gambling trope, the losing streak.
The thing is, statistically speaking, neither extended lucky streaks or losing streaks should happen. The chances of winning big on this bet aren’t influenced by your success in the previous bet—or are they?
On a first bet, the chances of winning were 48%. After a success, the next bet had a 49% chance of winning. Nail it yet again? Your next odds make a big jump to 57%, then 67%, then 72%, then 75%. Up up up!
These poor sops experienced the inverse trend. After the first loss, the second bet had only a 47% chance of success, then the odds leveled out at 45%.
What in tarnation is going on? Have trixie pixies conspired to reward the charismatic and torment the downtrodden? While we can’t unilaterally rule out the pixie angle, it seems that betting psychology is the culprit.
A winning bet actually led winners to be protective of their gain, opting for safer odds on the next bet. Thus, they kept boosting their chances of success.
But losers either felt like they needed to recoup their losses, or that their luck would surely change for the better—a mentality dubbed “gambler’s fallacy”—so they kept upping the ante on risk. Oh the irony: Winners thought they might lose, and their resulting action meant they won more. Losers were convinced they would eventually win, and instead lost over and over.
But in the end, gamblers who experienced winning streaks generally ended up with about the same lot as the non-streaky blokes. All lost about one British pound for each pound they bet. The paper doesn’t go into the plight of the losing streak victims, but we can only deduce the outcome was less than rosy. So remember, kids: No matter how seductive Lady Luck may seem, you're psychologically susceptible, and she’s miserly in the long run.