Subconscious Biases- The Gambler’s Bane

September 07, 2007 | WNST Interns

We’ve all heard something like this before:

"You should bet on San Diego because they have a cute quarterback."

Or this one:

"Look, dad, there’s a horse named Silly Putty. I love silly putty. Let’s bet on THAT horse."

As seasoned gamblers we laugh but, of course, don’t put much creedence in such strategies, right?  Wrong. The truth is, even veteran gamblers employ similar tactics.  We’re just not aware of it. They’re called subconscious biases and they hinder our ability to handicap objectively, causing us to make mistakes and lose money. Have all your cars been blue? Did you have a loved one who died in a particular city? Or a team that cost you thousands of dollars once? All of these things can help cloud our decision-making processes. Think of them as the little tricks our brains play on us- a subtle persuasion of which we’re not even aware. If you pick games on your own, and your modest goal is to finish the season around 50-50, subconscious biases can make that an impossibility. Unless you pick teams out of a hat, your biases, for any given season, might skew you slightly lower than 50-50 or slightly higher.

Also, that bias might extend to the point-spread itself. If you tracked yourself closely you might find, for instance, that you tend to bet teams that are -4 more often than teams that are -5. This could simply be because you, as an individual, subconsiously respond more favorably to the number 4 than to the number 5. Remember, the subconscious mind contains all of our memories, beliefs, fears, defenses and biases. All impressions in their entirety from the moment of birth are stored in this part of the mind. This collective accumulation of perceptions, programming and conditioning directly influences who we are and what we become. It’s a lot like an unconscious super-computer that’s in the depths of our mind.

Subconscious biases affect all forms of gambling. But for the sake of this article, let’s stick to sports wagering. Boxing, for instance. Why pick one fighter over another? It could be a racial bias. It could be an ethnic bias. It could be that one of the fighters reminds you of a guy you knew in school who you hated.

Subconscious biases are not psycho-babble. Several recent studies, including one at Yale university, have proven that these biases affect everything from the way we view the world around us to how we conduct our inter-personal relationships. We all know that, in many areas of our lives, our past intrudes upon our present. Isn’t it fair to conclude that it affects our handicapping tendencies as well? To take it even further, there may be people who, subconsciously, will sabotage their ability to have financial success; individuals who have been conditioned to think they don’t deserve it or it’s not fair. These people may bet on teams or athletes they really DON’T think can win!

One could argue that subconscious biases should work both ways- sometimes you’ll win a bet because of your biases and sometimes you’ll lose. As I said earlier, this is true. If the teams on which you tend to lean, or the point spread numbers you tend to favor, HAPPEN to be the right side, that’s great. Still, that’s not handicapping, that’s luck and in the long run, luck will only take you to 50-50 and you’ll end up losing a season’s worth of vig!

The philosopher Descartes created the notion of an "evil trickster" who fools our senses.  He was referring to our brain’s perceptions which may or not be based on "Truth".  In wagering on football, "Truth" is EVERYTHING.  Well, that and turnovers. 

To summarize all of this is simple- NEVER BET OVER YOUR HEAD!

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